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[Xmca-l] The Wreck of the Sewol
For three days, every newscaster in South Korea has worn black. The
nightly news consists of two hours of stories about the capsizing of
the ferry Sewol, with hundreds of high school students on their last
high school field trip, off of Jindo Island near Jeju.
It's not like watching CNN when there is some heart-breaking story but
no news, and you get these callous talking heads hemming and hawing
for hours on end. No; here, when hearts break, you see see and hear it
on the evening news: teachers howling with grief, mothers prostrate
with emotion, and furious fathers attacking government officials,
reporters, and even surviving teachers.
Yesterday the assistant principal, who had survived the wreck and done
his best to save his students, tried to apologize to parents for
permitting the trip. They did not accept his apology, and he left the
building, walked into the woods, and hanged himself.
The captain is in custody. Nobody is sure what caused the wreck, but
he was one of the first to leave, and there is a lot of talk about
prosecuting him under a quaint maritime law, probably inspired by a
poor reading of Conrad's Lord Jim, that does not allow the captain to
leave the ship while there are still people who need assistance.
There is a much more severe crime to consider though. Shortly after
impact, when the ship was already listing nearly 45 degrees and
talking in water over the side, the captain told the children to
remain where they were below decks and await instructions. Then the
intercom died and the lights went out. And we have cell phone
recordings of the children waiting patiently in the dark as the ship
Why did they wait? Why didn't more of these high school students,
eleventh graders who were sixteen and seventeen years old, of school
leaving age, declare the broadcast null and void and begin to lead
their classes to the high side of the capsized ship, where they could
slide down the inclined plane of the boat into the water and be
rescued by the arriving fishing boats?
I don't know the answer to that. But yesterday we were discussing this
in our weekly seminar on Vygotsky--we're translating Vygotsky's last
lectures to the Herzen Pedogogical Institute, only three months before
he died. Pedology has already been declared a bourgeois creed, and
Vygotsky knows that his students are learning a subject which will
soon cease to exist from a professor who is likewise about to join the
Vygotsky deftly presents the prevailing view of education, one that
will be immediately familiar to every progressive teacher today.
Children are born equal, but they are everywhere made radically
unequal by social conditions. By providing children equal
opportunities and equal access to mediating artifacts, we can ensure
not only egalitarian development but a more equitable society.
Vygotsky remarks mischievously that this view is bourgeois (pedology
is under attack as a bourgeois doctrine), and of course he is quite
right: it is the empiricist view of John Locke, of Thorndike, and of
Watson. He notes that it can't account for the profoundly internal
nature of development, that it deprives children of their initiative
and their active role in development, and that it doesn't explain how
completely new things, things the child has never heard before, arise
I think there is something even more immediate and pressing that the
bourgeois view can't account for either: the child's ability to throw
off the social environment when that social environment has become
murderous and only the child's own judgment can lead to safety. And
the problem is that it accounts for the child's inability to do this
rather too well.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies