16 September 2015

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Thoughts on Age, Learning and Twenty Again

Posted by Kakashi Sensei on September 16, 2015
kakashi: Haha, I'm so obsessed with this drama. Sorry.... another post. There's another interesting topic that Twenty Again touches and that we have "discussed" a bit on Twitter: the one about the college/university education of "mature" students and, by extension, the question of how different generations mix in real life.
JoAnne: Twitter has become an incubator for so many discussions lately!

One of the aspects that is hard to swallow in the early episodes of Twenty Again is how No-Ra is treated by her fellow students: with abhorrence, disdain even. My expertise of Korean ways is really just restricted to watching lots of KDramas and discussing these topics with fellow non-Koreans, but I assume that this reaction (which seems very extreme to us Westerners at least) stems from their very strict age-hierarchy system. If a woman the age of their mother turns up among them - and should quasi be treated equally or even as lower in rank because she is the maknae - it causes extreme discomfort.
I can see where it would be a problem - here's a person you would normally treat with respect and be quite formal around, and yet within the hierarchy of the school, this person is junior. How do you behave, both toward this person and just in general, when this person is around?
Also, when No-Ra speaks up against Professor Sex, she a) makes the senior students there look bad because they did not and b) she gets chided for endangering their future, a thing she has not to worry about (assuming that a woman her age that goes to university is provided for). This tells us a lot about how rank and power is abused of course, but that aside, it also served well to show how her age is linked to a function in life ("the housewife"), which makes her an outcast per default.
I did think this was interesting. The students are hemmed in by both social norm and the actual power of this disgusting creep to affect their future lives. They'd come up with some very discreet (but not very effective) methods to deflect the worst of his attentions, and everyone just accepts that this is how it is. Along comes No Ra, not understanding just how much influence this man has over student futures, and she makes it all very sticky for them. 
They're forced to defend a man they despise, and while initial reaction toward her bravery was positive and grateful, once reality sets in they aren't too thrilled with her. They were willing to adapt to his intrusive and unwelcome behavior in order to get what they needed from him - she both puts that in jeopardy and highlights their weakness and collusion. I feel bad for them on both sides; No Ra is far younger than her years in her innocent and straightforward approach and is totally bewildered by the fall-out, but these kids have learned an ugly lesson young, and their innocence is tarnished.
Hyun-Suk's initial reaction was quite interesting too (well, he was still in dick-mode, but still): He observed the whole thing but did not do anything himself - that made me angry to be honest. Why did he not act himself? He certainly knew that what was going on at that table was wrong and the drama even made it seem that he saw the full extent of the sexual harassment. From what he says to No-Ra in his little house-office later, it seems he thought it was not his place to speak up. He himself sees himself removed from that "generation" in some crucial ways. He even tells No-Ra that she did not consider the position of the young ones when she spoke up and hence, she did wrong.
I wondered about this, too. He could easily have joined the group, and I think that Professor Sex would have behaved better in the presence of a peer. Hyun-Suk seemed to feel no responsibility at all to protect the girls, which sits badly with me. He's an adult (side note: well, his body is adult, but his mind isn't really), and they're still mostly kids. Even if you want to stand on them being in their early 20s and thus not technically kids, he's still in a position to help them. Why would you not? There's no indication that this guy could do anything to harm Hyun-Suk; they've made a point that he was sought after and allowed to dictate his own terms in order to get him to teach.
Still, it's not cowardice that lets him remain quiet, then, but the knowledge that the world turns different for the young ones and the no longer young ones. And he has a point there, to which I want to return below. Still, keeping quiet in a situation like this is completely wrong, of course, because an abuse of power / age / hierarchy in this way is something to radically fight anywhere and anytime (in his defense, Hyun-Suk makes up for it partially because he realizes that they have to break the age-hierarchy power with solid proof and as soon as he has that, he goes full out).
Yes, exactly - but also not exactly. The world does turn differently, but that's exactly why he should have stepped in: because the kids cannot. He does make up for it later, but it mostly has to do with No Ra, and that also irks me. He was a direct witness to behavior that was clearly wrong, that he definitely believed was wrong - and yet he didn't care that it was happening until it affected someone HE cared about. I have a problem with that. Does he not care about the students?
In later episodes, we see that the young students start becoming more comfortable around No-Ra. On the one hand, it's because they are getting used to her presence. On the other, it's because No-Ra becomes more aware of what her age means to the normal students. When she is finally able to join the dance-club Bounce, she basically falls over herself calling the other (male) club members sunbaenim. It's cute and funny ... and that humor is not lost on Na Soon Nam. And it works! The message: in the end, it does not matter what age you are. You can get along easily if you only try.
I absolutely, 100%, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes believe this. If we view each other as the individuals that we are rather than the labels we're assigned, it's very easy to find ways to connect.
Age-sensitivity to this degree is simply not transferable into most Western contexts, right? From many of you I have heard things like "it's totally normal here for mature students to get college degrees". Yes, we like to pretend that age really does not matter much, right? But then, I started thinking. And you know what? It's not as simple as that.
Do tell.
 
