“Out of Love” and for “Our Own Good”

Whilst reading Michel Foucault’s Discipline & Punishment (part 2), discipline is a term that applies to the training of one’s body and mentality that becomes enhanced through rewards or punishment. When I look back on my childhood, or the Asian culture in general, this only really applies to a minimal extent. Obviously, I don’t speak on behalf of the entire Asian population and am not convinced that all Asians enforce discipline through punishment, but in general, the Asian culture does exhibit more discipline, in a stricter degree, than others cultures.

An example of this would be the pressure of entrance exams in South Korea. Students are pressured into taking immense pride for their academic achievements, which has given South Korea its third rank in proficiency in the subjects of math and sciences, but have come at the cost of one of the highest suicide rates (of students ranging from 15-24 years old). The average hours a student is at school ranges from 9am-5pm, however, the reality is that instead of going straight home, many stay behind at school for extra-curricular courses/study sessions. These sessions may take up several hours, which means that students would typically come home around 8pm-10pm or even later. Once home, it is not uncommon for students to continue their study at night throughout the early morning.

Why are they studying this much? Because the entrance exams are believed to be the most successful method of getting into a good university which are almost guaranteed to allow the students to have a stable job after they graduate. To say that the individual’s future relies/depends on the successful performance of the exam is in no way an exaggeration. Typically, the better the university, the better the job prospects are. Therefore there is more competition with others (as with any university, there are a limited amounts of students accepted) that follows with the stress of studying for the exam. In addition to the studying, the numerous amounts of school work causes anxiety which may lead to a poorer performance by the students. As they are constantly suffocated by an intense academic pressure, that has a profound effect on determining the direction of their life, many students are unable to find adequate coping mechanisms for their stress and become depressed or lose their self-esteem.

In grade 5 (when I visited South Korea), I remember my cousin preparing himself to go to school as early as 5am and coming back in the evening at 10pm. Mind you, he is three years older than me. At the time, in Western classifications, he would have been a grade 8 student. As a Korean myself, I was most definitely shocked to learn about the amount of hours students must commit to school. It was even more shocking when my mother and aunt confirmed that this was a normal and standardized practice, as they too, have had to endure the same stress in the past. The fact that these practices have not been changed or improved to a significant degree is both disappointing and heart-wrenching such as when a student council from  KAIST expresses, “Day after day we are cornered into an unrelenting competition that smothers and suffocates us. We couldn’t even spare 30 minutes for our troubled classmates because of all our homework… We no longer have the ability to laugh freely.”

(The above quotation is taken from The New York Times article that can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/23/world/asia/23southkorea.html?scp=1&sq=youth%20suicide%20south%20korea&st=cse)

But was it really worth it? To what degree does slaving one’s time away by studying for a single chance of “success” (passing the entrance exam) bring any satisfaction? The majority of students who have endured the stress, passed the entrance exam, graduated, and gained a job must nonetheless face the same pressure and stress in the workforce; to maintain their position, workers must work tedious hours, throughout day and night, whilst being obligated to be compliant to the boss (who may assign more work that go beyond the employee’s standard hours). This is no “over-time”. The employees seldom get compensated with extra payment. This is reasoned as a so-called “respect for the superior”, the “discipline” to do so, and become “happy” with the state of these living conditions.

Yes, the students perfect the skill of good work habits. Yes, many students who dedicated their lives to study have gained stable jobs. Yes, doing both these things have, in the generalization of the Korean culture, brought “pride” to their family name. However, the amount of discipline that is necessary to reach these feats are quite excessive and bring strains on the individual both mentally and physically. In fact, discipline in this regard is almost quite cruel.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply