Thursday, 28 April 2011

ATEK 4: Power to the Members

Update: ATEK's President is Resigning.
UPDATE II: ATEK's Official Statement Regarding Conflict of Interest Explanation of Disciplinary Procedures History of Removal of officers and members


Don't like something ATEK did recently? Think ATEK needs to improve something? Have some ideas about how to improve the organization?

Ultimately, ATEK answers to its general members, not to anybody else (as noisy as they may be). Every ATEK communication should include that fact, until the people who don't listen stop screeching that ATEK is claiming to represent them.  ATEK is a communication network of (number of associate members), and represents (number of general members) English teachers in Korea.

If you're not a general member, ATEK doesn't represent you.  It also doesn't answer to you, no matter how important you think you are, or how smart you are, or how loud you are.

If you ARE a general member, here's how to get involved, because if ATEK's general members get involved, and start exerting their will, that's a powerful thing... and if ATEK's general members can't be bothered, then maybe it is time for the organization to disband, and for its officers to find other venues to contribute to Korean society and the English teacher community.  They're out there.

Fact: ATEK's bylaws, as they are written now, say that a General Member petition must be heard by the National Council, if only 2% of ATEK's general members submit it.  If 4% are on board, you can demand a national vote/referendum.  Given ATEK's current number of General Members, that's about six people, so if you're a general member, you DO have the power. Tons of it.

Here's the section of ATEK's bylaws (their constitution) that gives you the power:

ARTICLE 14 Part 6
6 General Members may by way of submitting a petition to the National Council call for a referendum or general vote. Petitions must comply with the following requirements:
(a) The petition must be supported by a minimum of 4% of the total of all General Members of the Association.
(b) The petition must be an electronic petition in the form of an email.
(c) The email must contain the names and email addresses of the petitioning General Members.
(d)The email must be sent by a General Member to the National Membership Officer. The name and email details of the petitioning General Members must match the details on the National Membership list held by the National Membership Officer.
In article 7 of the bylaws, only 2% of ATEK's general members (about 3 people) need to submit the petition, for it to be required to go to the floor of the national council, at their next meeting, and voted on by them.

The general members hold the power in ATEK, and you need to know that.  And you need to use it.



Heres' how:

1. Get together a few ATEK members who want to shake some things up.
2. Go to the website (atek.or.kr)
3. Find the sidebar that says "GM Resources" - ATEK's new Webmaster has been moving things around (looks great so far), so it might move to the left or right side, etc..
4. Find the button that says "NC Petition Form" click it.
5. Follow the instructions.  Write out your petition. Be clear and specific.  If you want multiple things to happen, maybe even submit multiple submissions.
6. Upload it, as per the directions.  If you have trouble uploading it, email it to president@atek.or.kr, media@atek.or.kr webmaster@atek.or.kr members@atek.or.kr and ethics@atek.or.kr ... that should make sure it reaches the eyeballs that need to see it. If I missed anyone important, sorry.

And if you want to get something going, send me an e-mail (roboseyo, gmail) or contact me on facebook, and I'll put you in touch with others who are interested in moving and shaking as well.

Demand new membership bylaws, or meeting minutes to be posted on the website, or for the membership list to have personal information about teachers removed, or for bureaucracy to be streamlined, or for the NGO goal to be put off until the organization's figured out how to function smoothly. Call for ATEK's Ombudsperson to conduct an investigation into the things reported by 3WM if you're not satisfied with the investigation Tom Rainey-Smith did.  Demand that one be released to the public, or at least to General Members. Demand that the former officers involved in saying mean things about the organization be banned from membership for life. Or that they be made into the new ethics committee. Or anything else I recommended in my last post. Whatever.

Go for it! You have the power! You really, really do.



Comments will be open on this post, to have a discussion about what you'd like to see from an organization purporting to represent English teachers.  I'd like the comments here to be a place where people can discuss that.... so please place your comments allocating blame for the meltdown, and making, or challenging allegations, elsewhere.  He-said, she-said is playing out in other places so it's kind of unnecessary to re-state it all here.

If you wish to direct my readers to those discussions, you may put links in the comments to my site: I won't delete any links (once I find them: sometimes blogger's spam filter blocks things).

And don't worry: I'll read your comment: I keep tabs on those places, too.  You can even go on there and call me a poopypants for deleting your comments, or suppressing that kind of discussion at my site.

In other "good for English teachers" news, some of the people who've been waiting for ATEK to pull its act together, got tired of waiting, and are expanding the services that can be found on the AFEK website. There is now an open discussion forum there, in which anybody can participate.  If the forum there turns out to be anywhere near as useful as the F-visa only discussion forums on that site, it'll be an awesome resource once it's up and running.  http://www.afek.info/

Comments open. Moderation on. Please observe the terms of engagement.

That Roboseyo Sure Is A Poopypants.

If you're a fan of 3 Wise Monkeys, and don't like that I criticized them,


or if you think it's lame that I closed comments until I'd finished saying what I had to say,

you are invited to comment here, and call me a poopypants, and tell other commenters how right they are about my poopypantsiness, so that the other comment thread remains devoted to discussing what the way forward is for ATEK, if there is one.

