Friday, July 31, 2009

Are restrictions about private teaching a way to stick it to foreign teachers?

I think I might take some of my comments at other blogs and turn them into kernels of posts over here. In that spirit, over at KoreaBeat, someone writes:
I think the intention of the law against foreign teachers doing private lessons is to keep people from being in the country illegally.
No, the restrictions against private tutoring have everything to do with trying to maintain an egalitarian playing field in a country that has that as a goal but which is forever realizing it is nowhere near that.

Private tutoring has long been seen as a way for the rich to maintain an edge over everyone else in the hyper-competitive race to get into top-tier Korean universities. By making it illegal, they have tried to level the playing field. The illegality of private tutoring has been tried in varying degrees — with most Korean nationals also being prevented from doing it at different times. Only recently have some of the restrictions been loosened, with college students, for example, being able to teach privately (if they report it) but not teachers and certain other individuals in a position of authority.

Though the laws also apply to different foreign nationals in different ways (depending on visa), the laws themselves were created for an entirely different purpose. 

At some point, when I have a body of resources to support it, I plan to write a piece on the origins of egalitarian narrative in South Korea and the efforts to strive toward that goal, since it informs a lot of policy in the ROK. Of course anyone can look and see that there are myriad ways in which Korea falls short (Korea's gap between rich and poor, particularly in housing costs and quality), but there are also some ways (universal health care) where it is much closer to the mark. 

Much of the egalitarianism, I feel, stems from providing a counter to the communist or socialist rhetoric that appealed to much of the masses during the days of Japanese military rule and in the post-liberation era when a throw-the-opportunist-collaborators-out mindset was dominant, and then in the ten years or so after the Korean War, when North Korea was seen as more affluent than the South. With direct democratic elections starting in the late 1980s, bolstered by direct local elections in the 1990s, egalitarian ideals gained new traction for much of the electorate, with politicians recognizing that addressing the needs of a wider constituency was a more effective (and legal) way to stay in office. 


  1. I think that the root of the problem is that they haven't really let go of the confucian hierarchy while trying to embrace the western capitalist and democratic thought.
    They want everyone to be the same as long as some are more equal than others.
    Animal Farm?

  2. i subverted the machine by giving free private lessons while i was an exchange student. suck it down, hagwon industry!

  3. i subverted the machine by giving free private lessons while i was an exchange student. suck it down, hagwon industry!

    Yes. I'm sure they all had a meeting about you.

  4. Teacher Leo, you may be on to something there, but I'm not so sure capitalism and confucianism are mutually exclusive.

    Confucianism has largely been distorted to the point that its own checks and balances (e.g., the responsibilities of the ruler to the ruled) are discounted and the privileges (e.g., loyalty to the higher ups) are rigidly followed.

    Reworking the social hierarchy so that deference to age is not automatic but still must be earned, etc., are things that need to be applied, perhaps.

    At any rate, Korea's egalitarianism is not about equal outcomes as much as it is about equal playing fields, at least not in the narratives where it's applied.


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