Life experiences provide us with an opportunity to develop an expertise in certain areas. For example, teachers develop an expertise enabling them to quickly identify students with learning issues, which the educator can then help them overcome. But what about a situation in which these roles are reversed – the rare situation in which a life experience has imbued a student with a certain expertise the teacher lacks? And, more importantly, if the student wishes to share the benefit of such expertise, will the teacher even listen?
Such is the case at an Ivy League college where a student with a unique background is pursuing an education. The student is Yeonmi Park. She lived in North Korea for 14 years before escaping to China in 2007, where she was forced into the sex slave trade, later making her way to South Korea before moving to the U.S. in 2014.
What then is Park’s area of expertise? She says she is grateful for two things in her life of 27 years – first, being born in North Korea and, second, escaping it. Her reasoning is that it is both these events that have shaped who she is today. They are experiences she would not trade for an ordinary and peaceful life. Having spent half her life in North Korea where school begins at an early age to start the indoctrination process of a new generation to support an historically brutal family dictatorship that has ruled the country since 1948, Park knows brainwashing when she sees it. She clearly recognizes when what is supposed to be a teaching experience stimulating independent thinking by students is, in reality, something entirely different. Thus, she can sniff out propaganda indoctrination that seeks to strip the student of independent thinking. After all, some of the best propagandists in the world attempted to do this to her as a child in North Korea.
But what has shocked Park after settling in the U.S. and attending college at Columbia University is that she is being exposed to that which she sought to escape in her native country. She undoubtedly has provoked Columbia professors with the statement, but she maintains not even North Korea was “this nuts” in their brainwashing efforts as is the university in undermining Western cultural and social achievements. And, unlike in North Korea, she is paying a “fortune” to the university to be so indoctrinated.
In an interview, Park said, “I expected that I was paying this fortune, all this time and energy, to learn how to think. But they are forcing you to think the way they want you to think. I realized, wow, this is insane. I thought America was different, but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying.
She was astonished by similarities between her North Korean and American education. Not only did the former expose her to an anti-Western theme but so too did the latter as she witnessed example after example of anti-Western sentiment and guilt-tripping. And the indoctrination at Columbia University came early, first experiencing it during her orientation week when a staff member scolded her for even liking classic literature. She was told the authors, as racists and bigots, had a colonial mindset that subconsciously brainwashed readers.
Despite Park’s linguistic skills (she speaks three languages), she became confused in trying to understand the manipulation of the English language concerning gender pronouns. As she explained, “English is my third language. I learned it as an adult. I sometimes still say ‘he’ or ‘she’ by mistake, and now they are going to ask me to call them ‘they’? How the heck do I incorporate that into my sentences? It was chaos. It felt like the regression in civilization,” adding, “Even North Korea is not this nuts. North Korea was pretty crazy, but not this crazy.”
Park found it useless to argue with her professors and “learned how to just shut up” in order to graduate. As a true victim of an oppressive society, Park had little sympathy for those alleging victimhood in America. “Because I have seen oppression, I know what it looks like,” she said. “These kids keep saying how they’re oppressed, how much injustice they’ve experienced. They don’t know how hard it is to be free. I literally crossed through the middle of the Gobi Desert to be free. But what I did was nothing, so many people fought harder than me and didn’t make it.”
She faults universities like Columbia for poisoning students with the belief whatever sins those before us committed – which seem to a whites only offense – is to be borne by their descendants of today.
This effort to blame today’s white students is reflected by their perceptions of the American flag. While, to a realistic Park, it represents hope and freedom, to idealistically naive students interviewed at the University of Texas it represents “all the sins we’ve committed against others.”
Park shared how bankrupting people of independent thinking causes them not to question the reality of what they can obviously see with their own eyes. For example, at a time people were starving in North Korea, they believed everyone was suffering its consequences, even their leader Kim Jong-un. She said she initially failed to notice he weighed twice as much as the average North Korean because she had been stripped of her ability to think critically.
But most worrisome about Park’s observations is what she shared near the end of her interview. The loss of critical thinking she observed in North Korea is what she is now witnessing in America. She warns, “People see things but they’ve just completely lost the ability to think critically. … You guys have lost common sense to (a) degree that I as a North Korean cannot even comprehend. Where are we going from here? There’s no rule of law, no morality, nothing is good or bad anymore, it’s complete chaos. I guess that’s what they want, to destroy every single thing and rebuild into a communist paradise.”
Escaping North Korean indoctrination empowered Park to rekindle her critical thinking ability. While Columbia University’s professors turn a deaf ear to Park’s warning, the big question now for other educators is whether they can rekindle their own critical thinking to heed it.
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Lt. Col. James ZumwaltSummary Recent Posts ContactLt. Col. James G. Zumwalt is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of three books on the Vietnam war, North Korea and Iran as well as hundreds of op-eds.
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