I live in Gangnam, the center of the vortex that is education anxiety in competitive Korea.
And today was Aiden's "예비소집" (sort of an orientation meeting) for elementary school. It was actually uneventful -- we were expecting a huge meeting and speeches and stuff but basically all they did was give us information and check us off. And I got to see the school for the first time, so that was interesting. The classrooms look pretty nice. They gave us a bunch of "Is your child ready for school?" type materials, which should be interesting material for future blog posts.
Afterwards some of the mommies and I were talking and the issue of ADHD drugs came up. Apparently in Gangnam its become a trend to give kids ADHD drugs to increase performance. I was appalled so I asked for the article. Here's my quick and dirty translation:
Elementary, middle and high school students in Seoul, the surrounding areas, and the new satellite cities are increasingly taking drugs to improve concentration. These pills are prescribed for symptoms such as wandering attention and an overabundance of activity, but the mistaken rumer that "this is safe medicine to improve concentration when studying" has spread, so examples of kids without serious symptoms taking these drugs are on the rise. There are few side affects when these drugs are taken by people who have disease-like symptoms, but when normal people take these drugs regularly they can cause loss of appetite, depression, and other negative side effects, an expert warns.
Currently in Gangnam, Seoul there are about 20 hospitals and clinics perscribing this medication, the majority of which have a banner proclaiming "____ ____ studying clinic." These clinics are appearing in Seoul Gangbuk, the areas surrounding the capital, and the new satellite cities as well.
OK, I was about halfway through translating that then I found the English version of the article... One of my new year's resolutions was to read more news in Korean. So I'm glad I read the Korean version first. The problem with being decently good at Korean right now is that I have no incentive to learn more (that and I'm studying Chinese) so I really have to force myself to add to my vocabulary by reading.
Anyhoo... what I was going to say is that this article made me think of a bunch of things. First, that the competitiveness in Gangnam has gotten so bad that people will use any method they can think of to raise their child's school ranking a little bit, without thinking (or perhaps understanding) the consequences. The over-diagnosis of ADHD is a problem in the U.S. as well, but here these things quickly get out of hand because one person (mom) tells her friends that her son's scores went up because he took these drugs and without thinking everyone follows en masse. There's a pack thing that happens here that always amazes me. On top of that it feels like people look for quick fixes without really education about medicine. And doctors take advantage of those people to make money.
My other thought was of an article I read a long time ago, by James Freda, on Discourse on Han in Postcolonial Korea. In the article Freda refers to Leszek Kolakowski's idea of a "culture of analgesics" (from The Presence of Myth). I haven't read Kolajowski directly which is why I give the long explanation of how I got to it here... Anyway, Freda argues, through Kolakowski that a culture of analgesics is "hostile to the recognition and expression of suffering." We take medicine to get rid of the symptoms, without trying to correct the underlying causes. As it says in the English version of the article, the high use of drugs like Ritalin is a social problem that needs to be addressed.
More thoughts later... am behind on too many things right now.
UPDATE: My friend Emily, a child psychologist, tells me that using ADHD drugs to improve concentration in non-ADHD kids is common in the U.S. too.