Monday, April 25, 2011


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.

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?


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?


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.  

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