Then When You Get the Test Scores, You Get the Power…

Am I going to Hell?

Sometimes I ask myself this, and the writing of this post is one of those occasions. Hearing about the banning of studying after 10 p.m. in South Korea offers the opportunity to comment on the much-needed reform of an educational system, but I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever get past mercilessly cracking jokes at she sheer ridiculousness of the situation. I mean, imagine a family getting a late-night visit from the police. The officer breaks the tragic news to the mother: their child was caught studying. “What?! No, no that can’t be. Poor little Johnny! He told me he quit. Not my baby, no not him! Why God, whyyyyy?”

Granted, there are already parallels between studying and the world of illegal drugs. Who among us has ended a night buried face-first in a textbook, Scarface style? Who has ever felt that, just when they thought a term paper was finished, it pulled them back in? And, on a more somber note, who has ever been tormented by feelings of desperation and failure caused by inadequate scholastic performance?

But they’re not the same thing. You’re not going to see a shady character standing on the street corner going: “Yo, check it man, I gotta Cliff Note man, check it out, only $50 each.” You’re not going to find a Kindle hidden inside a bag of cocaine. And no one’s ever going to rectally conceal a flash drive full of e-books. Why? Because drugs are harmful. They are addictive. They are so harmful to people, and society, that they must be stopped at all costs. And the kind of people the industry attracts deserve what’s coming to them. Would cram school operators gun each other down in a ruthless turf war? “You in MY hood now, dawg! Ain’t no room for another teacher here. Ya ain’t nuthin’ but a punk substitute! So you’d best get going ‘fore I school you old school, I’m-a teach you something about the Armenian Genocide. You gon’ take a shelling like Verdun, gonna become ancient history like the Etruscans. So go take your cram school and cram it up your…”

But you know, maybe they are the same thing… and if anything, the bizarreness of the Korean situation seems to illustrate this. Abusing both smack and math can be hazardous to your well-being, and there are good arguments for regulating both. But both are ultimately nothing more than tools that can be misused and abused. Criminalization of drugs and over-studying both end up targeting the symptom of the problem, and not the problem itself. And, most detrimentally, both go after the pushers. Now I know that there are unsavory characters employed by cram schools and drug-running enterprises, but ultimately all they’re doing is servicing a demand. They make a living by satisfying their customers, by giving them what they badly want… and they WILL exist as long as the demand is in place. If anything, book and dope salesmen need to be in the light, under the scrutiny of society, to ensure accountability in their operations. If pushers sell their goods as quickly as possible and then disappear into the night, what do you do if that cocaine you purchased happens to be mixed with laundry detergent? What if that Bible you picked up for a school project turns out to be the Cotton Patch version, with “Peter” replaced by “Rock” and “Philippians” replaced by “Alabaster African Church”? The horror! We need accountability!

There are real societal problems behind each issue that must be addressed if we are ever to find some hope on either issue. Drug abuse can come from a wide variety of personal and mental issues, and the only way to shake addiction is through a personal decision. The Korean education conundrum comes from two different problems. The first is a society where employers place too much value on high test scores at prestigious universities, rather than on actual abilities to perform in the workplace, especially in the area of innovation. The second is families’ brutal drive to pressure their children to acquire the highest on-paper achievements possible. A society that deems 31 suicides per 100,000 people per year to be an acceptable “cost of business” in order to achieve high familial prestige has SERIOUS need to reevaluate its priorities. If anything, banning late-night studying can only serve to worsen stress and desperation, as not children have less time to achieve the results demanded by society, or continue to study into the night with the added pressure of being on the lookout for the authorities.

So the Western world frets about the dissipate youth underperforming in school, and would probably give anything for a taste of South Korea’s problems of over-studious young ‘uns. Meanwhile, Korean kids probably dream of having parents cool enough to forgive them for slipping into B+ territory. Though there is one thing both can agree on: we’re all lucky that we don’t live in North Korea. Next time you get busted for being on meth (or math, depending on where you live), be thankful it wasn’t for insulting the Dear Leader. Or for murdering your neighbor to steal his food, so you can starve to death next week instead of this Friday.

That about wraps it up. Do I have any final words on this tragic situation? Yes, in fact, I do:

I need you like a textbook,
Turn my pages like a man.
Baby, study me all night,
Like your history exam.

I think I’m going to Hell…