American Exceptionalism

A dispatch from my South Korean adventure ran on the Zócalo Public Square web site this week.

The other day, I sat in on a public school class at a high school just outside of Seoul. It was an English class, and the kids were doing comedy sketches as part of their midterm exams. Two by two, they pulled out sunglasses, electric guitars and assorted other props and performed skits they had written in English.

The Korean school system is not famous for fun. But in that classroom at Jeong Bal High School on that day, great fun was had. The kids blushed, laughed and cheered. I saw scorned lovers, burned-out rock stars and, perhaps inevitably, a “Who farted?” skit, which was the audience favorite despite its questionable narrative arc.

In fact, the class could have been in America, a country renowned for its creativity – except for one critical difference. After all the students sat down, still tittering about their theatrical exploits, the teacher walked to the front of the room and read their names and grades aloud. It happened so fast and with so little ado that I almost didn’t notice. The kids listened to their scores, which ranged from mediocre to perfect, and then headed off to their next class…

The rest is here.

EducationAmanda Ripley