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Inexpensive Resources for Teaching about South Korea

In the past century, America has had extensive involvement with Korea. We fought a costly, bloody war on their soil, buttressed the South Korean regime for decades afterward, and still maintain a large military presence on the peninsula. According to the United States Census, there were 798,849 Korean-Americans living in this country in 1990, and that number is projected to increase substantially once the most recent count is tabulated. Despite all this, however, there is a dearth of multimedia resources focusing on Korea, especially when compared to countries like China, Japan, or even Vietnam. The ones that are available for under $40 tend to be rather general, focusing on issues like geography or family life. But there are also a few quality videos analyzing historical and political developments that can be recommended to high school and college educators. Therefore this issue's column will be broken into two sections, one for resources aimed at introducing Korea to middle school students and younger, and the other, for more advanced classrooms, that discusses media focusing on South Korea's transformation into a modern society.

Korea for Kids: Materials for Elementary and Middle School Students
*note: the following series described (Discover Korea) is no longer being actively distributed by the Asia Society, contact AEMS (1-888-828-2367) if you need it. For more current Asia Society videos, check out 'Tune in Korea: Geography and Society' and 'Tune in Korea: Legacy and Transformation'.

The Asia Society, recognizing the lack of popularly available materials on Korea, has done a terrific job producing several documentaries appropriate for younger students. Their 1988 series Discover Korea is composed of three videos, each accompanied by a teacher's guide and poster and each focusing on a different aspect of Korean society: Family and Home, School and Community, and Geography and Industry. All three are similar in format, focusing on the experiences of one or two children in order to make broader inferences about the entire society. The entire series is aimed at students between fourth and ninth grade. The family in Family and Home, the first video in the series, seem to have come straight out of 1950s American television. This video deals with numerous Korean traditions and contains some very entertaining moments (most involving the main character's teeny-bopper older sister), but I fear that students will come away from this video feeling that all Korean families are as beautiful and scripted as the one portrayed. This film should be tempered with other documentaries and readings. For a more realistic view of Korean families, check out Families of South Korea, part of the Families of the World series for elementary school students I have recommended in the previous issues.

The Asia Society next produced School and Community, an endearing documentary focusing on a late elementary school aged girl, her male friend, and her teenage brother (all of whom are more realistic than the Family and Home characters). We follow all three of them as they go to school, run errands, attend various activities (such as Tae Kwon Do and violin lessons), and play outside. Unlike the other videos in the series, this documentary takes place entirely in an urban center. Geography and Industry, the final film in the series, follows a young boy as he travels around South Korea, visiting his uncle in the southwest countryside and traveling on a bus to the northeast mountains. Along the way, he meets a young girl from a tourist town called Yosu in the southern-most part of the peninsula and tells her about the industrial town of Ulsan in southeast Korea where he lives.

All three of these videos are only 15 minutes each, perhaps too brief for students to absorb very much information about Korea. The teacher's manuals, each over forty pages, somewhat correct for that shortcoming by providing detailed background information about each subject, a list of recommended readings, an annotated script with explanations, supplementary essays, and even a few fun activities for the classroom. Of the three included posters, I am partial to Geography and Industry's two-sided poster about the Korean Tiger, featuring different types of tigers and legends in which they appear.

Several years after releasing the Discover Korea series, The Asia Society produced Tune in Korea: Geography and Society, an information-packed video designed to teach middle school students everything they need to know about Korea in an hour-long video. This video features a group of young American high school students each of whom are supposedly producing a segment about different aspects of Korean society. The segments, which include titles such as "Resources and Population," "History," "Language," and "Belief Systems," are in no way amateur, however. Teachers will find the section recap, a summary appearing at the end of each segment particularly useful. This video is more instructive and up-to-date than the Discover Korea series, but there are no personal accounts and it does not come with a teacher's guide. Although I was unable to find any inexpensive videotapes focusing on Korean arts, three audiocassettes, Korean Folk Dance Music, featuring traditional music, and Tales of Korea I and II, two collections of stories accompanied by Korean instruments, serve as nice auditory introductions to performing art forms.

Beneath the Surface: A More Sophisticated Look at the Land of the Morning Calm
The twentieth century was a period of great upheaval for Koreans. They have endured invasion by the Japanese and later the Cold War forces, followed by a brutal and lengthy civil war that continues to divide them. More recently, North Korea has been inflicted with terrible famines and South Korea still faces political instability caused by dictatorial leaders and frustrated students. On the other hand, for the first time in its history, South Korea is a major world player and, despite recent downturns in its economy, continues to wield significant economic and political clout. The Pacific Century, a series produced in the early 1990s does an excellent job discussing the successes and conflicts present in modern Korean society. Big Business and the Ghost of Confucius, the seventh video in the series, includes a twenty minutes segment discussing how Confucianism continues to influence Korea, with both positive and negative repercussions. The eighth video, The Fight for Democracy, describes another side of South Korea, including images of students and workers rioting in the street for more democratic rights and women fighting for social reforms. This hour-long video questions whether average Koreans have fully reaped the benefits of the "economic miracle."

Going back in time, The History Channel has produced an acceptable account of the Korean War, titled Korea: The Forgotten War. Narrated by Mike Wallace, this video provides an overview of the conflict, focusing mainly on American veterans, but alluding to the effects this dispute had on North and South Koreans as well.

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