Here’s a thought… oh, my mistake.

These children just won’t think, and it makes me go arrrrghhhhh and have to turn around and look out of the window and take deep, calming breaths while staring desperately at the calming, fluffy clouds.

I’m telling you, it’s unreal. The simplest little thing will become a huge, insurmountable problem for them, and they have absolutely no inclination to think about it and resolve it.

For example, I’ll often give them a colour-by-numbers activity to keep them interested. They easily understand what they have to do, unless one of the colours listed in the key is “white”. Every single time, this prompts an almost panicked outburst of Teacher! Teacher! We have no white crayon!. Over and over again, they ask me what they should do about this. Over and over again, I try to be patient, asking them to look carefully at the page and tell me what colour it is. White, they respond blankly. Yes… so…, I say, trying to nudge their thought processes along – and still they cannot see the solution to the problem.

Or maybe they don’t want to think about it. They just want me to tell them the answer. To tell them how to think, what to do. That gives me the creeps.

They have little to no concept of resolving trivial issues by themselves. My old “Hot! Cold! Eraser!” frustrations have never gone away, and “eraser” genuinely is one of the most loathsome words in the English language for me now. Every time I hear it said in that high-pitched whine, my insides contract, my skin crawls, and I start to feel wildly, irrationally angry with the world. If you ever happen to see me becoming irritated, and think it might be fun to witness me losing control completely, then just start saying “eraser” at me. You’ll see.

I mean, it’s like these children have no understanding of sharing. None. Even if I put one eraser down between every two children, instructing them to share, one of them will frantically scream “Eraser, eraser!” the second he or she needs it and finds it in use by the other one. There is no intervening filter or thought like “shut up and wait about 3 seconds and it’ll be free”.

Same with crayons. Your green crayon is missing and you want to colour the grass? Your friend won’t lend you his? Well, look at him, can’t you see he’s using it? Why don’t you colour the sky first instead, and wait for him to finish with the green? Why, damn it, WHY??? Or, you know, whatever. Sure just sit there for 5 minutes doing absolutely nothing but looking panicky and greenless, whining about it until Teacher wants to launch you out of the window. Fine.

Quick poll. What if, say, you were sitting in a classroom aisle chair and someone was trying to get past you to the chair at the wall, but you were sitting with your chair pushed so far back that there was no gap between you and the desk behind? Would you (a) move over to sit at the wall, letting them easily take your now vacant aisle seat, (b) stand up and move aside to let them pass, (c) pull your chair in to give them a gap to squeeze through, or (d) remain exactly as you are, staring blankly and unresponsively at them as they push at your chair and try in vain to wiggle their way past you? I swear, I SWEAR TO YOU, I have never seen any human being of any age from any country choose option (d) until I came here. Never. Even the tiniest children, surely, have the sense to recognise that firstly, a problem exists, and secondly, they are capable of resolving it very easily, all by themselves. I’m pretty sure your average hamster or duck could also do this.

But these children, for whatever reason, simply cannot. It drives me absolutely insane. I don’t know whether it’s that they don’t see the problem in the first place, or that they don’t feel it to be theirs to fix. But they sit there. Unbudging. Looking expressionlessly at the child trying to get past. I am not a violent person (and I want to assure you that I would never harm a child!), but this leaves me so utterly astonished that sometimes I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them just to see if their brains are awake and functioning behind those unseeing eyes.

I don’t know if it’s a “child” thing or a “Korean” thing, I mused to a friend this morning in a state of pent-up, angry frustration, but I’m leaning towards “Korean”. My uncertainty is due to the fact that I haven’t had much experience with children other than Korean ones, so I can’t be sure – but all evidence is starting to suggest that this is a uniquely Korean issue.

Imagination, “thinking outside the box”, creative solutions… none of these seem to be especially valued or encouraged in Korean society. What is important is rote memorisation: study, study, study, until your head is full of facts and figures that will earn you an A when you churn them all out on to paper in that exam. Don’t get me wrong – these are incredibly bright, intelligent children I’m talking about. It’s just that their unwillingness or incapability when it comes to any kind of critical thinking, analysis, imagination or creative problem-solving makes them seem… not stupid, but… I don’t know. Less alive, or something. Less human, more robot. Little mini-Einsteins who could recite the periodic table by the age of 5 but have no concept of moving aside to let someone past, or not needing to colour something white because it’s already white. Little computer-like geniuses who can memorise their country’s entire history but genuinely can’t figure out the solution to being too hot while wearing two sweaters and a heavy winter coat.

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Is it a “Korean” thing? I’ve certainly never experienced it anywhere else…


4 thoughts on “Here’s a thought… oh, my mistake.

  1. I think it’s about a 50-50 thing; some Korean, some kid. My first teaching job back in the US was middle school (grades 6-8) and the thing that always killed me was the child who would sit like a bag of rocks during an activity until I finally noticed and asked him why he wasn’t writing, and then would say pathetically, “I don’t have a pencil.” *headdesk*

  2. Jen says:

    A friend working in a Scottish primary school told me of the little six year old girl in floods if tears. Asked why, she said her arm was itchy. Teacher suggested she scratched it. Problem solved.

  3. That ‘don’t have a pencil’ thing. There is at least one in every class. I speak only from my experience of being in school. As a child I used to think it was because the no pencil child just could not be arsed.

  4. :-) I’ve taught Sunday School in the US and run into the chair problem a few times. The white crayon one-that was me as a kid. Why is there no white paint? It says white there on the paint-by-number and how else am I gonna cover up that ugly number? “Mooommmmmyyyy!” I ended up giving up paint-by-number (not an activity terribly conducive to creativity anyway).

    Can’t speak for Korea, but it’s definitely a kid thing.

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