On ATEK and 3WM – an enigma meets a mystery

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I’m not sure when I accepted the role of an outspoken, if optimistic, critic of ATEK. Perhaps it was during this article where I offered then-new president Greg Dolezal a few suggestions. Perhaps it was this article talking about the rumblings around ATEK when another human-rights type organization was formed. Perhaps it was when I appeared on a Korea Bridge podcast featuring the new president of ATEK. In any case, it’s been sometime since ATEK has found itself in the spotlight – for better or worse, the spotlight has found them.

I’m not sure when I accepted the role of an outspoken, if optimistic, critic of ATEK. Perhaps it was during this article where I offered then-new president Greg Dolezal a few suggestions. Perhaps it was this article talking about the rumblings around ATEK when another human-rights type organization was formed. Perhaps it was when I appeared on a Korea Bridge podcast featuring the new president of ATEK. In any case, it’s been sometime since ATEK has found itself in the spotlight – for better or worse, the spotlight has found them.

In a scathing part one at 3 Wise Monkeys, ATEK is made to look like a group of amateurs with little political power or clout, concerned more about appearances than effectiveness. The 3WM article comes at a time when ATEK seems to have completely dropped off the radar – the last time I heard the name is when Roboseyo resigned his National Communications position. That didn’t come as a surprise, as he was leaving the teaching world behind for grad school. Still, press releases from ATEK are few and far between, coming as formalities instead of revelations. There seems little going on for the public consumption, yet there are people working for good… right? Based on the last several e-mails received from them, it’s not exactly crystal clear:

  • From February 23rd, a press release on how an ATEK officer is leaving Korea to start his own non-profit.
  • From February 21st, a press release on the suicide of a teacher in Busan, reminding readers of the emergency services available through ATEK.
  • From February 17th, a note on a ‘living in Seoul’ orientation session offered by a Global Village Center.
  • From February 2nd, the results of a vote to remove the Seoul Chair. Although previous e-mails gave the voting link and vague background information, members are never told who they’re voting out by name, or any specific information beyond a “conflict of interest” of this person, whoever they were.

I hear no stories of people being helped. I hear no stories of events ATEK is putting on. I hear nobody talking about them on the internet, the Korean blogosphere, or at the bars the English teachers frequent. This some two years after the association was formed, a fair amount of mainstream and other media garnered, and all the appearances of a successful organization put into place. This boggles my mind – presuming people are indeed being helped, are they all being sworn to secrecy or signing a non-disclosure agreement? Getting help from an organization – especially one with a noble cause – shouldn’t be embarrassing or harmful.

A brief chat with ATEK National Communications Officer Rachel Bailey explains that the idea of sharing testimonials hadn’t been thought of. Keeping names, dates, and places anonymous in a story wouldn’t be difficult, I suggested, and would lend some evidence to how people are being helped. Rachel also confirmed that ATEK is still working on becoming an NGO (non-government organization), which would open the door for funding and a more influential say. She didn’t seem to know much about the status of that, implying she’d need to follow up with the people working on that.

Whether as a result of ATEK’s endeavors, a more informed group of English teachers, or the more malevolent hagwon going out of business, there seems to be fewer stories of people getting ripped off and screwed. There is a caveat here, of course. Considering ATEK set out to do what even well-established local groups have trouble with – influencing government decision on matters affecting their group – it shouldn’t be overly surprising that little appears to have been accomplished. I say ‘appears’, again, to remind the reader that what happens in the circles of ATEK doesn’t necessarily see the light of day. So much of the group’s dealings are ‘quiet victories’, the sort of things that don’t make it into press releases. Some, like the association’s partnership with the Seoul Police may be proudly triumphed, but how many smaller stories are there? Considering the number of actual members (3WM says 136 general members and 1,000 associate members), the number of non-members receiving help must dwarf the number of members receiving help.

Here’s an idea: What if ATEK had a single phone number to call? That person (or answering service) could route calls to the appropriate organization or person. It would require some time of that person, as well as a list of who is where (and at what number), but that would be expected for someone in the know. When you need directions while traveling, you don’t call the local tourism organization; you call 1330 – the hotline specifically setup and promoted everywhere.

Lest 3WM get worried over the alarming number of arrivals and departures, recall that the terms of officers are limited to a year according to the bylaws. After that, one must make way for someone else. Additionally, officers must be English teachers in Korea, a sub-section of the population already prone to turnover. That the founding members “stepped down within months of the launch” should be amended to remind readers of the bylaws they sought to put in place. It’s hard to deny the turnover – especially with dozens of people starting at all times of the year, each serving a maximum one-year term; it’s not entirely out of place or unexpected. It does lead to a lot of confusion, however – especially when you’d rather not dig through a website to find who is so-and-so at this exact time.

Perhaps part 2 of 3WM’s story on ATEK will enlighten readers on why they sought them out as a target to berate. More than a few 3WM stories are an interesting read, but 3WM’s version of independent media often reads as a loosely-associated group of stories written by people who couldn’t get them published elsewhere. 3WM may well be “provocative, smart, [and] entertaining”, but influential isn’t yet something I’ve heard said about them. It’s also easier to write a hit piece than to “Poke the Box” (Seth Godin’s new book) or stick your neck out in trying to create something new.

Readers, comments are open. Play nice – no personal attacks – and stick to the issues.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2011
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