Dear Mum: Leave Me Alone!

In The Social Fabric on June 23, 2011 at 9:47 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  I could blame the internet, my job, the weather, but truthfully it comes down to that which we fight every day; laziness.  Any number of great ideas pop into my head to write about during the course of my days, but they struggle for supremacy in a mind that thinks far too much.

However one thing has been repeatedly nagging at me day after day that I wanted to share, if not flat out gripe about.  Mothers.

Before you continue reading in the hopes of finding some insight into the interpersonal relationships and hardships of the Mother-Daughter conundrum, you may be disappointed.  I’m talking about a different creature.  She is unlike any mother you may be familiar with, so much so that she deserves a whole different name for herself.  She is…..the Korean Elementary School Mother.

I firmly believe that social behaviorists would have enough research to fill the congressional library if  they were to study the KESM.  I myself still find them to be a complex mystery that perhaps I will never understand, being neither Korean nor having immediate intentions of being a mother.  Their behavior and motivations seem to be innate, like they are members of a highly selective organization.  I can speculate for days, but for the now I want to highlight a societal difference that is helping me understand Korean culture from a systemic point of view.

Currently I work in an after school English program at a public school, so I am excluded from the inner workings of the school system whilst at the same time being present on the campus as a kind of observer.  What is not talked about much, is just how omnipresent KESM’s are physically in the school.  When I was a kid, once you were dropped off at the school gates, you were parent free for all of those 8 glorious hours.  Friends and teachers and the social fabric of the playground were off limits to mothers, who could never understand it anyway.  It was the Kid World where you learned who to trust, who to avoid, and the consequences of both school and friendship rules.  Most of all, you knew that whatever happened, you had to deal with it on your own and so did everyone else.  It was a level playing field.  

In a Korean public school, certainly in my school, I see more mothers than teachers.  They sit outside the childrens’ classrooms, often peering through windows to check on both teacher and student.  They deliver book bags, form groups in hallways and accost teachers to discuss their child’s progress, or lack thereof.  They are a constant loom.  At first I thought it was out of concern for new students, but I quickly came to understand that this is an all year round phenomenon.  And I find it unsettling.

Korean Mothers are given an enormous amount of sway in the education of children.  Teachers are constantly defending themselves or tiptoeing around the truth that perhaps their kid is, in fact, unbelievably, not perfect.  KESM’s wander the halls uninvited and unchecked, acting as though it is their ordained right to access anywhere they please.  This was not the case in any of my 5 elementary schools, where for security reasons the School Office served a purpose.  To keep track of who was roaming the halls and interfering with Kid-dom.

Even if we ignore the security concerns, and the lack of personal freedom for much needed growth on the part of the child, I often find myself wondering about the mothers themselves.  Despite my smiles and nods, my internal monologue repeats the same question: Do you really have nothing else better to do?  Lacking a job, what about personal hobbies? Other family obligations? Failing that (at the risk of sounding overly traditionalist) household tasks?  It seems that the child’s activities during the day are all-consuming and the Korean Mother dedicates all her time to monitoring and interfering in their education.  The child is a job.

Admirable?  To some maybe, but it is my opinion that this is where the lack of initiative and independence of some Korean adults begins.  Never being able to make choices alone, always being checked on and monitored, it is a preclusion to later life.  It is my belief, formed from my own experiences and the contrast of others, that children need to be left well alone for parts of their lives.  They need to learn problem solving skills and self sufficiency through their own mistakes.  If their mother is always waiting outside that door, or if she is calling on their cell phone in the middle of class, or if she is convincing the teacher to treat them differently, they cannot learn vital life skills.

Despite my opinion, I will continue to smile and nod.  But I am resolute on this position: School is a place for teachers and children.

  1. You have a blog! I found this an enjoyable, if slighly frustrating read. On a bad day I would possibly fix these KESMs with a Stalin-esque stare. Totally counter-productive. Might be necessary to form a focus group of some description. At least, this is what the workforce has taught me.

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