We have often heard that "Success breeds success; failure breeds failure." Though generally accepted as true, one of the most admired teachers in my seminary years was the first rector who worked with a different standard. Instead of working with a student's strong points, he worked on eliminating his weaknesses.
Four years of Latin was once required before entering the seminary college. Those who lacked this requirement had to take a remedial program in Latin for a year before being accepted for full seminary study. The rector in charge of that preparatory year had devised his own remedial program, assigning tasks that would stimulate us to work on eliminating some of our weaknesses.
Those who had difficulty getting up in the morning or being on time for class, he would put in charge of seeing that everyone got up in time and were ready for class; they would ring bells to mark the time for rising in the morning, putting lights out at night, and going to class. Those who had difficulty reading became lectors in the refectory and chapel. Students who lacked confidence would be given work in the dispensary. During recreation you would be assigned to a different sport each day to learn the rudiments of the different sports, and to get a feel for teamwork, whether you were athletically inclined or not. The rector, with his hands-on approach, showed the depth of his interest in each one of us, which motivated us even more to do the best we were capable of.
Another rector of an alternative school in the Andong diocese, recounting in the Peace Weekly the return to school of his students after summer vacation, explained there was sadness among the teachers because one of the students, Chong Su, did not return. He had been absent from school before the vacation but made it known that he would return and be a better student. It is believed that his friends, who were either expelled from other schools or hated the regimen of studies and left, convinced him to join their vagabond lifestyle, and he couldn't resist.
In Korea, in 2010, over 30,000 students had been expelled from high school; 10 percent went on to study at an alternative school; the others probably ending up on the street. Most of these middle and high school dropouts are responsible for much of the crime in our society, according to news reports, and the Department of Education shows little interest in these disturbing statistics.
The Andong alternative school, which is connected with the Catholic University, has as its primary objective the preparation of students who can't for one reason or another function in other schools. Programs for hairdressing and cooking, among other practical pursuits, are offered in an ongoing attempt to find the aptitudes of their students so that natural abilities can be nurtured.
The article ends with the rector expressing hope that Chong Su will return to school. The problem, he says--and has been saying for the last six years--is a lack of love. Until this lack is supplied there will not be a change in the dropout rate. There are no problem children, he says, only children who are not loved. And if we are concerned enough to pay attention to the problem, the dropouts themselves, he assures us, will be sending us the same message. Like the seminary rector, the rector of the alternative school is more interested in the needs of individual students than in a strict adherence to the curriculum or the needs of society. When the demands of society become the central concern of the educational program, the needs of many students are not satisfied.
In the long run, who suffers by this current state of affairs? Society or the individual? If we believe the news reports that school dropouts are responsible for most of the crime in our society, then the answer is clear: both suffer. To pit the needs of one against the needs of the other not only fails to grasp this simple fact, but puts the long-term health of society in jeopardy.