The Lessons Continue: “School 2013” Episode 2
Yup, this drama is a keeper. I’m loving the layered conflicts, I’m loving the questions asked about the role of schools and teachers, I’m loving the poignant dialogue, and I’m loving the complicated characters. Yay! I’m so happy to be this excited about a drama again!
The question of sight and through it, the power of knowledge is an important theme in this drama. When you see something, you have knowledge of it, and with that knowledge comes responsibility. And if that view was partial, you have the responsibility to get the whole perspective.
In the first episode, Teacher Jung In-jae (Jang Nara) entered Seungri High through the back door because she did not want to see the smoking students on the way through the front gate. She knew they would be there and she didn’t want to deal with the trouble of disciplining them. Her fellow teacher advised her to pretend not to see them but Jae-in felt it was be wrong for a teacher to do that so she took the cowardly way out; she made sure she didn’t even see it happen.
But when faced with a problem straight on, Jung In-jae doesn’t close her eyes. Two of her students, Go Nam-soon (Lee Jong-suk) and Oh Jung-ho (Kwak Jung-wook), are about to be expelled for underage smoking but she finds it unfair that the school would do so without proper evidence; the evidence being a photo of a two faceless boys that seem to be smoking. She asks the school to rethink its punishment, arguing that the photo does not prove two boys in question were the ones smoking since their faces can’t be seen. Once again, we get an example illustrating how powerful sight can be.
In episode two, Go Nam-soon is accused of throwing a chair out the window and once again, the evidence is unclear since no one can or will testify that he was the one that did it, even though he was caught in the room alone with the broken window. But since Nam-soon is about to be punished anyway, Jung In-jae tries to find out the whole picture, knowing that there is more to the story than just the circumstantial evidence. The principal also knows there is more to the story but she wants to leave it where it is because to dig deeper means there more trouble for the school. Kang Se-chan (Choi Daniel) saw everything and knows who really threw the chair but he doesn’t want to get involved because he thinks it is not his problem. He chooses to ignore the responsibility that comes with knowledge.
Kang Se-chan in a way represents modern society today: the indifference to wrongdoings, the selfishness, and the obsession with rank and grades. There is a hint in episode two that Kang Se-chan wasn’t always this way; he gave up Seoul University Law School to be a teacher. But after one year, he gave it up on teaching, and it seems that there was some kind of conflict then that made him give up hope. Well, not really as Se-chan claims, because he then “taught” at a hagwon. But as his old teacher reminds him, what Se-chan had were clients, not students. Ouch and yes, that is the state of the modern education systems these days, whether it is public or private. Sigh…
Other examples of the issue around sight is when the students do nothing while Jung Jae-in is getting manhandled by Oh Jung-ho in episode one. These types of scenes and conflicts in this drama really asks the viewer to question what they would do in this type of situation. Will you close your eyes, literally and figuratively, and pretend not to see? Or will you have the courage to keep your eyes wide open and do something about it?
One of the best things about this drama is the complicated characters. When I think of high school youth drama, I think about the popular Japanese drama, Gokusen. I love Gokusen, which is darling, fun, and warm. I love the main character in that drama, Yankumi, who is unquestionably brave and selfless; she doesn’t hesitate to do the right thing at all. Jung Jae-in is a little more complicated that Yankumi. She is one of the few teachers left that actually wants to teach students but she is a contracted teacher and is in danger of being fired. She is constantly urged to keep quiet for the good of the school and herself. If she keeps quiet, she will be able to keep teaching but she has to question whether she can call that proper education. On top of pressure from the school, there is pressure from the PTA, which argues that she is not competent to be teacher because she is small, weak, and a woman. Argh. You can’t help but root for this tiny woman who still believes that an education is more taking tests and getting into good universities. I also love how she is earning her student’s love and respect instead of simply demanding it on the grounds that she is their teacher.
Jung In-jae’s conflict with Kang Se-chan will be interesting to watch unfold since he represents the other spectrum of educational philosophy; the side that cares only about scores and prestigious universities. In between them, we have Go Nam-soon, who through his silence demands integrity and knowledge from the Korean education system but stands quite alone among the rush and reality of society. I’m already in love with this character who is gentle, honest, and brave. He doesn’t make a show of it and knows that these aspects of his character will only get him in trouble in modern society. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve but he doesn’t fear showing it either when he needs to and wants to.
One of things I disliked about To the Beautiful You was the way school camaraderie was completely ignored at the expense of romance and angst. I think I can safely report that School 2013 will not being do that as we can see already in the budding friendship between Go Nam-soon and Han Young-woo (Kim Chang-hwan). Han Young-woo is ranked last in the class (I think due to his developmental disability) and he is an easy target of Oh Jung-ho. Go Nam-soon protects Jung-ho when no one else does and becomes his only friend. Nam-soon is able to see past the disability; no, he sees more than the disability to befriend a lonely boy who just wants to be normal.
Oh, can I say hallelujah for a drama that doesn’t have ridiculously evil characters? Everyone has a reasonable reason for their actions and that makes me happy drama-viewer.
Next week, I am promised the appearance of Kim Woo-bin, finally! Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait!
The poem that Go Nam-soon recites to say goodbye to his friend, Oh Jung-ho:
“Flower” by Na Tae-joo (풀꽃 / 나태주)
You have to look closely
To see that it is pretty
You have to look long
To see that it is lovable
You are the same