In December, rumors of new textbooks for the 2011 standard elementary school curriculum were confirmed. This was very exciting to me for one reason: it suggested that the outdated, ridiculous stories and role plays like this would be done away with (Why bother spending money to publish new books without significant improvement?) No one enjoys teaching material that you can’t take seriously. Everyone complains about the books, Native and Korean teachers alike, so the odds seemed in our favor.
The bright shiny new books arrived in March and the kitschy, slightly more sophisticated art on the cover was encouraging. But I opened it to find most of the same activities and topics, recycled and reprinted in pretty colors and fancier fonts. Big deal.
For the sixth graders specifically, more ‘bulk’ was supposedly added to each lesson and a lesson was added to each week. But it was soon obvious that more meat had not been added, rather activities were stretched super thin and the titles “Look and Speak” and “Listen and Repeat” were printed in new combinations to make it look like more. Seriously? My coteacher and I were bummed because it means more work for us trying to find materials to fill up three classes a week instead of two.
Oh but wait, what’s this I see? A new Story Time section, one page designed to take up an entire class period? Let’s take a look shall we?
I don’t know how exactly to make sense of any of this. First, Korea is playing fast and loose with the definition of ‘story’. Second, this is taking the Korean obsession with machines and technology to a new and creepy level. Third, this whole talking washing machine does a lot to undermine the idea that Korea is staunchly anti-drug.
Instead of new and awesome material that I might enjoy teaching, I get to try to convince 6th graders that they should be enthusiastic about a beloved family washing machine. Which means I have to attempt to be enthusiastic about a fucking washing machine. That ain’t never gonna happen y’all. Can we get the old books back?