On a scale of A+ to F, how American is "spirit week"?
January 26, 2020 4:59 PM   Subscribe

To what degree are the concepts of "school spirit" and "spirit week" localized to US schools and colleges (elementary to undergrad)? Why is that the case if so, and how did that came to be? Or can anyone outside of the US speak to their experiences of this concept?

I was struggling to translate the phrase "Spirit Week" into Korean when I realized that the concept of school spirit might not be a global phenomenon. Without anyone close by familiar with Korean educational culture (or anywhere else for that matter), I'm turning to MeFi.

I tried searching, but the most I could dig up was that the concept of spirit week might have originated in the 1960s in a Palo Alto high school, though it was mostly a quick anecdotal source.

For reference: I was born and raised in California. My idea of school spirit is having pride in one's institution with mascots, clothing, cheering, pep rallies, supporting school sports, and having "weeks" where students dress as certain themes or do different school-wide activities each day in preparation for Homecoming or a similar event. This is the something I have generally experienced from elementary school until college (though hardly ever involved in, fwiw).

(Also, if anyone has a good translation of "spirit week" in Korean, that would help my book chapter title writing immensely.)
posted by galleta monster to Society & Culture (59 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Did not exist in the UK at school when I attended in the 80s/90s. Does not appear to exist at my kids primary school. In my mind it's a USA thing.
posted by macapes at 5:06 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]


Most high schools do this I think, especially during fall football season. Homecoming game is the big event of the year, there is often a parade as well.
posted by greatalleycat at 5:24 PM on January 26


Does not exist in Australia, New Zealand, or Germany, which are the school systems I'm familiar with. I think of it as a US thing.
posted by lollusc at 5:25 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


My personal experience is that “spirit week” is definitely US (or North American at least) only. No such thing when I was at a school at NZ...and never heard of it elsewhere.

As an aside when I heard my kid in his US school had “spirit week” - I totally thought it was weird they were celebrating Halloween early......someone had to explain it to me that it wasn’t that type of spirits....
posted by inflatablekiwi at 5:27 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Yeah, IME this is like the polar opposite of UK senior schools, where it’s pretty much compulsory to adopt an attitude somewhere between mild resentment and outright hostility towards your school as an institution, for forcing you to sit indoors and learn when you could be [whatever teens think it is they really want to do with their time].

Source: UK senior school pupil in the 1980s and a semester of US high school in the early 90s.
posted by penguin pie at 5:30 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


I went to public elementary and middle schools in California and have never heard of Spirit Week.
posted by moonmilk at 5:30 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I think the term “spirit week” might be less common in the Northeast US - I was definitely aware of the concept of “school spirit” but I’m not sure any of the schools I’ve attended or worked at (mostly in Massachusetts) have had an explicit spirit week. They’ve had similar celebrations like Homecoming, “[rival school] day/weekend,” and confusingly, “Pride Week” (for school pride at a small college - this was within the last 10 years).
posted by mskyle at 5:33 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


I should add the overall concept of school spirit exists in all the NZ schools I went to (e.g school song, school haka, the usual ra-ra how great are we! etc). Just no one called it spirit. Mostly it was “we are the best and are going to kick the shit out of some other local school’s rugby/athletics team”. Often involved actually kicking the shit out of other high school students. May have involved actually kidnapping opposing school’s junior students (sorry random 3rd form student at St Pat’s who got pulled into our bus that one day....)
posted by inflatablekiwi at 5:34 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


We had something akin to this at my high school in Canada, though I say that with a fairly limited understanding of what Spirit Week is in the US.

We were more likely to have a few Spirit Days spread throughout the year than an entire week, but some years there was a whole week of different dress up days and events. It depended a lot on who was running the student council and how it was being run -- during the five years I was in high school, we went through three different models of how student council and student events were organized.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:37 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


I work at a university in Canada, which a couple of years ago instituted "spirit Fridays" during which you could get 25 cents off coffee on campus if you were wearing university-branded clothing. But it was never a thing before, and I wouldn't be surprised if we caught it from the U.S.
posted by heatherlogan at 5:40 PM on January 26


High school in Canada: we had a “spirit week” of various theme days (wacky hair day, come to school dressed like your best friend, etc). I think it was all nominally “for charity” and there would be an announcement of how much money we’d raised at the end of the week?