It's not often I write a whole post just for one person.  You know who you are. You're welcome.
[Update: that might have been the most passive aggressive sentence I've ever written.  I apologize.  You know who you are.]

Here. I'll start things off:

SOCKOSEYO I:

That Roboseyo sure is a poopypants.  And passive-aggressive to boot!  It must be because he's dishonest, ego-mad, and a jerk, and a bully, and a coward, those last two somehow simultaneously, and not because he's annoyed and fucking exhausted at having to revisit an ugly mess on which he already wasted spent three months of his free time.  Freedom of speech or something!

SOCKOSEYO II: You sure are right, Sockoseyo 1!  Allow me to cast more aspersions on his character!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

ATEK 3: Why Bother, and What's the Way Forward for ATEK? Is there One?

So Why Bother with ATEK? Why doesn't ATEK just pack it in?

Let's not lose sight of these facts:

1. ATEK is a good idea.  It's a good idea for English teachers to have an organization that can, hopefully, provide a legitimate voice for them.  A good idea badly executed?  Perhaps.  A good idea executed as well as its officers could manage, given their experiences, skill-sets, and personalities?  Maybe.  A bad organization that deserves to be executed?  Not unless there's another representative organization doing a better job of giving English teachers a voice.

If that other organization comes along, and does a better job... well, awesome, and ATEK's officers should quit and move there, and hand over access to the ATEK facebook groups and such.  On the other hand... ATEK already has a massive communication network, and it would be stupid if the organization disbanded and that went fallow.

2. Any new volunteer organization that tries to develop a democratic process for representing English teachers, will have to go through its own growing pains, and will end up subject to similar criticisms, and going through similar personality issues, and pitfalls.  That ATEK has survived this long speaks well of it, and every time it goes through another rough patch, it comes out a better-built, more useful organization.  The problem? Every time ATEK goes through a rough patch, the other thing that happens is more of the long-term people who should be driving an organization like this and providing it with stability, continuity, and support, instead decide they've heard enough and get out their ten foot poles.

Any organization that doesn't try to have a democratic process for selecting its leaders, and some kind of procedure, wouldn't be able to claim to be representative. Any that does is going to end up with personality conflicts and people jockeying for influence in the organization.  Catch-22. And when somebody catches the short end of a power-struggle... hell hath no fury, you know.

3. ATEK has been having a constant discussion, at all kinds of levels, about what an English teacher organization should, can, and needs to do, and how the best way is to go about that.  They haven't arrived at a final answer and smoothed out every wrinkle (probably never will), yet, but every miss is closer to the mark than the miss before it.

4. There are still English teachers who need help with stuff, because shit still happens.

5. The Anti-English Spectrum remains intact, and active.

6. At its best, ATEK's communication network can be a really effective way to help English teachers pool and spread information.

7. ATEK is by NO means the only organization to have embarrassing public fallouts.  I've spoken with people who play/played parts in a number of other volunteer or expat organizations who have found their organizations similarly paralyzed by "titanic battles of ego" to borrow my own phrase.

8. The great idea of ATEK is that when somebody knows a lot about Korea, or teaching, or getting help in specific situations, they can (through passing their knowledge to other officers, developing resources and training materials and documents), ensure that their knowledge, experience, and contacts remain in Korea, even after they leave. The idea of keeping people's knowledge and experience in the country, perpetuating the learning (rather than reinventing the wheel time and time again) is a good one, and it's why I believe an organization like ATEK needs to exist.  If ATEK is/becomes an organization that facilitates people pooling, improving, and perpetuating their knowledge and experience of Korea, then the English teaching community is richer for it.

Is ATEK doing that?  Discuss amongst yourselves.  We've read lots of words already about how the organization has been getting in its own way at times.

Some of this stuff refers to things said on other forums or in communications with ATEK officers, some of these ideas are borrowed from other commenters in other discussions.

Rob's Prescription for ATEK to get back to being a relevant/effective organization.  Take it or leave it.

Shiva the destroyer (source): destroys, to make room for creation.
So... let's get destroying.

Some of this come from inside information, and some of it's based on comments I've read in other places.  I apologize to anyone whom I accidentally quote without attribution. Tomorrow's post will have comments open, and you're invited to take credit for as many of these as you like.  Meanwhile, I don't think any of the inside information is too scandalous, or contrary to the goals of ATEK.

Apologies for repeats:

1. Shakeup.  Again.

The remaining characters who were key players in the meltdown from last autumn need to vacate decision-making/influential positions in the organization.  Most of them already have.  For the most part, I like and respect my former colleagues as people, but pragmatically, as long as the events of last October can be thrown in the face of any of the people involved in ATEK's efforts and plans, not many people are going to take the organization seriously, at least in any endeavor where that person's role comes into play. Hopefully they'll be given enough time to find their replacements, and hopefully their replacements will be given the benefit of the doubt.

