Ask Not, “Why?” Ask, “What Am I Going to Do About It?”

When a quote like this one pops up in your mailbox, just as you are about to sit down and write your weekly blog post, it’s safe to take it as a sign:

We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. – Carl.G. Jung

Can we accept the current state of English education in Korea? I think it is safe to say that almost all English teachers in Korea know that the current system that is in place does not foster English proficiency. I’ll push it a little further and say that the system also doesn’t foster a space conducive to building confidence in both its students and its English teachers. And when I refer to teachers here, I am talking about Korean teachers of English. When confidence is lost, no one enjoys learning or teaching.

The system sends these teachers to yearly training programs where they learn about ways to teach communicatively, and then they are sent back to their schools where their principals tell them to keep their classes quiet and in order. And of course they are told by all stakeholders that they had better help their kids pass that test.

But then they face over-crowded classrooms of disillusioned students who aren’t sure why they really need to learn English. The students quickly give up if they can’t see progress in their middle school and high school classes. But some really need to see progress. Their future, their family, depends on this progress.

So they go to hagwons. The system is fed by the need for progress.

High school and middle school teachers watch this cycle, and they lose hope.

“Why bother try?”, they ask themselves in exasperation.

The system is a paradox (์—ญ์„ค). This we know. This is why the machine is fed, and learning only selectively occurs.

But if we know this, what are we as educators of English in Korea going to do about it? How are we going to shift this paradox so that students flourish and feel proud of their English education? How are we going to help Korean teachers of English feel proud of their teaching? How are we going to help them support their students’ meaningful growth?

As English teachers and teacher trainers, these are questions we can ask ourselves. As a teacher trainer, these are questions I ask myself all the time. But when I first started asking these questions, I didn’t accept what Carl Jung suggests. I complained about the system. Now I realize I need to accept it and allow change to happen from there.

I don’t need to see a revamped system in order to foster positive change. I can start now. Where I begin is by helping participants in our training program understand how learning happens. I help them experience the power of authentic, meaningful learning. The kind of learning that manifests success, satisfaction, creativity and empowerment. I help them understand and accept what is possible for them do. This is what I can do. From this space, I have faith these teachers will start moving the wheels of positive change in this system.

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.- Edward Everett Hale

So I put this question to you: From the space that you stand in now, accepting the system as it is, what can you do to foster the kind of English education you want to see in Korea?

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7 thoughts on “Ask Not, “Why?” Ask, “What Am I Going to Do About It?”

  1. I’m reading this without any knowledge of the system or the problems, but impressed by your enthusiasm!
    I like this quote:
    “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do”- Edward Everett Hale

    and will try to remember it as a it is a sound way to approach life.

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