Large public university in Canada: each faculty/school got their own “week” (e.g. Arts Week, Science Week, etc) which as far as I could tell was mostly an excuse to throw parties and cause some (usually) harmless mayhem on campus.

Neither of these were tied to any school sports related event or “homecoming” (which as far as I can tell is purely an American phenomenon)
posted by btfreek at 5:49 PM on January 26


We had spirit days/weeks in east coast Canada in the late 90s, early 00s, didn't have much to do with sports though. More like as described above by other canucks.
posted by stray at 6:05 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Went to high school in Texas, where football is religion. The entire concept of school spirit is tied to football support, and spirit week will generally be the week leading up to Homecoming, which is the traditional weekend for class reunions and therefore the most extremely-attended game of the year (plus you have to spruce up the school for the alumni tour, with your spirit banners and posters and decorations) plus the major social event of the Fall semester and of course the feats-of-strength challenge that is trying to stay upright while wearing your Homecoming Mum (as in chrysanthemum, not your mother).

Field-side and pep rally cheerleading cheers reference spirit heavily.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:19 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


We had this in Edmonton Alberta in the 80s. It always fell kind of flat, but they kept at it.
posted by aramaic at 6:25 PM on January 26


Grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, finished high school in the early 1990s, and knew of this concept only through US movies - I think my school might have had some version of it in grade 12, but it was pretty localized to the jock side of things, which I held in contempt at the time.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:36 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


It's 100% North American.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:55 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I was sent to an outrageously snooty public school in Scotland in the 1980s, and the idea of Spirit Week is quite horrifying. I mean, of course we were the best of the best; but that was one's burden to carry and to celebrate it would have been quite gauche.
posted by scruss at 7:25 PM on January 26 [19 favorites]


As a North American Midwestern Gen-X-er, we managed to get rid of pep rallies at my public high school (with our X-treme cynicism and lack of "spirit"), and I was a little sad to learn that in the years since they have reinstated them. But then we also got rid of the marching band as, to quote someone above something a bit "gauche". Which is to say that I think you'll find the idea of "Spirit Week" is highly class, location, and school-specific, even within the USA. I know what you mean, generally, but might be helped by a quick summary.
posted by ldthomps at 7:57 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I went to large public schools in California and was a marching band drum major in high-school, but we never had anything called "spirit week," as far as I can recall. Occasionally there were specific school-wide events where people did similar activities: sports events, an annual music festival and something similar to a rodeo, homecoming dances. But not a themed week with a name. I also didn't see it in college in the US, but I probably wouldn't have been involved and might have missed it. "School spirit," I recognize, though I think mostly from media.
posted by eotvos at 8:12 PM on January 26


Maybe a North American thing, but definitely not a thing in Quebec where I went to school. I'd have trouble translating the concept in French as well, but it'd probably involve the word for pride rather than spirit.
posted by Freyja at 8:19 PM on January 26


Canadian here (British Columbia), Gen X, never experienced a “spirit week” in high school or university. It always seemed to be a uniquely American thing.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:32 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Public school in New Jersey in the '90s. Never heard of "Spirit Week."

I would understand if you said "school spirit," especially if primed by some earlier discussion of sports. But even that I wouldn't know by direct experience, only as a term I'd heard others use (probably in a movie somewhere?).
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:54 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I lived in an international dorm in college, so I have friends worldwide, and I'd say it's almost entirely American, but it's not even universally American. I grew up in New York State and we never had anything called Spirit Week in my various public schools. I'm not even sure we had any sports teams in elementary or middle school, and we never had pep rallies, mascots, or any such events in those schools. The only reason I even know that my high school has school colors was that the yearbook cover was always blue and white. In high school, we had an annual pep rally the Friday before Homecoming, but otherwise, nobody except cheerleaders and football players paid any attention. (Oh, yeah, the cheerleaders and football players wore their uniforms on Friday during football season, I guess.) No other sports team (for men or women) was acknowledged school-wide, and there was nothing related to "spirit."

