I started to write a reply to Alex's comment on my last post, but it got long and convoluted and I thought I should clarify what I said about Aiden feeling "stupid" more publicly. I'm in the midst of packing and I haven't slept much and don't have time to edit this properly so my apologies in advance. (Alex: Welcome to my blog! )
Aiden's teacher never told him that he's stupid. He said that of himself because he has noticed that his Korean isn't as good as the other kids' Korean. I don't think the teacher would ever say that about him. I'm not all that happy with her as a teacher because I think she's more of a "bad cop" type teacher and that doesn't fit my parenting philosophy, but she's not really mean, just strict and not all that empathetic. My main beef with her is that she hits the kids on the hand with a ruler when they misbehave and that she doesn't give them much break time. If we were going to be around longer I might think about what recourse I have but the hitting, at least, is not that uncommon. For 2nd grade it is pretty rare, but not THAT rare, and so I don't know how effective protest would be. Some of the parents in another class have been unhappy with their teacher and they do complain to the school or to the teacher and sometimes the teacher will be fired or transfered to a different school or grade, so it is not like parents are completely powerless here.
Aiden saying that he feels stupid is complicated in ways I didn't really go into in the last post. First, he's a self conscious kid. He stands out in school because he is mixed and looks mixed. The attention he gets because of this is not negative attention -- mostly the other kids are fascinated with him and envious of his ability to speak English and opt out of hakwon. But he doesn't like to stick out so he gets flustered by that. He is also (and this is not to be underestimated) stressed out by the fact that we're moving to another country and he knows he must learn yet another language, when he feels that he is still mastering the 2 he knows now. Earlier in the year we were preparing him for school tests (to test into schools in Shanghai) and we started out preparing him for the Chinese test, which made all of us crazy so we gave it up and decided to put him in the English track. But just preparing for the English tests at the same time he was beginning a new grade, with a new teacher and a more rigorous set of expectations, was very stressful for him. It was a learning experience for all of us. In retrospect we made a lot of mistakes as parents during that time. We realized that Aiden needed to have a more consistent schedule and that we needed to spend more time with him on his Korean homework, instead of pushing English and Chinese so much so early. He's doing very well in Korean (he reads much faster than I do and his vocabulary is probably better because he is a good reader) and his English is also very good -- not as good as his peers in the U.S., but still very good. He can read Captain Underpants and some of the Magic Treehouse, but he prefers to read in Korean. His first grade teacher was the type that noted and praised him for going form 20% to 80% on his dictation test; the second grade teacher is the type that calls him to the front of the classroom during the first week of school and tells him his dictation score was not high enough so he needs to do extra homework every night (writing 10 difficult words) indefinitely. But to be fair to his 2nd grade teacher, after his dictation scores improved (which they did, dramatically, because of that extra homework), she praised him in front of the whole class. But he's the type (or perhaps it is the circumstance which renders him more thin-skinned) that is more scared and scarred by the failure than bolstered by the praise. Also, preparing him for the tests in Shanghai made him more conscious of his linguistic weaknesses (I was too much of a hard-ass in preparing him).
If I had to stay here long term, I'm not sure what kind of education I would choose for my kids. I don't like international school for many reasons: too expensive, not enough Korean, the kids tend to be priveledged and live in a bubble, etc. We moved to Korea so that the kids would be a part of this culture, not separate. But the stress of hakwon and the very competitive educational environment is really hard for the kids and it is difficult to opt out. I have been working on a follow-up to my description of first grade for several months now, but keep putting it aside because it is so hard for me to try and capture the ways in which the system is easy to criticize but also difficult to get out of. The values of the system begin to seep into your consciousness and affect the way you see the world and more than that, the way your children see themselves. Because I'm both a parent and a teacher I see it from both sides and that can be schizophrenic sometimes, but also highlights how complicated the issues are and how difficult it is to extrapolate from any individual experience. We had a great teacher in 1st grade, and perhaps because of that we were unprepared for this one, who isn't terrible, but whose particular brand of non-greatness manages to push on all the anxieties created by circumstance and personality and parenting failures and make them into something larger and scarier.
A few months ago there was a little stink in the blog world when Brian in Jeollado made some criticisms of the Marmot (criticisms I mostly agreed with) and I had intended to write something about my take on the Korea blogging world. Actually I've been working on that post for several months already. I'm not very fast, am I? But part of what I wanted to say is this: that for some reason or another the popular Korea bloggers are all men. Why that is I don't know. Sometimes I get really disgusted with the Marmot and many other blogs (not to name names) because they go from talking about the sorry state of gender relations in this country to verbally salivating over the bodies of this or that singer or model. A few other female Korea bloggers and I have lamented over this over coffee and discussed creating a group blog written only by women, but none of us really have the time it takes to make a good daily blog.
The other point I wanted to make is that the most popular blogs tend to be the daily blogs, the news blogs, the blogs which have the most definitive takes on events that are occuring. I understand the impulse to want immediate commentary and gratification, but in the main parts and in the comments there's a tendency towards quick conclusions and often quick hostility unmediated by a sense that maybe we don't know the whole story or that the solutions are not always that simple. I believe in criticism, and I read blogs to take the temperature of various social groups, but I truly admire the blogs that at least attempt to account for complexity and uncertaintly.
I will finish these posts (they will probably go up on printculture) sometime, but moving to another country is taking up all my psychological and physical energy right now.
For Alex (and anyone else in a cross-cultural marriage thinking about moving to Korea): it's not simple or easy. You have to have your goals in mind and be prepared to be flexible. But these last 5 years have been the most interesting and rewarding of my life. I do not regret any minute, and I think that this was the best risk I ever took. If you ever want to talk more specifically, send me an email: yunmay (at) gmail.com.