And who's going to run for president now, when the job description reads like this: "Wanted: punching bag.  Requirements: rhino-thick skin; ability to motivate people, make idealists compromise, and sniff out ulterior motives in the space of a five minute phone call.  Compensation: The people you help the most will send you an email "thanks" on their way to the airport with their severance bonus in hand.  That's it, but your name may be google-bombed if certain online personalities, or certain officers decide you do too much, or too little, of something.  They won't tell you what until you've already done it, though.  Tenure: one year, renewable."

Who's going to answer that bell?  Given the amount of punishment ATEK's president needs to be ready to take on the chin, I'd be surprised if any sensible person would go for it.  That leaves people who are in it for some other motivation... and that introduces a whole other set of problems.

And that's how it comes to be that... to riff on a line from The Dark Knight
this is not batman. this is spider-man. don't be stupid.

ATEK is the organization English teachers deserve, but not the one they need.

What else?


2. Streamline.

There are too many PMAs and too many officer roles. Combine some PMAs so that there aren't so many one-officer PMAs. Rearrange the officer role descriptions to allow more flexibility and play.  ATEK is operating on too wide a bandwidth to effectively accomplish EVERYTHING it sets out to do.  It's time to simplify its goals, and set targets according to what it can do, instead of what it wants to do, and take some of those goals, and either outsource them to other organizations, or put them aside until the organization's big enough to achieve them.  (for example, the conference)


3. Make it easier for people to become, and stay members: require less personal information for membership.  Maybe require it for an officer position, or at least some of them, because we need to know who's occupying these positions, but make it easier to become a member.

If people want to contribute to ATEK, rules shouldn't stop them. Too many people have had more to offer, and been turned away or forced-resigned, because of clumsy rules.

Ways to do this:

  • more effective use of committees (one doesn't need to be a full member to be part of a committee)
  • a third type of membership where people can contribute without NEEDING to be English teachers. ATEK has developed disclosure protocols, in order to sniff out conflicts of interest where they exist. I'm OK with people working certain jobs being ineligible for certain officer roles - for example, a recruiter should never have access to any of ATEK's membership lists - but if a recruiter wants to design and organize professional development materials, why shouldn't s/he?
  • relaxed membership policies
  • Membership, at the very least, should expire when their officer role does.  The lost opportunities coming out of forced resignations mentioned in 3WM part 2 are one of the worst things ATEK did to itself.

4. This one might be hard to swallow for some people: Back away from the NGO goal for now and focus on utility

Take an organization people don't understand, and don't totally trust, which hasn't provided many tangible benefits for the people it's trying to reach, and hasn't done a great job of communicating what it has, is, and will do, and make it an NGO, and you have an NGO which people don't understand, and don't totally trust, which hasn't provided many tangible benefits for the people it's trying to reach, and hasn't done a great job of communicating what it has, is, and will do.  Becoming an NGO won't magically make ATEK a useful organization and automatically overhaul its reputation, any more than joining a religion automatically means I can stop taking my antidepressants and seeing my counsellor.

But if ATEK, after retooling, proves itself an effective tool for helping people to maximize their wish to help English teachers, then it'll be even more useful as an NGO.

ATEK's best moves lately have been things like opening the blood-type registry and compiling a list of mental health services in Korea, and getting Hankyoreh to publish a retraction for an article about English teachers breaking contract.  Nobody was talking shit about ATEK when it did those things, because they were tangible.  Why not focus on those kinds of goals for a while, until the organization's name is tied to efforts like that, instead of saddled to a reputation for having a big, ugly, public scandal every 8 months?

These next three might be repeating.  Sorry.

5. Get better at forming and maintaining contacts with outside bodies and people -- DON'T reinvent the wheel.  Instead, coordinating the efforts of stuff that's already out there is more effective.  As an example: why bother creating an events forum on ATEK's website, when people check for events at 10 Magazine?

If someone's helping English teachers already, or enabling English teachers to contribute to their communities, do they need to be recruited as an ATEK officer, before ATEK can form a connection with them, and help them spread the word about whatever they're doing?

Why not let them stay where they are, and use ATEK's communication network give them a bigger stage to keep doing what they're already doing anyway?  Or give them access to parts of ATEK's communication network, and then let them go to keep at what they were up to anyway? As one example: why not have a quick tutorial on the ATEK site on joining forums for other pages, posting event notices on other sites, etc., which anybody can access, instead of forcing it to go through an officer (when one is filling the position), and requiring officers to go through an approval procedure before communications can go out?  Then, ATEK's network is helping to connect people with the community that's already out there instead of duplicating work and/or bogging it down with procedure.

6. Be facilitators

One of the biggest ways ATEK was getting in its own way was all the different ways people were being told not to do things, and given constraints on their actions.  For ATEK to become an organization where people want to contribute, it needs to earn a reputation for helping people do what they're already doing faster, or more easily, or to a larger audience.  Then, people will be flocking to the organization, instead of dithering about joining, or quitting out of frustration.

