Sometimes kids lock horns with each other in surprisingly intense ways. The epic battle over the empty seat. The squabble over who turned in their work first. The showdown over who gets to write the answer to question number 7 on the board. In America, the teacher is usually the go-to mediator for such disputes. As the adult in the room, he or she gets to make any and all final rulings with regard to classroom policy and procedures.
However, here in Korea, there is a god higher than that of the teacher’s authority, a totem so sacred that to defy its judgment would be like spitting on the taeggukgi, the symbol of what it means to be South Korean. This arbiter is exacting, lightning quick, and utterly beyond reproach. It does not play favorites, nor is it swayed by tears or pleas or even good behavior. Its word is law, and every student unquestioningly accepts this as truth.