Images of Innocence (1)
In the prestigious boys high school in which I taught for a year, on sports day a class of first year students wore T-shirts on which was emblazoned the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한). Capturing the innocence of Korea students in writing is not only difficult, but contended; there will be many Koreans and westerns alike who see their proclaimed ‘purity and innocence’ as over rated or mistaken. But in Korea, I have never taught scum students, students who are vile human beings and whom if had to label, I would classify as violent, anti-intellectual, promiscuous, untrustworthy, grossly disrespectful, and foul-mouthed. Often they had parents who were equally as bad and in most of the UK schools in which I have taught have encountered boys and girls who basically epitomise what it is to be anti-social.
Among most teenagers in Britain, ‘innocence and purity,’ which as usual we immediately associate with sexual conduct, but which I think Koreans would understand in a much broader context, is not something to be aspired to; indeed, I would suggest it is something to be shunned. I would absolutely agree that not all Korean students are angels and that there will exist some who could be classified ‘scum’ and I also agree that most British students are decent. I am suggesting, however, that standards and expectations in Korea are higher than in the UK and that associated values are currently much more effective in providing social cohesion, especially across generations. It is the values of Korean society that put the nation in the top echelons in terms of educational achievement, despite the systems pressures and flaws, and those values which produce a society with one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnant, sexual activity and infection by sexually transmitted diseases.
Yes! Bad things happen in Korea and under the surface there is more nastiness than is immediately apparent. But unlike Britain, I have never seen a Korean girl of 13 giving a boy oral sex in the bike sheds and I have never taught or seen girls of 14, 15 or 16 who are pregnant. Instead of leaping to the defence of the moral and personal degeneracy of the west, which festers like an open wound and is visible at every level, instead of raising reminders that Korea too has a bad side, which I do not doubt, we need to acknowledge that in some spheres, Korean society is very successful and perhaps worthy of emulation.
© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.