7. Kill the stuff that isn't working, or that's duplicating what others are doing.

The forums? Aren't working. Kill them. It's a good idea to have some discussion forums which are more positive and productive than... that discussion forum, but Hi Expat and Waygook.org and AFEK have open discussion forums now, and people who are already putting time and work into developing, moderating, and improving them. Why not use ATEK officer time and talent in other areas, and send ATEK members to those places, with ready-made communities, instead of trying to become the all-hub-of-everything, all at once?  KOTESOL has conferences that are quite well-attended and successful.  They have experience and know-how. Why not support them instead of putting together ATEK's own?

The Employment and Legal Issues role? Isn't working: there hasn't been a labor officer in months. Kill it. ATEK.or.kr/legal has a list of legal services expats can call. Add to that a flow chart of "have you tried...X, X, or X?" and maybe some downloadable examples of letters that have been written to employers for certain situations, and a checklist of pertinent cultural points to remember for conflict resolution in Korean workplaces.  Then, when somebody comes along with talents to improve the system, let them.  Until then, promising labor help that can't be given is leading to disappointment.

How many of the things ATEK promises to do, has it been unable to do, because it's understaffed? How many of those vacant officer roles could be replaced with links to other places where people are already doing those things?

8. Focus on the local

Busan and Gyeonggi PMAs are doing quite well.  This would be a good time for ATEK's leadership to work on finding ways to facilitate and empower the local organizations to develop themselves.  Maybe Busan and Gyeonggi can make it their goals to work on building PMAs adjacent to theirs, and let it go from there.

9. Stop claiming to represent...

Add the line "ATEK represents X general members" to all promotional materials press releases and info kits.  One of the most common gripes from the screeching complainers is "You don't represent me, and I never asked you to."  So keep hammering home the point that ATEK only represents its general members.  Yeah, I know the screechers don't listen... but that's their problem.  ATEK's job is to make sure it's because they weren't listening, not because ATEK was talking too big.

10. Close that chapter for good

The first edition of the English Teacher's Guide To Korea (Sparkling) was recently removed from the website.  The organization name and the logo need to change too, to erase the legacy of that one former communications officer who pissed off a lot of people who should have been ATEK's allies from the start, and whose name comes up every time somebody who doesn't like ATEK needs to throw something in ATEK's face.  The name ATEK's been bogged down with too much crap as well, at this point.  I was the PR guy for half a year and even I tense up when I hear or read "ATEK."

11. Expectation management - let's be reasonable here.

ATEK should be talking, and setting goals, according to the number of active general members and/or officers it has, not according to the number of associate members it has, or the number of contacts in its mailing list.

12. Get all private information about members off the ATEK website, so that it's easier to give people moderator or administrator access, without people worrying about them getting access to information they shouldn't have.

13. Transparency and news:

ATEK should be making its successes known.  English teacher avoided getting ripped off because an officer brainstormed some coping strategies?  Take out personal info and put that up on ATEK's twitter account, or in a little window on the front of the webpage.  English teacher decides not to do a midnight run?  Put that up on twitter, or the webpage.  English teacher found a much-needed counseling service? Remove the slightest hint of personal information, and let the world know on twitter.  That stuff happens.  People get helped.  Let people know about the little victories as well as the big ones.  Get pictures from all the volunteer events happening down in Busan, or in Gyeonggi (another of ATEK's most active PMAs), and let's see them on the website!

ATEK's organizational bodies/decision making bodies should have regularly scheduled meetings, and those meeting minutes should be available at least to general members, and maybe also to associate members. A version of them should be available for the general public.

14. A rhetoric tip:

It's a fallacy, or at least a false dichotomy, to assert that those who don't join ATEK aren't helping English teachers, as if ATEK is the only way to contribute to the expat community. So let's never again hear anything along the lines of "at least ATEK is helping people.  What have YOU done?"  I think "If you know how to do it better, please join and show us" is fair game, but speaking as if ATEK is the only legitimate outlet for supporting the English teaching community sounds smug.  It's off-putting.

If people who like to help English teachers, and do it a lot, are not finding ATEK a good venue to do what they do, then ATEK needs to look at why.



After part 4 tomorrow, when comments come open, you're invited to add your input to the comments.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

ATEK 2: My farewell letter to ATEK Officers

Dear ATEK Officers,

While I have had a great time working with ATEK, it is time to inform you that I am now resigning from my role as ATEK’s National External Communications Officer. It has been an exciting but challenging experience, and I have learned a lot. I believe that another officer will be able to do a better job of promoting ATEK to the media than I have been, and I believe ATEK will benefit from new blood. Where I have failed, or proven inadequate to the job, I apologize. Where I have done well, I thank you for your support in giving me the opportunity to do so.

I will remain a supporter of ATEK, even after I am no longer an officer.

Before I go, I would like to say a few words about what ATEK is, and what it can become, and ask you all to consider this as you promote and recruit for ATEK, and plan events.

One:
While I believe that ATEK will grow stronger as more teachers volunteer and contribute, I ask you to consider that there are some people, in some positions, who will better serve English teachers from outside the organization. A journalist who supports ATEK will do a better job of helping ATEK as a friendly press connection than by becoming an officer, at which time, for the sake of journalistic objectivity, he/she would not ethically be able to write about ATEK.

