Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Questionless Conformity

The trouble with working in Korea is that it lulls you into a false sense of security in terms of your classroom management skills. The students are generally so well behaved it borders on scary. They are also easily controlled due to their love of doing things en-mass. For example, if you say "be!" to a group of Korean kids they will respond with "quiet!" before shutting up completely.
We often have over 100 students together, and so we adopt this simple crowd control technique to get them to stop talking and listen. It goes a little something like this:

Teacher: "clap 1 time!"

Students clap once.

Teacher: "clap two times!"

Students clap twice.

Teacher: "clap 3 times!"

Students clap three times and then (as if adhering to an unwritten code) put their hands on their heads and are quiet. 

They all do it, everyone one of them. To not do it would to be not Korean.

Last week I was in a group activity and the kids were being pretty loud. My colleague decided to make them clap once, clap twice, clap three times. Then they sat there in silence, hands on their heads until she-like a drill sergeant- shouted "3!" again. They clapped three times in absolute unison before putting their hands back on their heads. My colleague sternly surveyed the obedient crowd before once again demanding loudly "3!" 
This went on for a while, the students sitting their with their hands on their heads, waiting to be commanded to repeat the procedure. It was weird. Sure, it's nice to have such obedient children, but the likeness to robots is sometimes a bit much.

When I left Korea the first time I took 'clap three times' with me, and remember being a bit put out by my European and Saudi students' reaction to it. As in "teacher, what they hell are you doing?" My seven year old Saudi boys would just look confused and then shrug at each other. The concept was even lost on the Japanese students we taught here a few weeks ago. Interesting as they share many similar 'passive and obedient' traits to their far eastern neighbours, but not this one.

I'm aware that the film Frozen has become something of a worldwide phenomenon. I like it. I get it. I've even been practicing some of the piano music. But to like it is not enough here in Korea. Much like their obsession with soju (they've single-handedly made it the worlds most purchased alcoholic drink), the nation has been struck with Frozen mania. Actually, it's more pinpointed than that: it's "Let it Go" mania. The kids sing it in the corridors, they sing it in the classroom, they sing it on their own or as a class choir. In our fashion show they insist on dressing the girl as Elsa, and the boy as Anna (to which he never objects) before parading down the catwalk to the song. 
And on top of all this, I've heard it in so many bars I've lost count.
I sometimes feel like a switch on the motherboard was at some point flicked to "you will love this song with your very being."

Sorry Korea, you know I love you but sometimes you are too creepy!

In the spirit of things, I'll leave you with an excellent rendition of "Let it Go," sung by an impressionist as various different Disney characters.


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