We did have Homecoming week, which was, I guess, ostensibly about the Homecoming football game, but most people I knew were far more interested in the dance the following night than the game, and some club sold carnations (delivered to recipients on Carnation Day) to raise money for the Homecoming dance. None of this was about the team or school spirit; it was identical to what our school did for Valentine's Day (more carnations -- roses are expensive!) and that Valentine's dance.

The only reason I've ever heard of "Spirit Week" has been in TV shows and movies.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:04 PM on January 26


I was an exchange student in Japan in the late 90s and we did have a week-long “school festival” that culminated in a costume parade of sorts. It was a generally more fun and chill school week doing class activities and craft projects at school which was ordinarily a much more serious place. It might have been tied to the new school year and existed to bond the classes together and debut themselves to one another.

Thinking about it now, the spirit weeks I experienced growing up in Illinois served the same function but usually were timed around the boy’s sports game of the season and ending with a school dance. Hope it helps!
posted by wowenthusiast at 9:24 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


In Togo (and other West African countries) schools hold “Cultural Week” which tend to not be affiliated with school spirit but are held at school and function vary similarly. Students practice and rehearse skits, poetry recitations, cultural dances and the week ends with a “picnic”/school wide lunch
posted by raccoon409 at 9:29 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what your question is. It feels like you're trying to "translate" a cultural phenomenon. You can't translate these things; they're not concepts. This would be like asking how to translate Lunar New Year or siesta into English.

But in case you're looking for a Korean school activity involving school sports, performances, and activities, 운동회 / 체육대회 is the best term. Here's a namu wiki article.
posted by suedehead at 9:42 PM on January 26


I graduated high school in 2000, in a lower class suburb/town in the Salt Lake City, Utah “metroplex” (Kearns, UT) and we definitely had a spirit week. Most students thought it was kinda cheesy.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:57 PM on January 26


Additional datapoint that this is as American as apple pie: the Beach Boys’ song “Be True To Your School” came out in 1963 and includes lines like:

So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly
Be true to your school
I got a letterman's sweater
With a letter in front
I got for footbal and track
I'm proud to where it now
When I cruise around
The other parts of the town
I got a decal in back
posted by samthemander at 12:22 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Super American, and possibly regional. I had never heard of it before I moved here for graduate school (grew up in India). I did spend a couple years in the US as a child, in Los Angeles, and I don't recall it being a thing there. But I was in 3rd and 4th grade (I don't know if it's more of a thing for older grades there). I have only recently started hearing a bit about it, more from having a nearly 3 year old and apparently some (private) preschools around here (Boston area) do have such a thing? But parents I think find it almost universally annoying around here.
posted by peacheater at 6:13 AM on January 27


I went to American schools - run by hippies (elementary), Quakers (middle and high), and nerds (college) - and this concept is foreign to me. So this is not universal even within the US.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:51 AM on January 27


We had spirit week at my high school in Southern Oregon in the early 90s. Not sure if it’s still a thing. It was the week of our Homecoming game. My son’s elementary school in the Bay Area does spirit week, just dress up days as far as I can tell, not sure of the culmination. Maybe an assembly.
posted by JenMarie at 7:03 AM on January 27


My school didn't do spirit week when I was a kid even though home coming was a big deal, but my kids elementary school does spirit week and college week and pajamas week and superheroes. I think it is just to drive the parents crazy
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:31 AM on January 27


Spirit Week was and still is definitely a thing where I grew up (central Indiana) and where I live now (Cincinnati, where my children went to school). Every high school in our surrounding area in Indiana also had Spirit Week, and I remember talking about Spirit Week with my friends in the freshman dorm at my university. No one there was unfamiliar with it - there were women (it was not a co-ed dorm) from all over the Midwest and I had one friend from Connecticut whose school did Spirit Week as well.

My children attended both public and private schools in Cincinnati and had Spirit Weeks at both. My husband tells me his high school near Albany, NY did Spirit Week, too.