This becomes especially true in two cases: (1) where there is money to be made (for example, if I am the publisher of a book about teaching) and (2) where ATEK’s goals and purposes could impede me from acting freely because, as an officer, my actions would reflect on the organization at large (for example, a human rights lawyer: where their work might help English teachers, a too-close affiliation with ATEK could lead to the appearance that ATEK plans to engage in human-rights agitation). There are organizations and groups that are developing services for English teachers and, while ATEK would benefit from having members of some of them, there are others that work best as allies or friends of ATEK. ATEK must be judicious in choosing when, and how, to form relationships and affiliations, in order to guard the organization’s image, both now and for the future. It is important to support ATEK’s President and Ethics Committee as they help make decisions about forming such relationships.

Two:
As a writer, writing guides often urge me to consider my audience. As members of an organization that can do a lot of good for English teachers, I ask all of you to consider the different audiences that are watching and passing judgment on ATEK. In particular: many of ATEK’s officers are foreign English teachers; however, foreign English teachers are not the only ones watching ATEK, and initiatives that read well among English teachers don’t always play well to other audiences.

Consider this:
Developing labor services looks great to foreign English teachers and having a record of helping English teachers, Korean and foreign, get fair treatment will look very good on ATEK’s record.

However, if the perception develops that this is the only thing ATEK does, this will damage ATEK’s ability to perform other goals that will, in the long run, serve English teachers. If labor is ATEK’s main strength, and the area where ATEK expends most of its energy, the hagwon owners’ association, and anybody else who employs English teachers, will look on ATEK as an enemy. This will ultimately hurt English teachers, as the ideal outcome for English teachers and, for English education in Korea, is for ATEK to have strong ties with such an association in order to work together and develop concrete steps for improving the resources and training available to English teachers, steps which can be developed by the talent contained in ATEK, and then implemented by the administrators and decision-makers who have final say.

This is why professional development initiatives MUST play a larger role in ATEK’s future. This is why community contribution: volunteering, social events, clothing drives, and other philanthropic efforts MUST NOT be scoffed at. ATEK is not only concerned with teachers getting their severance pay, as dishonest treatment from employers is only symptomatic of the bigger problem that foreign English teachers are being used as scapegoats for the problems in Korea’s English education system. In order to deal with the larger problem of scapegoating, building goodwill with community action is of VITAL importance to ATEK’s long-term goals.

Foreign English teachers are not the only group with whom ATEK must build credibility. Parents’ groups, school boards, school administrators, and others concerned with Education in Korea must also see something in ATEK that they consider positive, and the perception that ATEK is a pseudo-union will not be the thing that wins their hearts and minds. For these audiences, ATEK must project the image that we are reliable, that we are professional, that we are actively and concretely helping teachers improve as teachers, that we are actively and concretely helping teachers contribute to our communities, and that we are actively and concretely helping teachers transition more smoothly into life in Korea and work in Korean schools.

Our audiences are as follows, and we ignore any of these audiences, as an organization, at our peril.

Education administrators in the Korean government school owners and administrators in all kinds of English programs and departments short-term foreign English teachers long-term expat English teachers (including those with F-visas) Korean national English teachers, parents of children in school, adult English students, other NGOs and NPOs dealing with education issues, other NGOs and NPOs dealing with expat and migrant worker issues, the Korean media (English language and especially Korean language), and – through them – the Korean public in general.

Some of these groups might be impressed by short-term actions; for most of them, establishing credibility and building good-will will be a long-term project.

Three:
While this is a common issue in volunteer organizations, many of us know that a lot of stress and turmoil has come through ATEK lately. This came from numerous sources, but ultimately, it boils down to this simple issue: ego. A few very smart and capable people decided that their opinion, and their vision for ATEK, was better than that of others, and a few other very smart and capable people insisted likewise.

I’d like to remind all the officers in ATEK that none of us owns ATEK. ATEK does not belong to any of us, nor to any one body of the association. ATEK is an idea bigger than one or another of our conceptions of it, and the only way ATEK will grow to be as big and as exciting an organization as it CAN be is if people acknowledge and respect other points of view, other opinions, and look for ways to collaborate and compromise, rather than seeking ways for their view or vision to win primacy over others.

Those who have been with ATEK a long time must be mindful that, as more talent joins the organization, their level of sway over the organization will decrease, and THIS IS A GOOD THING, because it indicates that ATEK’s resources are expanding. Those who are new in the organization should be mindful that the ATEK has been around for a while. It is built the way it was built for a very good reason, and they should seek the insights and counsel of those who have been involved for longer.

Everyone should remember that, in everything they do, they are not just acting now but also creating an organization they will pass on to others when their time in Korea or time with ATEK expires. And, when there is a difference of opinion, the need to listen and respect others’ views is more important and serves the organization better in the long run than the need to say one’s piece.

