sex education in schools newspaper articles
in 2011, during the final six monthsof kim jong-il's life, i lived undercover in north korea. i was born and raisedin south korea, their enemy. i live in america, their other enemy. since 2002, i had visitednorth korea a few times.
sex education in schools newspaper articles, and i had come to realizethat to write about it with any meaning, or to understand the placebeyond the regime's propaganda, the only option was total immersion. so i posed as a teacher and a missionary
at an all-male university in pyongyang. the pyongyang universityof science and technology was founded by evangelical christianswho cooperate with the regime to educate the sonsof the north korean elite, without proselytizing,which is a capital crime there. the students were 270 young men,expected to be the future leaders of the most isolated and brutaldictatorship in existence. when i arrived, they became my students. 2011 was a special year,
marking the 100th anniversary of the birthof north korea's original great leader, kim il-sung. to celebrate the occasion, the regimeshut down all universities, and sent students off to the fields to build the dprk's much-heralded ideal as the world's most powerfuland prosperous nation. my students were the only onesspared from that fate. north korea is a gulag posing as a nation. everything thereis about the great leader.
every book, every newspaper article,every song, every tv program -- there is just one subject. the flowers are named after him, the mountains are carved with his slogans. every citizen wears the badgeof the great leader at all times. even their calendar system beginswith the birth of kim il-sung. the school was a heavily guardedprison, posing as a campus. teachers could only leave on group outingsaccompanied by an official minder. even then, our trips were limitedto sanctioned national monuments
celebrating the great leader. the students were not allowedto leave the campus, or communicate with their parents. their days were meticulously mapped out,and any free time they had was devoted to honoringtheir great leader. lesson plans had to meet the approvalof north korean staff, every class was recorded and reported on,every room was bugged, and every conversation, overheard. every blank space was covered with theportraits of kim il-sung and kim jong-il,
like everywhere else in north korea. we were never allowedto discuss the outside world. as students of science and technology,many of them were computer majors but they did not knowthe existence of the internet. they had never heardof mark zuckerberg or steve jobs. facebook, twitter -- none of those thingswould have meant a thing. and i could not tell them. i went there looking for truth. but where do you even startwhen an entire nation's ideology,
my students' day-to-day realities, and even my own positionat the universities, were all built on lies? i started with a game. we played "truth and lie." a volunteer would write a sentenceon the chalkboard, and the other students had to guess whether it was a truth or a lie. once a student wrote, "i visitedchina last year on vacation,"
and everyone shouted, "lie!" they all knew this wasn't possible. virtually no north korean is allowedto leave the country. even traveling within their own countryrequires a travel pass. i had hoped that this game would revealsome truth about my students, because they lie so often and so easily, whether about the mythicalaccomplishments of their great leader, or the strange claim that they cloneda rabbit as fifth graders. the difference between truth and liesseemed at times hazy to them.
it took me a while to understandthe different types of lies; they lie to shield their systemfrom the world, or they were taught lies,and were just regurgitating them. or, at moments, they lied out of habit. but if all they have ever known were lies, how could we expect them to be otherwise? next, i tried to teach them essay writing. but that turned out to benearly impossible. essays are about coming up withone's own thesis,
and making an evidence-basedargument to prove it. these students, however, weresimply told what to think, and they obeyed. in their world, critical thinkingwas not allowed. i also gave them the weekly assignmentof writing a personal letter, to anybody. it took a long time, but eventuallysome of them began to write to their mothers, their friends,their girlfriends. although those were just homework,
and would never reachtheir intended recipients, my students slowly began to revealtheir true feelings in them. they wrote that they were fedup with the sameness of everything. they were worried about their future. in those letters, they rarely evermentioned their great leader. i was spending all of my timewith these young men. we all ate meals together,played basketball together. i often called them gentlemen,which made them giggle. they blushed at the mention of girls.
and i came to adore them. and watching them open upeven in the tiniest of ways, was deeply moving. but something also felt wrong. during those monthsof living in their world, i often wondered if the truth would,in fact, improve their lives. i wanted so much to tell them the truth, of their country and of the outside world, where arab youth were turningtheir rotten regime inside out,
using the power of social media, where everyone except them wasconnected through the world wide web, which wasn't worldwide after all. but for them, the truth was dangerous. by encouraging them to run after it,i was putting them at risk -- of persecution, of heartbreak. when you're not allowed to expressanything in the open, you become good at readingwhat is unspoken.
in one of their personal letters to me,a student wrote that he understood why i always called them gentlemen. it was because i was wishing themto be gentle in life, he said. on my last day in december of 2011, the day kim jong-il's death was announced, their world shattered. i had to leave without a proper goodbye. but i think they knewhow sad i was for them. once, toward the end of my stay,a student said to me,
"professor, we never think of youas being different from us. our circumstances are different,but you're the same as us. we want you to know that we trulythink of you as being the same." today, if i could respondto my students with a letter of my own, which is of course impossible, i would tell them this: "my dear gentlemen, it's been a bit over three yearssince i last saw you. and now, you must be 22 --maybe even as old as 23.
at our final class, i asked youif there was anything you wanted. the only wish you expressed,the only thing you ever asked of me in all those months we spent together, was for me to speak to you in korean. just once. i was there to teach you english; you knew it wasn't allowed. but i understood then, you wantedto share that bond of our mother tongue. i called you my gentlemen,
but i don't know if being gentlein kim jong-un's merciless north korea is a good thing. i don't want you to lead a revolution -- let some other young person do it. the rest of the world might casuallyencourage or even expect some sort of north korean spring, but i don't want you to do anything risky, because i know in your world,someone is always watching. i don't want to imaginewhat might happen to you.
if my attempts to reach you haveinspired something new in you, i would rather you forget me. become soldiers of your great leader,and live long, safe lives. you once asked me if i thoughtyour city of pyongyang was beautiful, and i could not answer truthfully then. but i know why you asked. i know that it was important for youto hear that i, your teacher, the one who has seen the worldthat you are forbidden from, declare your city as the most beautiful.
i know hearing that would makeyour lives there a bit more bearable, but no, i don't findyour capital beautiful. not because it's monotone and concrete, but because of what it symbolizes: a monster that feeds offthe rest of the country, where citizens are soldiers and slaves. all i see there is darkness. but it's your home, so i cannot hate it. and i hope instead that you,my lovely young gentlemen,
will one day help make it beautiful. thank you. (applause)