For all of those various incarnations, it was the week before Homecoming and each day was themed. The final day was nearly always Name of School Gear, meaning shirts, sweatshirts, swag, all with the school name and/or school colors. My kids' high school pretty much always did year-themed days (1960s, 1990s, etc.) with some fun pop culture days thrown in (Star Wars, Marvel, etc.). I remember my high school's themed days were similar but I'm sure we did some very inappropriate things as well, given it was the late 80s and we weren't very culturally sensitive.
posted by cooker girl at 7:32 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Australian here. Anyone claiming they possessed school spirit in any sort of educational institution would be mocked unmercifully. We also don't really do the whole alumni, school ring & year book or reunion thing. School is to be survived not celebrated. We also don't really have high school or college sports as a "thing" which might influence that a little. If you want to play sports on a local team you do that in your own time on the weekends the football/netball/cricket/soccer etc clubs are all separate entities to the schools.
posted by wwax at 7:44 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


It's very American.

Western Canadian: no spirit week or day at my high school - and made fun of any schools (and only 2 in the sports district, and 1 of those was in the states) that did. It is not possible to even buy any school branded swag (or with the school colors, which I doubt we even had). A school doesn't need colors, just imagine that info taking up space in your head for the rest of your life. The elementary school had 'houses' (like hogwarts) and that was a thing with days and weeks and colors. But was primarily a mechanism for cross grade sports/group activities, and ultimately had some educational purpose. Spirit week/day is different. It's strictly a group socialization activity.

My little persons school has spirit days. Monthly. The peer pressure to participate is acute and comes at them from all levels, teachers, school staff, parents, the PTO (making a fast buck on the junky clothes) and classmates. The level of a classes' s participation is certainly noted.

The spirit week at the local high school is a massive affair. In a single year the booster club moves over a million dollars of merchandise, most of it surrounding spirit week. The vast majority of the cash is funneled back to sports activities, which still require massive subsidies to operate. It's high priority serves to highlight how un-serious schooling is here generally, and this is at one of the top schools in a state with a better than average system in the nation.

My understanding is that the Korean school system is the complete opposite of that and is very very deadly serious with lifetime ramifications. A high school doing spirit week/day would be a something else in Korea, with many students studying over 6 hours a day with private tutors, endemic cheating and a staggering number of suicides. Folks I know who have been there first hand describe Korean schools as grim.
posted by zenon at 8:52 AM on January 27


Public school in New Jersey in the '90s. Never heard of "Spirit Week."

nyc and same. it's very american and also very regional, no one i know who went to school in the northeast has any idea what it is and usually finds the concept alarming.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:08 AM on January 27


My kids go to school near Seattle and they have Spirit Week for high school (complete with pep rallies), middle school, and I think elementary school. I didn't grow up with it and find the whole thing confusing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:28 AM on January 27


Grew up in Southern Maine in the 90s and we most definitely had Spirit Week at my public high school, so there's one data point for the Northeast. We split up by class level and would have a hall decorating contest, plus each day was a different dress up theme.
posted by saturngirl at 9:51 AM on January 27


Another Canadian Gen-Xer, in Ontario & Quebec, never experienced anything like a spirit day or week during any of my schooling. I did go to schools that had available for purchase gym uniforms and some school branded clothing with limited availability. My elementary school kid now has sort of Spirit Days though I don't think of them as the same as the US versions. They are pretty low key events with little pressure to participate likely because a large part of the school population is New Canadian (primarily Arabic speaking) and/or economically disadvantaged - they'd be Anti-bullying Wear Pink day or funny hair day or wear a specific type of clothing day. There is no fundraising associated with these events. None of the local high schools have anything approaching a homecoming event or spirit week events as they do the US. Perhaps one off events associated with local high school sports team rivalries but these would not be attended by anyone other than the students and family. The local universities have a couple Homecoming type celebrations centred around sporting events and drinking holidays (St Patrick's day) that would not look out of place in the US but most of these are relatively recent phenomena (they didn't exist when I was attending university in mid 90s).
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:53 AM on January 27