Four:
One of the most practically useful things ATEK did in its opening months was to publish the English Teachers’ Guide to Korea.
Some officers are working on developing the second edition, the online edition of this guide. This is a practical, hands-on, lasting contribution ATEK can make for the English teaching community in Korea, and the scope of information an online guide can provide is inexhaustible, if we find and coordinate the people to help with this. This is also a project where many people outside ATEK, but sympathetic to ATEK’s goals, would be happy to help out. I strongly urge every officer in ATEK to consider how they can help with this project, and to do so.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please support the President, and the officers around you, as we try to build a better organization. Please support the next National External Communications Officer, and please continue working to support and improve life for English teachers in Korea.

Your (former) National External Communications Officer, Rob Ouwehand

Monday, 25 April 2011

ATEK 1

Been lots of talk about ATEK lately.

You can hear Greg Dolezal talk about it on the Seoul Podcast.

I'm going to write about this one time. (in a few parts, though)

First: Ground rules.

I won't be making any comment on specific personalities. Comments about specific personalities on my blog will be deleted.  If you wish to participate in character assassination of either side, here's your link.  Comments will be closed on this post: only the fourth of my four will have commenting. Keep it in one place. It's tiring moderating comment discussions, and ATEK has already gotten as many fifteen hour weeks of unpaid effort and time as I'm willing to offer up for now. And I've got midterms.

I have lots of thoughts about some of the specific people... but they'll stay between me, myself, and maybe people I know who have zero chance of publishing communications between me and them on the internet.

Because if I let a little out, I have to let it all out... and nobody really needs to know which former or current ATEK officer hates puppies, which one can't hold his/her soju, which one eats babies, which one has a habit of "adjusting" in public, which one once accidentally killed a tranny in a Cambodian bar fight and which can quote season and episode for the entire run of Dr. Who, and will punch you if you think "Firefly" sucked.

I made all those up.

But here are the points I'd like to make:


1. If 3WM's traffic works like my blog does, a controversy, and a lively comment discussion means lots of hits.  

A whole year ago, 3WM stumbled onto the fact that picking on well-meaning people DOES stir up lots of comments.  If their site is anything like mine, a good lively comment discussion is also a web traffic bonanza.

Screenshot taken last week.

Screenshot taken last week


Let's also note this: (from their right-hand sidebar)
Had to be said.
[Update: after a polite email from one of the Three Wise Monkeys, it's only fair to inform my readers that the advertisements on the side of the 3WM page are unpaid, and the site is, for now, non-profit.  So add that to whatever you've already put in your pipe, and smoke it, too.]

So... 3WM is doing well on this. Do they give a damn about the plight of English teachers? Who knows? The series didn't offer a single productive suggestion except "disband" (which is destructive, not productive)... but they got the eyeballs. So congratufuckinglations.

Equivocation:
Also to be noted: 3WM isn't just the editor or the three main writers. In the comments after posts, you'll notice that the 3WM community is pretty tight, too: they seem to look out for each other and back each other up. Good for them... when they're not bullying people like Chris Backe, with even site admin joining the mean-spirited pile-up. Etcetera.

And some of the articles on there have been very interesting and well-written, and some have been done by writers whom I respect a lot. That's not to say I have any respect at all for the way THIS story was investigated or presented... but if The Korea Times gets Michael Breen AND Kang Shin-Who, I can be impressed by some of the writers at 3WM while this article and the apparent intentions behind it can still make me want to punch through a wall.

Next thing:


2. Critical thinking 101: Don't trust a one-sided story

When a narrative makes one side sound completely virtuous, and as if s/he and s/he alone was the one wronged, and the other side is always and invariably the one in the wrong, either through ineptitude or malice... 

That's not a narrative you should trust, folks.

Are ATEK's leaders, and the organization in general, all the bad things presented in the 3WM article?  Is the former Seoul Chair the well-meaning hero (presumably on a white horse, and maybe even with a crown of thorns,) out to save all English teachers, only to be foiled by the cackling ATEK executive wearing black hats and rubbing their hands together?

No.

Are ATEK's leaders totally guiltless little hippies, who were on their way to a utopian English education atmosphere, only to have their kumbaya-singing circle spoiled by a big bully who joined the organization in order to launch a pipe-bomb into it, and may or may not have been wearing a mecha suit?

No.

3WM will tell you that the stories they gathered corroborated... but folks, if you go down to rural Georgia, find a house with a confederate flag in the second story window, and ask the six good ol' boys sitting on the porch to tell you the story of the US civil war, you'll get a story that corroborates... corroboration doesn't always mean a lot.  Even my research design class highlights the fact a high rate of non-respondents undermines reliability.

Ask six Koreans about colonial Japan. Then ask six Japanese about it.  Bet the Koreans' stories corroborate, and so do the Japanese's.  But I also bet their stories are so different you'd barely know they were talking about the same region, and the same time period.