If age does not matter and getting college degrees at an advanced stage in life is totally normal, where are the mature students in my life? I teach at a technical university (ranked 9th best in the world today) and I have never ever taught a student above the age of 30. Hm... Of course, the local culture of education (here = Switzerland) plays a huge role, so it could just be for structural reasons. Here, at the end of primary school, pupils are separated according to their capacities and career-intentions in three sections. Only the top section allows you to go to university after 6 years (though it is possible to work your way up even if you don't get into the top section immediately). The majority of people go to school for 9 compulsory years and then join the work force. A university degree is not a must for a good job and a good salary.
Still, we do not have a quota system at university (only in medicine): you have a free choice of topic IF you pass the test at the end of your top level 6 year high school stretch. Most natural sciences have brutal tests after the first year to get rid of the lazy and very untalented students, but apart from that, everybody can do whatever they want for as little as $1500 a year.
Money comes into play quite a bit in this country (=US). A college education can be very expensive. I think state universities, which offer reduced rates to residents and are less expensive than private colleges to begin with, see most of the mature students - and I wouldn't think they'd be an unusual sight, and there'd be lots of 'correctly aged' students attending part-time or returning after a couple of years of working, so it wouldn't be all that strange for anyone. At a private college, though, I'm sure it would be quite rare.
Our system is pretty open, right? Where, then, are the "mature" students?! I have no clue. Maybe there are more of them in other universities ... but when I think back to my own studies, I didn't see many. There are "auditors", yes - but they are not after a degree. Yes, I see them in "Post-graduate degree courses" - but they are only for people who already have a degree or at least a lot of work
experience. What does this tell me? 
Perhaps it's not in the culture, but the availability. You may send more people to college younger, overall, and so there aren't as many people wishing they could have gone, when they get older. Or perhaps the idea of starting a career in mid-life is not as appealing to adults there as it could be to adults here.
When I actually hear in the media about a 'mature' student entering college for the first time, it's very often a woman, very often a mother. The kids grow up enough to be fairly self-sufficient, and Mom wants to do what she put off 15-20 years earlier. (Sometimes 30 or 40 or 50 years earlier, but everyone thinks those students are awesome.) This would only be a common model in the last 40 years or so, and when I was a girl growing up, media portrayals of this always, always, always, highlighted the struggle of both mother and family to adjust. Sometimes in ways that made it clear that the prevailing attitude was that this was selfish behavior. It's not really all that long that we think 'nothing' of having this woman in a class room.

For the men, well - look no farther than the GI Bill. And this will count for women as well, although probably not in as great numbers for as long a period of time. After WWII, the US government began a program of paying for a very substantial portion of secondary education for ex-soldiers. Because of this, from the 1950s on, it hasn't been unusual at all to see older students who spent several years or even an entire career in the military before attending college
.
Yes, well, it could just mean that most people here get a (fairly) good educations anyway and then start working (we have an above average amount of part-time workers), rather than studying. Maybe the systems works really well and the ones that want to study get to do it. But maybe it also means that it's extremely hard for mature students to get in? And this is not about tests, but about that first slip that you usually get at 18 or 19. Or maybe it means that the whole environment is just not very friendly for mature students? Or is it not attractive to them?
There must be studies, Kakashi. Talk to your professor friends! Inquiring minds want to know! I have a guess that part of the reason you do not see many significantly older students in your classes is because of the subject matter, but that still doesn't account for you not even seeing people on campus.
No, there really aren't many at Swiss universities. I see that in the statistics, JoAnne. But they don't tell me anything about the reasons.
Well that's what I was asking. No one has asked why?
No. Because apparently, it's a complete NON-issue
Reflection about this made me think that age, even though we like to pretend that it does not matter, matters a lot. It's just much more hidden here than i.e. in Korea. Who among you has real-world friends (Twitter does not count!) that are substantially (i.e. 20 years) younger or older than yourself? Who among you (who is 40 or above) does not feel estranged, sometimes, when looking at 20 year old kids? We really are at different points in life. And while this has per se nothing to do with getting a degree at the age of 40, it still means that going to an environment for 20 year old kids will be challenging. Always.
I have a small, tight circle of close friends; they range in age from about 45 to about 60. I am 52. I have been friends with them all for many, many years, and we mostly don't think about age except to mess with the 60-year-old for being 'ancient' because he acts like he's 90 half the time. I can't remember the last 'new' friend I made that wasn't the result of an 'old' friend gaining a new partner - but I have lots of people I am 'friendly' with - both at work and at home, who can be significantly younger or older. Mostly younger, if I tell the honest truth, but that's mostly because anyone significantly older than I am is retired and going someplace warm or out to golf, neither of which are things I'm doing. I find that I'm perfectly comfortable with people of any age in almost any situation that I am likely to find myself in - but I don't exactly go out clubbing, so there's that. I tend to be pretty aware of popular culture both current and decades old, I read a lot, and I try to keep up on current events. I'm not afraid of change at all. That makes it easier to talk to people across a wide range of ages and interests. Even as a kid, I never felt awkward in a room full of adults. But you are right - I would NOT want to spend all my time with kids the age of my daughter, or adults the age of my mother.

Anyway, end of talky-talky, what experiences and thoughts do you guys out there have with regards to this? How is "mature" education handled in your countries? Is age unproblematic or not? I am really curious to hear.

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