Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Open Letter To President Lee...Legacy, and my first attempt at a meme

Soundtrack: Drugstore featuring Thom Yorke

El Presidente (hope my music choice isn't too cheeky)

Sorry: I'm too busy to spice this one up with pictures.

Now, the Metropolitician recently had an interesting thing happen: Immigration Korea announced a shift in its policy that had a surprising similarity to an A-OK Visa proposal he'd made a while before. Whether the policymakers, or somebody with the policymakers' ear gleaned a few ideas from Mr. Hurt's page may never be known for sure, but Met started a meme, and who's to say where it ended. His "Ajussi's Ruin Everything" meme has also popped up (word for word, no less) on a few other blogs I respect.

The good Metropolitician's been around longer than I have, he knows more about Korea than I do, speaks the language, and also gets way more hits and comments on his site than I do: he even has anti-fans, people who skulk around his site just waiting for him to say something to which they can respond in white-hot, typo-inducing anger. I'm a tiny potato next to that big kahuna, but today, I have a meme of my own, which means more to me than coining the word "Kimcheerleader". It might take a while for it to gain traction, and that's OK; the idea might get separated from the source, and even that's OK, because I'm saying this for Korea (ain't I self-important), not for blog hits. If you like my idea, cool. Blog about it. Tell your friends about it. Translate it into Korean, or just blog about it in Korean. Share it with your friends around the samgyupsal grill. Post it on Naver comment boards. Tell your journalist friend who writes in a Korean daily. Pretend it's your idea if you want; I really don't care, as long as it spreads.

Without further ado, an open letter to Korea's President, Lee Myungbak.

Dear President Lee Myung-bak

So right about now, you're probably asking, "Why did I want this job in the first place?" People are protesting, signing the impeachment petition, your own party is divided, and your opponents are having a field day attacking you over US Beef, the Free Trade Agreement, your communication style, and your ability to manage a crisis. Meanwhile, your big project -- which you wanted to be your legacy -- is being roundly criticized either as a way to help your old buddies in Hyundai Construction out, as an ego trip the size of Korea, or as an ecological disaster on an epic scale, just waiting to happen.

It seems like you're having a lot of trouble convincing people that you can see any point of view other than your own -- people are accusing you of being a bulldozer in the BAD ways instead of the GOOD ways, and suddenly being President of a Country seems like a much bigger job than being Mayor of a City.

You're probably looking for a way to fix all these problems, and to set up a legacy that will be treasured and respected by Koreans, all through time.

Well, have I got an idea for you!

As you know, Korea is obsessed with education: Koreans see education as the key to survival in a competitive world. As you also know, Korea recently ranked 53rd out of 55 countries in a comparative study on how well education prepares students for social and economic participation. The very system in which Koreans put their faith for improvement is failing in its most important goal!

As you also noticed when you prematurely rolled out your previous education reform plan, there are a lot of politics to be considered when we take on education. It's a plain fact, as you must know, that a true, systemic education reform plan, one that changes things right to the heart, instead of just moving around the furniture, is nearly impossible to implement in a single, five-year presidency, especially because it seems that the first thing each new president does is to reverse the previous president's education policy.

It might seem surprising to you, Mr. President, if I gave a suggestion that would solve all these problems: the problem of your wish for an unforgettable legacy, the problem of having too short a time as president to truly effect change, AND the problem of people's perception that you surround yourself with yes-men and never listen to the other side of a debate, as WELL as Korea's education crisis, but that is exactly what I have for you today.

President Lee, if you want to be remembered as an open-minded politician, an effective president, and as a great visionary who, like Park Chung-hee, took the difficult steps necessary to prepare Korea for future success, here, sir, is what you must do.
  1. Swallow your pride, and ask Korea's people to bear with you as changes come into place: change is never easy.
  2. Reach out both within your own party, AND TO THE OPPOSITION, and
  3. Negotiate a twenty-year, bi-partisan education reform program to which both your party AND the opposition can agree.

Here is my reasoning:

