Saving Face is Relative…

In Korea, a key piece of information for living successfully in the culture is “saving face.” ” Saving face” is the practice of not embarrassing yourself or others.  I guess you could say that most cultures have this embedded in their social fabric, but Korea seems to take it a step further.  An example:  it’s not really considered dishonest to cheat in school.  In fact, it’s almost expected that the students will help each other in finishing homework and in taking exams.  This is an act of saving your friend’s face from the embarrassment of failure.  The truth is, in Korea, students don’t fail.  Even if they do absolutely nothing to earn a passing grade, they will get a passing grade.  Now, this will obviously come back to bite them when they take high school and college entrance exams, but until then, “saving face” is the highest good.  I even have friends who are professors at a local university who have turned in failing grades to their department heads, and the department head changed the grades to passing in order to “save the face” of that department, and the school from the embarrassment of sub-par students.  If the whole culture does it, is it unethical?  Granted, there are many intelligent teachers and students, and many great schools that turn out talented members for society, but I wonder if those who are passed when they didn’t earn it are helping or hurting those who worked their butts off?

I’m kind of off topic from what I really wanted to say today, but it’s sort of along the same lines.  My main point is that “saving face” is important in Korea…or so it seems.  Today in class, I had a student steal a mirror from a middle school girl so he could proceed to pop white-heads on his nose.  This makes me wonder how important saving face really is.  Maybe picking at your face doesn’t fall under the “saving face” umbrella.  Coincidentally, Jill had a very similar, but MORE DRAMATIC situation happen on the same day!  She told me that during class, she had two boys popping zits on each other’s face!  Now, this could actually be the ultimate “saving face” practice.  Maybe they thought: “I’ll help spare my friend the embarrassment of a pimple.”  It seems that “saving face” is relative to what is and is not considered embarrassing in a particular culture….

…..Or maybe it’s just the fact that we’re both teachers in middle schools.  Everyone knows how awkward and confusing life as a middle schooler can be.

2 thoughts on “Saving Face is Relative…

  1. That’s common throughout Asia, as far as I can tell. The English teachers in Kazakhstan used to fume about it.

    • Yea, it really creates an extremely difficult classroom environment. It’s nearly impossible to build a successful lesson for a class that has both low-level and high-level abilities. The lesson is either too easy for the students who’ve put the work into the subject, or its way too hard for the students who couldn’t give a rip.

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