The existence of The Boat Race alone suggests that this concept is not strictly limited to the US.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:33 AM on January 27


But the Boat Race is a specific university sporting tournament - nobody’s disputing that people cheer on sports teams. But it is well-known precisely because it’s an isolated case (I certainly didn’t go to any university sports matches and I don’t know anyone not on a sports team who did), and it’s absolutely unheard of in high schools. Nobody watches school sports matches in the UK, not other students, not alumni, not even parents - I don’t even think they would allow random members of the public to watch them, they take place on private grounds. The idea of alumni travelling to watch a high school sports match is just unthinkable, both on safeguarding grounds and because who on earth would want to?

And all of that is totally separate to “Spirit Week” - the Boat Race is just a race, there is no week-long build up of “ra-ra Oxford/Cambridge” (my brother went to Cambridge). It’s the earnest “our beloved school” stuff that is alien to people, not the “we have a successful sports team” aspect.
posted by tinkletown at 11:53 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I don't think we actually called it "Spirit Week," but I know exactly what you mean by that -- the week leading up to Homecoming was dedicated to revving up school spirit, with extra pep rallies and hall decorations and theme days and such. This was all very much tied to the football game and cheerleaders and winning over our football rivals within the county. Notably, this is an upper-middle-class mostly-white suburb that really went in for those stereotypical apple-pie American rah-rah trappings.

/Baltimore area, Class of 1991
posted by desuetude at 12:13 PM on January 27


> tinkletown: And all of that is totally separate to “Spirit Week” - the Boat Race is just a race, there is no week-long build up of “ra-ra Oxford/Cambridge” (my brother went to Cambridge).

I guess I was talking about the general concept of "school spirit" and not the specific phenomenon of "Spirit Week". I would argue that the whole "our school is inherently better at something than your school is" is the seed from which the whole concept sprung. I understand that the US education system has taken it to a whole new level, but we inherited it from somewhere.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:19 PM on January 27


We would have this in midwestern US and each day leading up to the Game Day on the weekend would be some theme.... "crazy hat day" or "pajama day" or "wear your clothes backwards day" (etc.).

Then a big pep rally on Friday, which featured the band, cheerleaders, introduce the team, etc. (sort of like the bonfire scene in GREASE but inside..)
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:29 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


My high school in Canada tried to do this a few times. It was the 90s. "Spirit week" was just not aligned with the teen culture of the time at all. To give you an idea, the year I was in grade 9 there were two school dances. Nobody went to either, so they stopped bothering having school dances.

For spirit week they did "pep rallies" at least twice (as in two consecutive years). Nobody knew what a pep rally was. Nobody went because why would you go. I did not go and thus still do not know what a pep rally is. Anyway, the first year it was after school. As already stated, nobody went. So the next year they said we're going to have early dismissal so everyone can go the pep rally during what otherwise would have been school hours!! Everyone just left and went home (or wherever) early. My entire time in high school consisted of the teachers trying to start up extra curricular and then giving up in despair.

A couple of years ago there was a high school reunion. These aren't really a thing here, but my high school was closing permanently so they did one. It was for anyone who had ever attended or taught at the school, not just for any particular year. Walking around the school, I ran into some people from my grade sitting on the floor in the hallway -- as we all used to do while skipping class or on spare. They were sitting in the same spot they used to sit way back when. When we passed them another time on the way to the gym for some sort of speech I said "hey are you coming to the thing" and they said "no, we're going to do the reunion just like we did high school. we're not participating."

Anyway, because the reunion had people from all decades, it was like Twilight Zone for those from my era (we talked about it after) to hear all these remembrances coming from people from other eras talking about what amazing school spirit the school had and how it was such a COMMUNITY not just a school. Us: It was barely a school.

So, Canada yes. But in the 90s it didn't go well.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:32 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Because some people are curious about 'spirit week, pep rallies' and 'why would anyone wear spirit wear?', I hope this helps explain what it is, and what it is for, and that might help explain it to Koreans who may not exactly have the same thing, but might have something close:

couple of terms:

spirit wear, which is clothes with the name of the school sold either by the PTA or by the school itself through a PTA-like group. Full price clothes.