The truth is somewhere between the narratives you've been presented in the 3WM article, and the view you get from commenters like Oh Really in the 3WM piece, or the view you get from Greg in the Seoul Podcast, or whatever ATEK's official statement will be, when it comes out.  I have my own ideas about how blame should be divvied up... most people involved acted not in malice so much as over-certainty of their own perspective, or simply on bad advice, and some of them are bad listeners, or bad communicators, and some of them lost perspective, and a few people simply had lapses in judgement or vigilance at crucial points... but I'm keeping the specifics to myself, because finger-pointing and he-said she-said distracts from the thing that's actually important: What's good for English teachers in Korea?

So go back to the other narratives, and decide for yourselves where the truth lies.  Be suspicious of anyone whose story is too well-told or juicy, because good storytelling requires a massaging of facts, and don't forget these events happened, mostly, last October and November, meaning there's been a good five months for people's memories to color what actually happened.  Having witnessed the whole thing myself, and been party to even more of the e-mails than our dear former Seoul officer, here's what you're getting from me:


3. A titanic battle of egos it was.

But for a titanic battle of egos to occur, requires titanic egos on both sides.  Both sides, folks, despite what 3WM would have you believe.

There were people on all sides (not just two people, not just two sides) who refused to budge, who were bullying, who were disrespectful, who were rude or petty, who dismissed and scorned the other side, who sulked, who stomped their feet, and who did things that seemed to demonstrate that to them, being right had become more important than helping ATEK help English teachers. Everybody looked bad at some point or another, from where I stood, myself included. And anybody who looks back, and finds a way to hold themselves blameless, is missing something.  Any narrator who makes themselves sound blameless, is being dishonest with their audience, and themselves. 

It was a perfect storm of incompatible personalities, communication styles, and visions of what ATEK could/should do/be. It was ugly, and I hated being witness to it. I'd meant to take my last months with ATEK and use them to get the second edition of the English Teacher's Guide to Korea on its feet.  Instead, I spent them writing e-mails, talking various people off various ledges, sorting through bullshit and ego and accusations and threats and distortions and personal issues made into ATEK issues.  The Teacher's Guide project remains in limbo, and I'm fucking choked.  

At EVERYBODY involved.  I want my fucking three months back.

That said, there were a lot of smart (not always mature, and not always polite, but very smart) people trying to come up with the fairest way they could, for dealing with a situation the organization hadn't encountered before, trying to implement it at the same time as developing it.  And dealing with it this time it was ugly. Really ugly, but the things the organization has learned from this, mean that next time, similar issues will be dealt with much more quickly and efficiently.

4. The full dish on the former Seoul Chair. 

Nah. You're not getting anything from me. I'm not a muckraker.

I have, before, during, and since the ATEK blowup, recommended the services of that firm to English teachers. Because I'm on the side of English teachers, and that's a service for English teachers. And that's all you're getting from me.

5. Change of Focus:
Here's what has been forgotten in this mess:

Anti-English Spectrum is still out there, organized, and active.  Anti-English Spectrum members continue putting bugs in the ears of Korean policy makers, and going through foreign English teachers' trash, and "following" them. And English teachers (and various non-English teacher expats) continue cannibalizing their own, rather than mounting/supporting/contributing to an organized response to it.  

(yeah, go ahead and tell me ATEK has gotten in its own way in letting people help mount/support/contribute to that response.  I know. I'll cover that in a future post)

And that's a fucking shame, because that's the bigger picture here.

Look for a few more posts on this, and then I'm done with this topic until ATEK, or another organization, is showing results worth reporting.  The first time I threw down on ATEK's behalf, I ended up looking stupid, and moderating the discussions about ATEK back in 2009 at Roboseyo and the Hub Of Sparkle (did you forget about that, 3WM, the part where I gave ATEK's critics an equal voice in discussions even then, or did it just not fit your narrative, so you ignored it?) was so time-consuming and stressful it very nearly cost me the most important friendship of my adult life.  I still volunteered as communications officer, because I think ATEK is a good idea, and no other organization was trying to do what ATEK wanted to do.

And now I'm tired of the histrionics, frankly, and I'm tired of having my good intentions thrown in my face by a muckraker pretending to be a journalist who never even approached me for a fucking comment.  I'm not an English teacher anymore, I gave it the best shot I was able, given the circumstances, because I believe in the idea that English teachers should be empowered to help themselves, and ATEK, supposedly, and painstakingly, is moving towards that.  But if this is the atmosphere that's going to perpetuate itself, if the axe-grinders, naysayers and dart-throwers carry the discourse, and the ones who want a more rational and mature way of dealing with issues stay silent, and people who have the knowledge and qualifications and energy to help English teachers get intimidated or bullied away from an organization that can (ideally) give them an opportunity to do so... then maybe English teachers in Korea deserve to drown in their own piss and vinegar. Fuck it. 

Posts to come:

1. The farewell letter I wrote when I left office as communications officer. 
2. My personal set of prescriptions for what I think ATEK needs to do next, to rebuild its reputation, and moreover its usefulness.
3. How ATEK's members, whom ATEK's leadership ultimately answers to, can take control of the organization that purports to represent them.

The final post in my ATEK series will be open for comments. Until then, go talk about ATEK on another discussion board where somebody else can moderate the fireworks.  

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Somebody must be studying for midterms...

