Saturday, May 14, 2011

You tell them, Marilyn!

Yesterday, I had my first Saturday class in about a month. It was refreshing to be with some students who wanted to be in class and it was even more refreshing to have such a wonderful response to the work I put into marking their first batch of essays. With the lack of voluntary involvement from my middle school students, I tend to overcompensate with my high school bunch on Saturdays, because I know that they (for the most part) really care about doing well in this course, and they really care about the feedback I give to them on their essays. I feel that they will respond to it, so I really take my time in correcting, marking, and commenting on their writing. Based on their response, I'm predicting a strong pay-off and improvement with their next essays. Forgive, me, this is the kind of thing that excites a nerdy English teacher who feels long-deprived of purpose.

A quick note, though I love this group of students, they often confuse the hell out of me. I assume because of their educational background and future ambitions that they are going to be a little bit more forward-thinking than the majority of their peers. In some ways this is true, and in others, well...

One of my best girl students wrote in her entrance essay that the best way to increase the declining birth rate in Korea would be to show women the benefits derived from staying home, having children, and "giving up their career." Apparently, the idea of focusing on workplace incentives, or extending maternity leaves and increasing job security for new mothers hasn't yet come into the discussion.

Last class, when we focused on body image and plastic surgery (big issues here in Korea) and I asked students to close their eyes, put heads on desks and raise their hands in secret to say if they thought readily available surgery for teens was a good idea. 16 out of 21 students said "yes". After 2 hours of class activities and readings designed to open-up the issue to possible new perspectives, we voted again, and 19 out of 21 thought readily available plastic surgery for teens was a good idea. A few too many students thought that cosmetic surgery's positive affect on the Korean economy was too valuable to start criticizing its greater social implications. Hmmm... I think I need to work on my delivery.

I took this photo on the subway on my way into class yesterday. I wonder if the advertisement trickery is even noticeable to the intended audience. To me, this ad seems to be saying "stop being a pretty young Korean girl! Come to us for reconstructive facial surgery and become a flight attendant for Malaysia Airlines!" If this were my daughter, I wouldn't recognize her anymore. That would make me sad. The cheaper alternative is maybe to ask the girl to smile more.

Anyway, in class yesterday, the topic made a slight turn into "celebrity culture" in Korea. Idols are a big deal here - in many ways, more so than they are back in North America. Suicides are rampant and many of the problems are brought on by a particularly nasty group of internet "netizens" who do their best to exploit the less-than-perfect pasts of the Korean idols. Many of them can't handle it, and it all goes bad.

Yesterday, we looked at the life of Marilyn Monroe. I could say a lot, but I'll just say that I think her story stuck with them. Footage of Marilyn performing to US troops in Korea was of particular interest. We also looked at the Bernie Taupin lyrics to Elton John's 1973 version of "Candle in the Wind" - before it's more famous 1997 "Goodbye, England's Rose" incarnation. There be powerful words in there.

Anyway, in a society where a staggering percentage of middle school graduates, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, answer "famous", I dare say I'm proud that a lot of Marilyn's story seemed to resonate with my students.

1 comment:

bizandsteve said...

What an awesome lesson idea! I wish I could do something like that with my elementary students and get them thinking in different ways before they hit puberty. Unfortunately I'm stuck with a Korean textbook that think teaching the phrase "What a pretty girl" is appropriate.