Gliders and airplanes
A glider has wings and an undercarriage like an airplane but has no engine and therefore cannot soar by itself. It needs to be pulled by a powered aircraft for take-off or be aerotowed, and glides by creating minimal drag for a given amount of lift in the air. Gliders and powered airplanes have a similar shape when viewed from a distance. They both have an airfoil section on the wings and the aerodynamic force that acts on the wings to keep them aloft.
Almost everyone believes that they must go to school to learn everything. People have an almost religious faith in school. But many Korean public schools are like the training centers for ``glider students” and rarely produce “aircraft students.”
Students, especially those attending public schools, are pulled or ‘aerotowed’ by their teachers who are government employees. There are study halls and study periods but students don’t really learn much by themselves. They, like a glider, crave teacher input and pulling power. They cannot take off by themselves or soar high in the sky or find their own way. And gliders can’t endure turbulent weather.
Teachers discipline students to follow their own ideas uniformly so that they can aerotow everyone in the same direction like multiple gliders being led by a single rope. Schools seem to not want students who have engines among the glider students. These students are regarded as troublesome and dangerous.
The glider schools want everyone to glide in the same direction and don’t want to have self-propelling students take-off or fly beyond the school’s pre-fixed courses. Then everyone graduates as a glider-student, honor students being the best gliders.
Troubles await them. The first hardship begins when they face having to write papers. They groan in distress because they have never flown or written by their own will. The students with high grades fall into a much deeper quandary because they obey well but have no initiative because they don’t have an engine. They do something passively or are non-participating.
I still remember when I, as a child, attended a village school where a small group of pupils were taught Chinese classics. The bearded elder scholar demanded us to read aloud the old Chinese book. It was like a Buddhist chanting a sutra that we couldn’t understand. The teacher knew what he wanted to teach, of course, but he didn’t tell us. While we endured it, a strong will to grasp the meaning grew among us.
It was a powerful engine to motivate students. Then the scholar explained to us one by one while we wanted to know more, and more. He activated our engines and had us struggle to steer them on our own.
Many teachers at public or private schools in Korea divulge the answers right away and ask students to memorize them before they even become inquisitive and start asking questions. They skip the most important part ― creative learning.
A report published by a Korean professor in the United States years ago showed that nearly 45 percent of Korean students in American colleges, especially at prestigious schools, fail to finish the courses due mainly to lack of ability to fly on their own power.
There must be millions of students who have spent more than fifteen years studying English in this country. Yet I, as an old man, am disappointed to see that fresh essays with new faces in this contributing column of The Korea Times do not appear often enough.
Are you still gliding? With your well formed airfoil wing section and acquired knowledge about the aerodynamic force acting upon you, now is the time to load engines onto your glider, transform it to an airplane and steer yourself towards a new future.
The writer is a retired architect-specifications writer, who shuttles back and forth between Seoul and New Jersey. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.