But that so many Americans are outraged that President Obama made a speech to students makes me very sad for my country. It provides an interesting contrast with South Korea. In one country the students are in school for 12 hours a day, and are taught that education is the most important thing in life, and the most important gift parents can give their children. In another, when the president encourages students to work harder, parents are furious. It's like people believe that should Americans stop being as fat, lazy, and dumb as we wanna be, the terrorists will have won.
President Obama and Korea have intersected before, and you'll remember that many believed, incorrectly, that he wanted to emulate Korean education. I've looked at that myth before
* (March 11, 2009) "President Obama likes Korea's education system, sort of."
* (March 22, 2009) "Obama didn't say what you thought he said about Korean education."
but just to refresh your memory, he mentioned Korea twice in a speech he gave about education in March, and many people here thought he was endorsing Korea's education system. It most likely got started when newspaper folks over here overestimated their English ability and misinterpreted his remarks, but it seems the misunderstandings persist among foreigners here as well. He mentioned Korea twice in his speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Congress, twice in two paragraphs:
Now, even as we foster innovation in where our children are learning, let's also foster innovation in when our children are learning. We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day. That calendar may have once made sense, but today it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children -- listen to this -- our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea -- every year. That's no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy. That's why I'm calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -– whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it. (Applause.)
Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas. (Laughter.) Not with Malia and Sasha -- (laughter) -- not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom. If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America.
I've explored that excerpt more fully in the March 22nd post I wrote, so suffice it to say here that though the United States does have quite a bit to learn from schools in Korea and elsewhere, he is definitely not calling for one country to imitate the other. As a matter of fact, it sounds like he's preaching to Americans' ignorance, saying something like "Hell, if they can go to school longer and get results in tiny, God-forsaken, war-torn Ko-RE-a, then shit, in the good ol' U S of A we can do that with one hand tied behind our back."
The flaws of Korean education notwithstanding---and some local journalists sure listed them to discourage Obama from his imaginary course---clearly our students, parents, teachers, and citizens have to do our best to ensure the 21st century doesn't pass us by.