  • It must be a twenty-year plan, because you will need to do it in several steps: a. gather information b. get recommendations, c. set out a plan for implementing these recommendations, and d. phase in those changes gradually.
  • It must be bi-partisan, because if it is not, then the next government will make it their first act to cancel it, and Korea, the country you serve, will have gained nothing, except another lost generation of high school students who don't know whether to improve their grades or focus on test scores to get into a good university. If you can negotiate a reform plan that both sides agree upon, then no matter which party takes office after your term, they will follow through with the plan. Heading to the negotiating table instead of starting up your bulldozer will also change your reputation for being stubborn and arrogant, and prove that your concern for Korea's future is your top priority, and not just your OWN legacy. Engaging the other side will show that you are open-minded and truly pragmatic, despite what your critics say.
  • You must ask Korea's people to bear with you, because during the implementation of the plan, there will be some years of shift, some years of confusion, and things will probably get worse before they get better, as everybody grows accustomed to the new system. As we have seen before (think of the 1997 Economic Crisis), if Korea's people can see the goal for which they wait and work, they can come together and support a major project. . . IF YOU ASK THEM TO.
The four steps must be as such:
  • First, gather information. Offer up big money, in order to recruit the world's top education experts. Put together an international team of educators and analysts to inspect Korea's education system from top to bottom, from the first year of pre-school to the final year of graduate school. Talk to educators, parents, experts, students of all ages, and people on the street. Talk to laypeople from other countries with highly-regarded education systems. Hire retired Ivy League University presidents and faculty chairs and top educators and education experts worldwide to design and conduct the surveys, and to analyse the results. Do not only bring in North American experts: search Europe, India, and the entire developed world, as well as emerging countries that have successfully implemented English learning programs in their school systems, to find experts in both developed and developING education systems. Pay well enough that it is clearly worth it for them to bring their expertise to Korea. Do not just hire foreigners as "token" place-fillers, but take their advice and analysis VERY seriously: for Korea to become internationally competitive, she must begin taking advice from international experts as well as home-grown talent. As well, Korea's education system is cluttered with too many activists masquerading as teachers, whose ideologies prevent them from true teaching and leadership. If the international experts complain that some Korean team member is bringing politics into discussions about education, cut him or her from the team. Do not limit this team to Koreans, because Koreans have been IN the system for too long to think outside of it. It has become obvious that an outside view is necessary to get to the root of Korea's educational system's flaws.
  • Hire top Korean and international analysts and planners to form recommendations from the information gathered, on how to get Korea from its current system, to a new system that will raise Korean children up to be internationally competitive. Do not accept "but we've done it this way for hundreds of years" as a valid objection to a change: the world changes. Every culture changes, but, like an intelligent old lady who refuses to learn how to e-mail out of stubbornness, a culture can also limit itself, blocking itself from changes it is CAPABLE of doing, but unwilling to do, locked into a self-made cage. Sure, introduce and implement the changes in ways that make sense within Korean culture, to Korean people, but don't let "This is how we've always done things" and the same old boilerplate objections carry the day. (for example: "But essays are so subjective! Multiple choice is much more cut and dry!")
  • Create a plan for implementing these changes in stages: too much change, too quickly, will confuse everyone, and lead to total failure, before the reforms have a chance to truly change Korea's education culture. Set a schedule to introduce reforms year by year, maybe starting in Kindergarten and moving up, each year, so that everyone knows what is happening, and can prepare for the new system. Train the teachers well, not just with flyers and handouts. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, so if necessary, urge early retirement on some of the older "dogs" who won't "learn new tricks" (educators and administrators). Bring in some of the fresh young talents that are currently wasting their lives away studying for the teacher's exam, who would be thrilled at a chance to learn some new tricks, to replace them.
  • Put the plan into action, and expect a bumpy transition. (This is why you MUST ask Korea's people to bear with you.)

In 1965, physical infrastructure was Korea's great need: roads, railways, highways, and factories brought Korea from abject poverty into prosperity. However, diligence alone is no longer enough, when South-Asia and China can underbid on labour prices, and the international market is full of flexible, innovative thinkers, team-workers and problem-solvers: eight months of twelve-hour days studying for a four-hour exam that's 80% multiple choice will no longer produce the workforce Korea needs. In the same way Park Chunghee created a physical infrastructure that brought Korea into the developed world, Mr. President, you could be the leader that forges the intellectual infrastructure needed to make Korea a global leader. Then, though your legacy will not be a physical feature on the landscape, you will always be remembered, like Sejong, as a visionary leader who knew that intellectual capital is far more valuable than a physical monument or an engineering feat, and leads to a more enduring legacy.

Do not bet your entire legacy on a canal project that is already damaging your credibility; if you want to be remembered with respect and gratitude, this is how to do it, sir.

P.S.: This is a good idea. It could even be a powerful idea, so you should handle it carefully. Do not unveil it in response to a crisis, as if it's an attempt to save your reputation; think it through, build it up, present it in as positive a light as possible, line up supporters from all ends of the political spectrum, right from the get-go, and plan carefully how to introduce and sell this idea both to Korea and to your opposition: if you present it as a plan for Korea's future, rather than as "MY Legacy," it will be easier to convince the opposition to sign onto a bi-partisan project; making it bi-partisan, rather than simply pushing it through on bald authority is crucial to getting Korea, and the opposition, to "sign on" to the idea. I am sure you have advisors who can help you present this idea as humbly as possible, in order to give it a chance at success, for the good of Korea.

I'll even let you pretend it was your idea.

P.P.S.: Green energy.

There you go, K-bloggers and netizens. Go forth and spread that around, see where it goes.

1 comment:

JIW said...

I enjoyed reading it with the soundtrack... it helped set this sort of sarcastic yet serious tone.