PTA: the group that funds special school events. You've heard that US schools have a weird funding model right? The PTA is the group that makes up the shortfall, funding field trips, specialized technology, or special parties for various in-school achievements.

pep rally: close enough to what you see in the movies, the cheerleaders cheer, the band plays some songs, and they do silly skits involving school staff and students to cheer everyone up and increase productivity. You have probably done something like this at work, probably minus a live band and dedicated cheerleaders who specifically train for these events.


So, with the 'funding school events' idea in mind, the school convinces the parents to pay extra money, of which spirit week is one, various auctions of local items, and dances are a 3rd. Call it 'localized crowd funding' or a 'Go Fund Me' for a specific school if that makes more sense, or think PBS and you give $100 a get a tote bag that says "PBS" on it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:52 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Forgot to add: Depending on the size of the school and the wealth class of the students, this can be a big driver of whether your kid went to a theme park for doing well in school or did not, and whether your school got to go on a field trip to the museum or not, especially for middle-class and above schools, because generally state funding is not allocated for those things. I'd assume other countries fund things like field trips and technology packages differently, so it's not necessary.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:55 PM on January 27


Wait, parents go to these things (definitely not invited at my school). And we had no cheerleeders. I wonder what they did. Also, in the U.S. kids get to go to theme parks for doing well in school? Like what you get a coupon if you meet some grade cut-off? (oh mods, please leave this, that the Koreans and I may all learn).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:58 PM on January 27


Final add: The spirit wear is often designed by novices with the PTA, or picked from a catalogue, so it's not necessarily attractive and thus the need for the spirit week to induce kids to wear it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:00 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Wait, parents go to these things (definitely not invited at my school). And we had no cheerleeders. I wonder what they did. Also, in the U.S. kids get to go to theme parks for doing well in school? Like what you get a coupon if you meet some grade cut-off?

Occasionally, yes, parents do participate in pep rally skits, and generally parents are insanely involved in schools, again because of the funding. For example, the elementary school my kids go to has 1 teachers' aid for 450 students (1 teacher per ~22 students), so parents act as field trip chaperones, help with special events (picture day), make various things the teachers use (cut outs, packets, etc).

And yes, if you do well in school you occasionally get to go to a theme park (like Six Flags), generally as group on the school bus. For example, doing well in various athletic, academic, and arts competitions that start in 5th grade would be a reason.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:06 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


> Wait, parents go to these things (definitely not invited at my school). And we had no cheerleeders. I wonder what they did. Also, in the U.S. kids get to go to theme parks for doing well in school? Like what you get a coupon if you meet some grade cut-off? (oh mods, please leave this, that the Koreans and I may all learn).

Parent of a current US high school student, here. I have never been invited to a pep rally; I think if my kid were performing (e.g. in the band) I would go and that would be fine.

Theme parks for doing well: one of my kids was a crossing guard in elementary school and those kids got to go to a water park at the end of the year. (Crossing guard = a desperate attempt to get US drivers to stop hitting pedestrians by having some students dress in hi-vis vests and control traffic on city streets, now that I think about it it's a bit terrible.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:08 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that the Korean school system is the complete opposite of that and is very very deadly serious with lifetime ramifications. A high school doing spirit week/day would be a something else in Korea, with many students studying over 6 hours a day with private tutors, endemic cheating and a staggering number of suicides. Folks I know who have been there first hand describe Korean schools as grim.

This has elements of truth and falsehood mixed into it equally. As someone who has been there first hand and grew up within the Korean educational system, I would say that these half-truths can be quite dangerous, because they can present a truth without a complete context.

For example: I have heard that the American school system is very deadly, with students constantly being shot on a weekly, even daily basis. This is so intense that students and teachers will do exercises and practices in case someone with a gun will kill them. Folks I know who have been there first hand describe American schools as grim.

