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"Teacher," she says "my friends and I have tried really hard to do well this semester, but it was very difficult."
"Which classes?" I ask. (She is in several of my classes, hence the question.)
"All your classes," she replies.
"Why?" I ask.
"We're not used to thinking deeply," she replies.
And that is the truth. The Korean education system focusses on memorization. This, of course, is not what I require of my students at all. I give them open book exams. At first the idea of an "open book exam" made them really happy, but they soon realized that it didn't help them much. I do require memorization of key concepts--at least they should know the meaning of certain terminology--but what I really test them on is the ability to apply certain skills I've tried to teach them; such as analytical thinking, giving interpretations, motivating ideas, writing persuasively.
If I could get just a handful of them to learn to question things, to wonder about reasons, to find the causes (rather than treat the symptoms), I will feel that I have accomplished something. Of course, it is difficult to evaluate such a paradigm change. Interpreting a poem or critically analysing an essay is one thing, being critical of their "reality", their society, their lives, is something quite different; and it is not something I can keep track of as easily.
Nonetheless, that is my mission. To nurture (creative) thinkers, not mere regurgitators.