Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Get out...

I kicked a student out of my class today. I feel bad about it, and I don't. I do because I had previously kicked Bruce out of my class for excessive swearing. He's not a bad kid, but he goes the extra mile to be a stand-out in class in the wrong way far too often. I don't feel bad for obvious reasons.

Today, while talking about the G20 summit as a lead-in to a language point, I was showing a slide of Barack Obama (not the one shown here) side-by-side with South Korea's president, Lee Myeong-bak. Bruce had to pipe-up and share this witty offering:

Bruce: He is ugly!
Me: No, no... he is very handsome.
Bruce: No - ugly. He is shit color!

I know Bruce is not unlike many students here. Look at any cross-section of young Korean people - many of whom believe mommy and daddy's lies and think that they are "pure-blood". When I see them, if the concept must enter my mind for consideration, I see a whole spectrum of the history of the Korean peninsula's tendency to be run over roughshod by its neighbours, and the resulting mixing that took place. My students vary a great deal in eye-shape, skin color, and other features that I continue to care less and less about as I age.

Yet, here - many students take no trouble to call a classmate "Taliban" if his or her skin is a shade darker than most. The other day, they referred to an absent Korean teacher as "Negroe", likely because her skin is a shade darker, and it's quite possible, I would agree, that somewhere along her line is some ancestry from the SE portion of the continent. Put your money down on whether or not these students were using "Negroe" as a term of flattery.

Anyway, without a second thought, I calmly asked Bruce to leave. He looked disappointed, but his slowness in getting out of his chair (with a class clown's smile beginning to show) brought a redness to my face and I ended-up throwing his text book out of the room, in the hopes that he would hurry up and follow. Signs of racism aren't pleasing to me, pride in it is worse.

I'm not proud of that last bit - for a few reasons, not the least of which being that I try to pride myself on being an advocate for caring for books, even if by mid-way through semester 2, it, with it's covers missing and pages torn out, resembles anything but a text book.

I felt like garbage after the class, though I don't regret what I did.

I made sure to find Bruce after school - he was playing badminton with some friends in the school yard - and asked to speak with him. He does respect me a great deal, which is what makes his misguided actions in my classroom so disappointing to me, and also gives him cause to try and impress me, unfortunately in said misguided ways. I took him away from his friends and apologized for throwing his book, but then went on to explain that he cannot say those things in my class. I also said that he needs to change his thinking. I reminded him that I look different to him, as he does to me, and that if he were to visit a part of the world where he were a minority, he might have to face the reality of people ridiculing his differences for a laugh.

Bruce, as fate would have it, has very small eyes, in relation to other students in the school. According to popular Korean opinions on vanity, this is an undesirable trait. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Bruce has often been ridiculed for this fact. I'm sure he has.

At any rate, he seemed contrite after our discussion. He apologized and shook my hand. I know that unfamiliarity breeds ignorance, but it still shocks the shit out of me when I see evidence that students think it's okay to say what Bruce said in my classroom today. I truly hope that a dark-skinned (and hopefully thick-skinned) teacher replaces me at my school next year.


Mr. Genius-Face said...

There's something to be said for any kind of footwork you do when you tread on the electrical grid of emotional unpredictability, but I think you handled this situation very well.

I gave flu shots to a whole bunch of kids yesterday, and I think there's a parallel insofar as what you did for this kid was uncomfortable, to be sure, but it has a long-term benefit for him. Some kids were totally freaking out, and others handled it like soldiers - at times both respective and irrespective of their parent's child-rearing ability (as perceived in a 2 minute encounter).

Anyway, how many other people in this kid's life have cared enough to set these boundaries? If I had to guess, I'd say he respects you more now than he would have if you had ignored his comment. But at the same time, I think each of these instances needs to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to form any accurate insight. I balked frequently when I would get hustled with the 'discipline = good' lecture at Youngdo any time I faced any problem. I'm glad those days are over.

And thanks for sticking up for the President of my country. I'm sure the Tea Party here would give him a job as a manufacturer of protest signs, if he's interested.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Thanks, man - it's a tough call, but I think that some things do require strong reactions - knee-jerk as it might have been. Point is, what he said was not okay.

Yet, it is okay here in Korea, or at least it's more okay, or more accepted. I do view my job now as being about 25% English teacher and 75% cultural representative, not just as being "from Canada", but also as being "not from Korea". Indeed, a good portion of the progressive Western World sees race very differently.

And I don't think Bruce was too young (14 years old) to deal with my wrath. I once had a girlfriend tell me that she learned not to bite when she was 2, because she bit her mother, and her mother first bit her back, then backhanded her across the room. Good lesson.

Douglas said...

Dave, you need to understand...
When the working day is fun, Koreans just wanna have fun...but as much as people like to argue that force doesn't work, it bothers me since taking such an immoderate position not only bothers me, one only has to look at our history books, force is necessary sometimes. Charlemagne spent over 50 years trying to get the Saxons under his control through small scale battles and subsequent treaties, which were then disregarded later by the Saxons. It wasn't until when he executed several thousand of Saxon captives at once did he finally get their main leader to give up and convert to Christianity.

On a serious note, have you ever thought about basing an entire lesson on Racism? I don't know if this would fly with the superiors or might even come across as too preachy/direct, but nevertheless, I think it's something worth considering.