By Steve Schertzer
In past columns I have written about how many of the foreign English teachers are failing in Korea.
Although there are a variety of reasons for this ― the teacher's youth and inexperience, unpreparedness, inability to adjust to living in another country and professional incompetence among others ― a serious parallel phenomenon is also happening here; namely, the failure of foreign English teachers and those in the business community to Westernize Korea.
It is no secret that many of the foreign English teachers come here with an agenda.
Like the U.S. government, which unabashedly send troops to different nations to spread democracy, many native English teachers here shamelessly indoctrinate Korean children and adults (especially girls and women), into the Western point-of-view by bringing into the classroom ideas and modes of behavior that should be considered out-of-bounds for a native English teacher in a foreign country.
Examples of this indoctrination are native English teachers in hagwon (private language institutes) and universities ``advising'' Korean women on how to leave their husband or boyfriend, to English teachers who brazenly bring feminist writings, revolutionist literature, and material which openly advocates radical social change into a public school classroom with the intention of disseminating this to impressionable 13 and 14 year old boys and girls.
A recent thread on a teachers and expatriates' Web site in Korea will attest to this. Much of this material is not only inappropriate for Korean middle school students, it's offensive. Any native English teacher who does this should be considered a missionary and a cultural imperialist who seeks to undermine the values of their host country.
Before anyone misinterprets my opinion (and there will be many), bringing offensive literature into the classrooms of this nation is the exclusive right of the Korean teachers, not foreigners.
After all, it's their country, not ours. If there is anything to be changed or altered in Korean society or culture, it should left to Koreans themselves as to what, when, and how things should be changed.
Our role is to teach English, not to tell anyone how their lives ought to be lived. The dangerous irony here is that many of these missionary English teachers are young and inexperienced themselves and come from countries ― Canada, the United States, Australia, and England ― that are rife with their own social and political problems, far more so than South Korea.
This is more than just the pot calling the kettle black. It's hypocrisy and should not be tolerated.
Another example of how Westerners fail Korea comes from the business world. Recently The Korea Times interviewed Ray Frawley, the president of McDonald's Korea. In the April 10 story under the headline of ``McDonald's Seeks to Double Local Presence,'' the fast-food chain ``continues to see `tremendous potential here'.''
Tremendous potential for what, strokes and heart attacks? Obesity, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes? It's not enough that many of the foreign English teachers are filling Korean minds with garbage.
Since the late 1980s we've begun filling their stomachs with garbage as well, which raises a very important question: Are foreign English teachers and those in the business community capable of doing anything positive in regards to the welfare of the Korean people?
The English teachers with offensive foreign material are not simply walking into the classroom with the altruistic intention of giving Korean minds more choices.
They are there to change minds, not just open their minds first, then change them. When McDonald's plans to double its market share in Korea, it's not with the unbiased intention of giving Koreans a better nutritional choice.
It's about more money in the pockets of McDonald's U.S.A. Nutrition and a healthier lifestyle be damned! With McDonalds and other American fast-food outlets on just about every street corner, the American fast-food industry is now making the nutritional choices for Koreans.
This changing of minds and bodies simultaneously is potentially the one/two knockout punch that will make Korean lives go from bad to worse.
A steady diet of American fast food alters Korean bodies from fit to fat. One needs only to look at many of the young Korean students today to see this. When American businessmen, like the president of McDonald's Korea, change a people's diet, they change a people's diseases.
Two decades ago it was extremely rare to meet Koreans with such Western maladies as high cholesterol, blocked arteries, obesity, and heart disease.
When native English teachers fill Korean minds with Western nonsense like, ``Western women are more free than the women here," or ``Korean girls suffer from low self-esteem while American girls are better adjusted," they weaken the social fabric of Korean society and culture. It is also wrong.
Many American women have problems all their own and to compare the two groups with the intention of concluding that one group is better than the other is nothing short of Westerners going where they shouldn't.
Western businessmen and English teachers get very upset when Koreans question certain aspects of their society, and rightly so. It's unfortunate that many of these same Westerners think nothing of being so culturally insensitive when living and working here in Asia.
There are positive aspects to Westernization. The introduction of Western medicine and medical care has led to an increase in longevity, although not necessarily in the quality of life and I am a lot more comfortable visiting a dentist in this part of the world that has been Western-trained.
The negative ramifications of Westernization are also obvious. There is a dark side to this phenomenon as well. A dark side of which both Koreans and Westerners must be extremely cognizant, lest our hosts become obese, unhealthy, and have trouble learning English.
The writer is an English teacher at a public middle school in Busan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.