An excerpt from a forthcoming book by Amanda Ripley entitled The Smartest Kids in the World — And How They Got That Way:
“Per student, Korean taxpayers spent half as much money as American taxpayers on schools, but Korean families made up much of the difference out of their own pockets. In addition to hagwon fees, they had to pay for public school, since the government subsidy didn’t cover all the expenses. American exchange student Eric’s school was not the most elite public school in Busan, but it still cost about fifteen hundred dollars per year.
On paper, Eric’s high schools in Minnesota and Korea had some things in common. Both Minnetonka and Namsan boasted dropout rates of less than 1 percent, and both schools paid their teachers similarly high salaries. However, while Minnetonka kids performed in musicals, Namsan kids studied and studied some more. The problem was not that Korean kids weren’t learning enough or working hard enough; it was that they weren’t working smart.
The Iron Child culture was contagious; it was hard for kids and parents to resist the pressure to study more and more. But all the while, they complained that the fixation on rankings and test scores was crushing their spirit, depriving them not just of sleep but of sanity.”
Bingo. In my experience in South Korea, the appearance of “working hard” is often mistaken for actual hard work itself. Just because a student is stressed and sleep-deprived doesn’t mean she’s actually learning anything. Same goes for employees.
But to not go through the motions of being stressed and sleep-deprived makes you an outcast, whether you’re a student, a doctor, or a taxi driver.