Is this true? Maybe. Is this the ONLY knowledge you would want someone to have of an American school? This kind of "oh someone I know told me X" is a classic microaggression, because you universalize a story that is actually a personal experience.
posted by suedehead at 11:03 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


(Addendum - maybe it’s not a microaggression per se, but a classic micro-offensive point that people predominantly steeped in a single culture will make about other cultures. When it happens in the US it can operate as punching down, especially when it aligns with very well-trodden paths of orientalism and racism, “the inscrutable robotic Asian”, etc etc.

The pattern is best identified when someone says “My friend who is from X country told me that they do Y over there! Isn’t that horrible?”)
posted by suedehead at 12:35 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I did not intend my comment to perpetuate stereotypes. Generally speaking, the South Korean education system is among the best in the world, and Korean students score top marks in the PISA and other international standardized tests. As such it is widely studied, so it's well understood that the high ranking comes at a high human cost.

The suicide rate in Korea is much higher than other OECD countries, it's twice that of Japan, the next highest. Despite taking active steps to mitigate the problem, like banning the pesticide Gramoxone, it remains the primary cause of death of young adults & teenagers. It's just a massive social issue, and while not simply a function of the education system, the education system certainly plays a major role. Especially around academic ranking for college admission.

The Suneun, the college entrance exam, is seen as the focus of student “from kindergarten till they’re a senior in high school." The Suneun remains the primary method for sorting which university a student will be able to enroll in, and so parents force their kids into hours of tutoring and additional schooling like hagwons to prepare.

These hagwons, or cram schools, are "are a mainstay of the South Korean education system" where "students typically stay after regular school hours until 10 p.m. or later." All this focus on a single test demonstrates how serious Koreans are in their education approach, and both the facilities and teaching style are grim and result oriented.

As for my claim that cheating is a major issue, that's not a slight on the average Korean's efforts to excel academically, but based my judgement of the elite in South Korea who's many scandals demonstrate a willingness to do anything to get and stay ahead.
posted by zenon at 9:34 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Hello zenon. It appears that you’ve done some research to share some elementary aspects of the Korean education system — that is yawningly basic to me.

I’ll put aside the sheer audacity of explaining something that I’ve lived and am intimately familiar to myself.

Here’s a challenge. What motivates you to post your comment? Do you feel like it redeems you to substantiate your comment with links? Are you worried about making sure that you defend yourself properly?

It is important for you to know that showing up and nitpicking / adding research in order to prove a point was exactly discussed in this MeTa thread about whiteness. I highly recommend reading the discussion to understand how your comment is part of a pattern of white fragility.
posted by suedehead at 4:11 PM on February 2 [17 favorites]


Props to suedehead for your thoughtful comment.

I know my kids’ schools all had various school celebration days which were either laid back yay you got extra long recess and a cute cupcake while the principal made a speech, generally around Children’s Day, to at one well known and attended by very wealthy families, a huge carnival with events, alumni and parents at a back, talent shows, etc around the Founders Day which was a school holiday. This is in Singapore. The western international schools here did minor school events like that when I was a kid but it wasn't a huge deal. It might be more these days with rising expectations.

I know adults who still totally and without irony identify themselves by their secondary or junior college in terms of personality/network. It gets quite intense if you went to one of the ‘branded’ schools here. School spirit is very very intense and there can be a whole fever of rivalry and social jostling.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:11 PM on February 2


"As for my claim that cheating is a major issue, that's not a slight on the average Korean's efforts to excel academically, but based my judgement of the elite in South Korea who's many scandals demonstrate a willingness to do anything to get and stay ahead."

Uh... name me a country where this isn't the case? It's weird (and feels racist?) to make this statement when this is so widespread. I'm British and don't even know where to start with examples from here, but there are plenty of American ones too, one recent example immediately comes to mind.
posted by greenish at 1:19 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Does not exist in Australia, New Zealand, or Germany, which are the school systems I'm familiar with. I think of it as a US thing.

Can confirm for Australia. Our technical college had Piss Week but that's probably not quite the same thing, even though it did include an event known as boat races.
posted by flabdablet at 7:56 AM on February 3


I am sorry for saying and doing things that are racist.
posted by zenon at 6:44 PM on February 3 [8 favorites]


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