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“Dreaming Classroom” Exhibit

October 16, 2009

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October 16, 2009 — Today after school I took the girls to an exhibit at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center called “Dreaming Classroom – The Treasure Within.” I’m quite sure they’d have rather gone straight home and played Barbies and read Harry Potter, but I didn’t budge. It was the last day to view this photo exhibition of classrooms and learning situations around Asia, and we were gonna see this and observe how other children around the world experience school even if it killed us. Fortunately, my kids are mostly agreeable when I take them on educational outings. I suppose they’re used to Mom dragging them around to museums and teaching them about the exhibits. It’s a tribute to our days involved in parent-led education and a by-product of my educator’s mindset. I love learning and teaching, and I love opening my children’s minds to new understandings.

So, we braved downtown traffic, took risks trying to find parking, asked for directions from a couple of Korean people on the street and managed to successfully end up in the parking lot at the JoongAng Ilbo Building which housed the KFCC.

The photo exhibition was wonderful. We saw photos of students and people in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and other Asian countries in the midst of their daily routines of working, learning and teaching. The first section was called “Learning from the Earth.” The brochure says, “Learning from the Earth is intended to provide an arena to think about what we can learn from people whose age, wisdom and grace surpass our own.” The photos were beautiful and inspiring.

The second section was called “Dreaming Class.” Here “unfolds a story of learning that takes place both inside and outside the physical walls of school classrooms. Schools in Asia are both a source where students discover their dreams and a field where they passionately grow and realize their dreams.” I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer abundance with which we Americans live. In fact, I have no doubt that there are more teaching materials and books here in my small office in my Korean apartment than there were in many, if not most, of the classrooms pictured. That being said, it was clear that learning was taking place in these photos, that some children were eager to learn and others not eager to learn. In the preschool classroom, toddlers were crying for mommy just as they might be doing in any room of toddlers around the world. Some things were so different, and yet others were so much the same. This is the constant theme of life that I repeatedly find in even the remotest corners of the world. We are the same — even when we are different.

As I walked alongside the rows of photos and saw children writing their letters on a blackboard, bowing to their teachers, kissing the hand of their elders, or sitting at desks or tables covered with books, I noted all of the various ways that we teach our children. I noticed that some classrooms were decorated with wall hangings on their rough concrete walls. Some had colorful carpets lining the dusty floors, and some had floors made of only dirt.

The last and final photo area was called, “The World is Our Book and Our Classroom.” The brochure offers a beautiful sentiment which I love. “Where is the place with the power to completely transform the inner workings of our lives? Perhaps, it is where we live our daily lives, which occupies the largest and the most important space. All the space and time that surrounds us can be our teachers.” My favorite photo here was of a boy sitting on a cow in the middle of the herd.

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My absolute favorite section of the exhibit, however, was the “Learn Asia” area where actual copies of text books and classroom materials used in all these Asian countries were on display and available for browsing through. It was intriguing to leaf through the variety of materials, some printed on nothing more than newsprint. Additionally, and to my surprise, many of the texts were in English. Singapore, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea each had text books written in English, and many of the same topics we teach are covered in their texts as well.

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While I wandered around admiring the photos, 11yo and 7yo daughters sat at a computer station and played a game for kids called Sea Journey that was created for the exhibit. They each signed a guest Post-It Note that said, “The computer game was fun!”

During this time, Kiki made friends with several young Korean ladies who were working at the center. They chased her around the center (their idea, not mine) playing tag and giggling with her and telling me how cute she was. At first, Kiki was resistant to all the attention. When we walked in the building they started immediately with the “awwwww!” “ooooooo!” “halloh!” Ki retreated and squeaked at them. She does this when she’s overwhelmed with lots of attention. But then, in a few minutes they were playing tag with her, carrying her around the room, she was telling them, “I’m Kiki.” and “I want you to play chase-tag with me again.” Since we were the only ones in the entire exhibit I suppose noise wasn’t an issue. When it was finally time to leave, Kiki was sitting on a bench with this sweet young lady whose arm was around her back. Kiki was pouting a little bit and said, “I’m gonna miss you,” to which the lady replied, “awwww. I’m gonna miss YOU too!” Her English was great and she said she had visited Louisiana at one time. She ended up giving me her email address and offered her help with any questions I have about Korea. She was entirely nice and darling. I am cautious, however, about the idea of Kiki getting so involved with a stranger. Here in Korea, children are considered a national treasure so they are doted on and adored by everyone. Korean culture does not consider it strange to touch someone else’s children, hug them, pat their heads, give them candy, correct them if they are making a mistake or doing something dangerous. Children are “raised” by everyone. While I haven’t completely bought into this behavior, it’s an impossibility not to be part of it while we live here. My real concern is what I’ll do when we move back to America where taking candy from strangers is a dreadful danger we preach at regular opportunities, and becoming “best friends” with a total stranger, no matter how sweet and kind she may seem is an appalling no-no.

To view more photos from this excursion, visit my SCBWI Korea Flickr Photostream:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/scbwikorea/sets/72157622501002273/

To read more about the Korea Foundation Cultural Center, click here:

http://www.kfcenter.or.kr/english/art/01_read.asp?num=3118

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