'cause he keeps posting random weird stuff on his blog.



Seriously, though, it's intellectually dishonest of many Korean scholars reinterpret their colonial history through the false binaries of (Japanese) exploitation/ (Korean attempts at) development, Japan/Korea, Imperialist repression/Nationalist modernization.  The hegemonic strategies Japan deployed were not monolithic, but nuanced, changing over time, and a complex mix of different cultural forces, interactions, and negotiations, while Korean responses to colonization were likewise.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

For everyone who's EVER played Tetris...


Even better: somebody actually made the game.

(if the game doesn't embed properly in your browser, click on "somebody" to play.)

I should be studying for midterms.


(update: let's not forget the counterpoint, also an XKCD comic: Tetris Hell)

Also playable. http://www.geekosystem.com/xkcd-tetris-hell-game/

Monday, 18 April 2011

Question of the Day: Chicken Pot Pie in Seoul?

Hello, dear readers.

The question of the day, from my fearless, small-faced friend Cynthia, is this:

Where the hell does one find a really tasty chicken pot pie in Seoul?

(image source)


I had a nice meat pie at Tartine in Itaewon, and an OK one at that Aussie bar up the hill between Itaewon and Noksapyeon.  Any other suggestions?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Do you get used to Korea?

1. Yup. I know there's been a lot of talk about ATEK lately. I'll address it as soon as I'm able.

2.
http://imnopicasso.blogspot.com/2011/04/questions-are-you-getting-used-to-korea.html so I'm No Picasso wrote an interesting post about living in Korea, and all the things that start off mind-blowingly new aren't new after a while, and there comes a point where one has to just hit the "Zen" button when they get bumped on the subway, or get complimented on their chopstick use again or asked if they can eat spicy food again, because if they can't do that (at least most of the time - everybody has "bad Korea days" which are really just bad days with different ingredients than bad days back home), they're probably not going to make it.

The money shot, to me, is this:
...The S.O. knows all about my blogs.... He constantly bemoans the fact that I am too used to Korea, and that he can't explain anything, or guide me in anything, or show me anything new. Which isn't true at all. ...it confuses him that I'm still keeping the blog -- he says, "What else is there for you to write about? Haven't you written everything in nearly three years? What could you possibly still have to say about Korea?"
There's something I like to call "second year syndrome" which is the fallacy (common among certain groups of people) that once one's been here for a year or two, one is ready to hold forth as an expert on all aspects of Korea, the assumption, for example, that three years of blogging about Korea would be enough to explore every topic, or that a series of short declarative statements (here's a good sampling) would be all one needed to successfully navigate all of Korean culture and life, and I'd like to at least introduce that phrase today.  I'll talk about it more later...

But for now, I'd like to stand with INP and say that Korea, as a country, a culture, a people, and a history, is inexhaustible.  I've met people who, by the way they speak about Korea, have hedged their views of Korea in with so many shorthand conclusions about the country, the culture, and the people, that they've closed themselves off from finding anything interesting, fascinating, or new about the country, and I've even met Koreans who sell their own culture short, settling on the image of their country they learned in ethics class, and the places they like to visit, and the shows they watch on TV, and have their own set of shorthand conclusions about what the country, and the people are, such that they don't explore anymore.

And that's too bad, is all.

Anyway, I've been reading a lot (grad school, you know), and studying the language a lot (still slow going, that), and trying to find new ways to be re-amazed by Korea.

I'll keep you updated.

One place to start: http://koreanfilm.org/topten2000s.html KoreanFilm.Org.  Not all of them are, but Korean cinema has some pretty awesome films in its history.

I'm watching The Housemaid (the 1960 version) right now.  AWESOME movie... but the "Very Special Episode" ending was something else.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Between: The story of an Korean adoptee, opens April 8

Amy Mihyang from the Seoul Players, is staging a one-woman show about...

from the press release:
Combining adapted work by Asian and adoptee writers and Amy Mihyang's original writing, "between" encapsulates her experiences as a Korean American woman, a New Yorker, and most of all, a transracial adoptee. Bringing the audience with her on the plane en route from NYC to Korea, the author contrasts her journey with the echoes of other adoptees and those touched by the act of adoption. Mihyang makes us ask ourselves, “Do we need to know where we came from in order to know where we're going?”
The Press Release is here :

It's at "after mainstage" in Itaewon, and it runs from April 8-17.

Tickets are 15000 and funds raised go to KUMFA - Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association, another issue I care a lot about.

There is a map to the venue included in the press photos, here.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Speaking of great singers... RIP Meat Loaf 1947-2011

RIP Meat Loaf: "I Would Do Anything For Love" was my favorite song like, in the world, ever, for a good year of my life.  I had the whole, 12 minute version memorized back in the day.



Never forget you, Meat.

And Paradise by the Dashboard Light ain't so bad, either.

(Great website for keeping up on who's dead, and who's not: http://www.deadoraliveinfo.com/dead.nsf/pages-nf/main)

And yeah. this IS an april fools hoax. Meat Loaf is still alive and rocking.