I try to live by what I call the 5% rule. Often when people are conducting surveys or evaluations involving a large number of people, they throw out the best of the best and worst of the worst. It could be 5% or 5 results on the top and bottom depending on the amount in question, but the idea is that there will always be people who will give top and bottom marks regardless of the situation. There may also be friends and enemies in the crowd who will try to pad or obscure the results either way. However, when you remove these exceptional marks, you are left with something more resembling the truth.
I think that rule is important when we look at culture, racism, sexism, discrimination, crime, etc. December 6th of this year for example marked the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre when a disgruntled male student separated female engineering students from their male counterparts and shot them because he hated female engineers. Many commentators at the time, and even today, consider this a mark of how little women have gained in these decades of feminism. However, I don’t think that this event is a good measure of feminism or sexism or the patriarchy in Canada. It is thankfully bizarre to meet such incredible resistance to women in the field of engineering and an extreme rarity to find examples of women in Canada being killed for being educated. We can look at the numbers of female students enrolled in engineering programs and the number of females at the top level of their fields to debate the level of participation women have in the workforce, or we can point to domestic violence statistics to talk about prevailing problems with violence against women, but we should not use the top 5% of bizarre actions to point to a trend.
Similarly, when a man pointed at my mother and repeatedly screamed ‘foreigner’ at her in the subway last Christmas, I didn’t take this as an example of what expats regularly face in this country. I’ve never seen that before (and I ride public transit every day), I’ve never faced it personally, and it is not a usual complaint that I’ve heard through my networks. And when a Korean friend told me about a Korean boy who had been hit by a beer bottle in New Zealand possibly for being Korean, I didn’t understand that incident as a commentary on all Kiwi’s views about Koreans. These are the 5% of experiences we should exclude when considering how a people or a nation deal with ‘an other’ because the numbers are skewed by one time circumstances, certifiably disturbed people who choose a different looking person as their target, being at the wrong place when karmas collide, or someone just having a very bad day.
However, I do think that something like immigration rules is a good place to start when thinking about the place ‘others,’ ‘foreigners,’ and the ‘disadvantaged’ hold in a particular country. In theory, government laws and regulations have at least been debated or discussed to a certain degree in a democracy, thus hopefully weeding out some of said 5% of crazies whether they be in person or ideas. (I did say in theory…)
And so, to the main point of this post….the article in our favourite English language newspaper (by our favourite reporter!) which appears to have gone through somewhat of a transformation and dulling down overnight. (The original was much more sensationalistic than the current online version).
The Times reports that Korean public schools will soon evaluate native English teachers. Now, a whole bunch of posts could be written about the evaluation system in Korea, the evaluation overload in Korea, and the complete inability of many managers to adequately create a coherent and fair evaluation form…let alone the actual administration of it. But Korean teachers are also slated to be evaluated soon, so I’d like to dwell on the ‘special measures’ for native English teachers in public schools. If they don’t pass their evaluation, the schools want to create a blacklist and send it to immigration to prevent these teachers from receiving another visa ever again.
If this indeed happens, it will have severe labour rights consequences for expat teachers. Perhaps my dear readers, you do need to know a bit about Korean eval systems. They are not a ‘pass’/’fail’ or a ‘satisfatory/unsatisfactory’ system…or even a system based on evaluation of a person’s own merits. The system is based on a grade of S-A-B-C-D (S being the highest). There is not an unlimited amount of ‘S’s available – the allocation must happen based on not only a bell curve, but a knowledge of what certain people need to be eligible for promotion/raises etc. Therefore, if person A needs an ‘S’ for a promotion, person B automatically receives a ‘D’ regardless of her actual ability. The choice for ‘D’ person is often made based on their age, personal connections to the person in charge of grades (did they go to the same school? Are they from the same hometown??!), or lack of bribery and ass kissing.
Now, a Korean may get a ‘D’ one year as the sacrificial lamb for the person needing a promotion, but overtime, she has the ability to even out that score, and be the beneficiary of that ‘S’ needed for advancement at a later date. Her contract may be protected by a union or up for general review with all other contracts by a central company office. And in the worst case scenario where she hates her job, she can quit it, and find another one with an employer and company culture that suits her talents and personality.
However, if ‘John teacher’ objects to the filthy apartment overrun with cockroaches his school so kindly provided, or having to work Saturday without overpay compensation (again), or uses a crazy newfangled teaching technique like ‘conversational role playing’ that his co-teacher is unfamiliar with, he might find himself not only in trouble with his employer…but BANNED from working in the country ever again! (unless he marries a Korean or buys property on Jejudo in which case he can come and go as he sees fit…because we like foreign investment…..)
Imagine if you will every minor dispute you have ever had with your boss – every contractual negotiation – or even that time you bypassed a great opportunity to allow someone else to get the promotion – and then imagine how that could mean being denied a work visa.
It makes sense to deny someone a work visa on the basis of a criminal record or fake documents because it is immigration’s duty to ensure that criminals are not teaching children. If an expat commits a crime while in Korea, that person should also be denied another visa. However, immigration should not be involved in policing a particular skill or industry. If Korean teachers are being subjected to these evaluations (as dubious as they may be), it is only right in principle for expat teachers to also be included in this system. But Korean teachers are not being denied the chance to ever work again because they ask for a raise or didn’t buy the director that nice whiskey his office is stacked with.
This is not the crazy 5% drunk man who yells at you to get out of his country – this is a xenophobic policy. Why specifically xenophobic? Because it is a displacement of the ills the Korean education system – which everyone complains about ad naseum – which everyone writes about ad naseum in the papers – on expats who are recruited to be teachers – and then blamed for the state of English education. Why aren’t Koreans perfectly proficient in English after so many decades of study? Ah! It’s because the FOB guy who arrived just yesterday didn’t realize that students learn English in Korean!
It’s also part of a long list of irrational stipulations placed on expat teachers – including drug and HIV tests – which demonstrates a general disgust on the part of the education system – and Korean government (both who actively recruited and demanded that these teachers be placed in every school in the country) against native English teachers. I can ignore the 5% crazies, but I can’t ignore the underlying stereotype that these rules and measures speak to which is the belief that native English teachers are drug addicts, perverts, pedophiles, and now….bad teachers. These stereotypes speak to the problem of xenophobia here, and also obscure the real problems in the public school system which have been created by, and are being exacerbated by Koreans themselves. I don’t think that 8 000 teachers – teaching children on average 1 hour of English a week are the main reasons why their charges can’t speak English fluently.
So for now, I will continue to ignore and tolerate the 5% – but I can’t ignore the increasing demonization of the group I belong to whether I am an E2 or an F2.