Thursday, July 9, 2009

A lesson from Korean cram schools

When I was in elementary school, I was a member of the black girl clique. One day, I got into a serious arguement with my friends, and asked my Asian classmates if I could hang with them until things cooled off with the sisters. They welcomed me with open arms. It was then, as a 6th grader, the difference between culture became apparent. For example, at lunch, the black girls talked about popular TV shows, hairstyles, weekend plans, and boys. When I started chilling with the Asian chics, I noticed our time together was dominated by our academics. We did homework together, studied together, quizzed each other before tests, and scolded each other if our grades slipped. For the first time in my life, I became a model student.

I am not the only non-Asian who has been influenced by this kind of work ethic. Last Sunday's Washington Post article, Preparing for More Than a Quiz highlighted Korean "Cram Schools" developed to supplement the standard 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. education students receive in public schools. These cram schools have been instrumental in helping Korean (and a growing number of white) students reinforce lessons learned in class, ace the SAT, and nearly guarantee entrance into Virginia and Maryland's top high schools and colleges.

How does this apply to River East? Well, the bottom line is that we need to stop making excuses for our children's academic performance. Leaders in our community explain that many River East children grow up in low-income single parent families and they simply don't have the resources or environmental setting to excel in academics. While there is validity to this excuse, we just have to over come it. Many of the black students in my private elementary school came from families that were just as financially and socially secure as our white and Asian counterparts; however, we still managed to rank at the bottom of scholastic achievement. This leads me to believe that our problem is not solely economic, but it is a matter of values and sacrifice.

One example of sacrifice is Shirley Harrell, a divorced single mother of two boys in Harlem, NY. She's a full time department store cashier and part time college student. Six days out of the week, Shirley and her sons commute from Harlem to Queens so her children can attend a Korean cram school after their school day has ended. Her sons' grades went from C's to A's. It's important to note that they enjoy attending these schools. They have all the fun that their African American peers do, but they simply put their academics first.

When asked about the financial burden of the supplemental education for her eldest son, Shirley explained, ""I'll do anything legal to come up with the money. If he wants to get ahead [with a SAT cram school], I'm going to help him."

I know there are many parents in River East who are just like Shirley. We just need to make the sacrifice. I look forward to the day when people say the African American community is pushing their children too hard. But of course, we'll learn a lesson from our Korean brothers and sisters in maintaining a healthy balance between social interaction and scholastic achievement.

The author of Talking Stuff posted excellent commentary on this subject. Please visit if you get a chance!


The Advoc8te said...

Another FANTASTIC article!!! I love the idea of cram schools - wish there was one when I was in school! We need something like that in River East for real - it is an EXCELLENT idea. It gets kids off the streets and studying.

Braveheart said...

Thanks Advoc8te! I wonder what it takes to get one of these started. With all the super smart people in the area who are willing to volunteer, it shouldn't cost much! I'll do some more research...

And I also wish we had them when I was coming up. Although we're still fabulous, there's no telling what a extra boost would have taken us :-)

Anonymous said...

Mag-bloody-nificent! Thinking and living in a world that stretches beyond the boundaries of your immediate experience, however challenging that may be, is vital to personal and intellectual growth. Cultural isolation for River East kids or any kids is a consignment to ghettoism, and I think we've had enough of that.

Korean cram schools?! I didn't even know there were such things here in the States, and certainly not open to non-Koreans. Great story and very inspiring!

LittleTortilla stays in DC said...

I've read about this and I know people who have gone to these types of school. While I feel that children need to spend more hours in a learning environment I am against the idea of cram schools. Children need to learn more about critical thinking, the arts, science and have some physical activity. To me those extra hours should be used more wisely than just rote memorization.