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    Chapter 189: Teacher (1)

    As March arrived, proclamations were posted at government offices throughout the nation.

    – A (甲). Responsible for education at the School for Commoners (Samin School or School of Four Social Classes).

    – B (乙). In charge of managing the Samin School’s buildings and its attached farmlands.

    Applicants for category A should be men and women of commoner background, distinguished in scholarship, upright in character, and talented in teaching.

    For scholarship, the selection is based on the results of the employment examination conducted by the Ministry of Rites.

    For character, applicants who pass the employment examination will initially be screened through interviews, and their character will continue to be evaluated throughout the subsequent training process.

    For teaching talent, it will be identified during the training process among those who have passed the above two stages.

    In addition to the above criteria, women’s skills in sewing and weaving will also be assessed.

    Women who have received the titles of Filial Wife (孝婦) or Virtuous Widow (烈女) will be given preference.

    *       *       *

    The court’s proclamation stirred the nobilities of Joseon for the following reason:

    – Is teaching children at the Samin School considered an official service?

    “To think that teaching the Thousand Character Classic to children counts as an official service! And that too, in a school where anyone but the children of slaves can attend!”

    Many were trapped in the traditional mindset that ‘scholarship is for the nobility to learn and master,’ showing a negative reaction, but there were not a few who thought otherwise.

    “The world is changing. The number of commoners is decreasing, and even commoners can enter official service if they try hard!”

    “Why is official service the only answer? Look at Joseon now; the number of merchants and artisans is increasing! It’s only when those who are properly educated become merchants and artisans that the world can be set right. The Samin School is truly the place of enlightenment that the ancient sages longed for!”

    “As Mencius once said, one of the three joys of a gentleman is ‘to find and teach the talented youth of the world!’ Though it may just be teaching the Thousand Character Classic, simple arithmetic, and basic morals, who knows if through this, someone who will take responsibility for the future of Joseon might emerge!”

    Despite the heated debates, to cut to the conclusion, on the day of the civil service exam, numerous nobles gathered at the examination sites set up at the offices of the provincial governors – formally, the Provincial Surveillance Commissioners.

    However, the aspect that Sejong pondered over the most was the employment of female teachers.

    *       *       *

    Before officially deciding on the matter, the one who spent the most time with Sejong was Hyang.

    Late at night, with all the historians sent away, Sejong and Hyang were discussing the topic of ‘educating women.’

    “In this father’s view, if necessary, women in Joseon should also be allowed to take official positions. It’s because Joseon is short of people.”

    In Sejong’s judgment, it was wasteful to spend time distinguishing between men and women in current Joseon.

    Regardless of gender, even the hands of children needed to be utilized for the success of the reformation and for Joseon to stand proudly on its own, making it a natural concern.

    And one more thing.

    Creating a gap in the gender barrier would be advantageous in the eventual debate over the class system that would surface.

    “That’s true. However, the problem is that if you reveal your intentions now, there will be tremendous opposition.”

    At Hyang’s point, Sejong sighed deeply.

    “Hoo~. That’s the issue.”

    Seeing Sejong like this, Hyang also sighed inwardly.

    ‘Even in the early Joseon, when women’s status was somewhat higher, it’s still like this.’

    As Hyang mentioned, women’s social status was relatively high until the early Joseon period. However, this was more about respecting women’s domains within the traditional gender roles.

    The idea of taking official positions was about women entering men’s domains, which was bound to face significant opposition.

    Amidst this prolonged dilemma, Hyang made a suggestion to Sejong.

    “It might be a bit of a workaround, but what about using the Samin School?”

    “The Samin School?”

    “You’ve already declared girls’ admission to the school, and there was no opposition. So, why not find women to teach these girls?”

    “That’s true. With the distinction between men and women, even if they are teacher and student, we can’t cause problems.”

    Nodding at Sejong’s words, Hyang continued.

    “So, we establish criteria for these women to become teachers. Becoming a teacher should become an honor for the village and the family.”

    “An honor for the village and the family…”

    As Sejong mulled over the words, his face brightened.

    “I see! If we make Filial Wives and Virtuous Widows teachers, it would be justified!”

    “Exactly. That’s how we gradually expand the scope.”

    “Let’s proceed with that plan!”

    Seeing Sejong’s enthusiastic response, Hyang couldn’t help but smile bitterly.

    ‘Filial Wives and Virtuous Widows… In the future, this might just become a controversial topic ripe for criticism.’

    But in the current era, this was the most effective and best strategy available.

    Stimulating the Confucian sense of honor among the scholar-nobles was the best course of action.

    Thus, the employment standards for female teachers at the Samin School were established.

    *       *       *

    While men voluntarily applied for the examination, an unexpected situation arose for women. It became a common sight to see local elites and provincial officials pleading with recognized Filial Wives and Virtuous Widows to take up teaching positions.

    “What would a mere woman know?”

    “Ah, come now! Please, for the sake of our village, lend us a bit of your strength.”

    “How wonderful it would be if the girls of our village grew up emulating your proper conduct?”

    Receiving the titles of ‘Filial Wife’ or ‘Virtuous Widow’ from the country was already a matter of pride for the village, but producing a teacher for the children would elevate the village’s honor even further.

    Amid this chaos, a series of petitions with similar content began to pour in from local officials.

    There were women who, despite lacking formal education, were recognized as Filial Wives or Virtuous Widows and had exceptional skills in weaving and sewing. The petitions requested that these women be allowed to teach.

    Upon receiving these petitions, Sejong made a decision.

    “Loyalty, filial piety, and chastity cannot be learned from books alone. These virtues must be observed and emulated in action. Even if they are uneducated, they have enough qualifications to teach. Especially since children learn most from their mothers, why bother distinguishing the importance?”

    Following Sejong’s decree, women known for their chastity and filial piety, though they might not have been formally educated, were recommended to discipline and teach the girls.

    Sejong’s decision quickly spread among the people.

    Many citizens nodded in agreement with Sejong’s decision.

    “That’s right. The elders must set a proper example for the children to learn correctly.”

    “Exactly!”

    “But do we really need to teach the girls sewing separately? Can’t they learn that at home?”

    “And that’s why your clothes are stitched the way they are?”

    “….”

    Regardless of social class, when the male head of a household was absent, it became the responsibility of the women to manage the household’s finances. The common jobs for these women included day labor in the fields or paid sewing work.

    Especially those skilled in weaving or with exceptional sewing abilities could live somewhat more comfortably than those working as day laborers in the fields and paddies.

    Hence, there were hardly any objections to educating girls in sewing and weaving.

    The reason Hyang said ‘hardly’ is because a significant number of officials from the Ministry of Rites raised objections.

    “Now that textiles are being produced in factories, do we still need to teach weaving?”

    “That’s a valid point.”

    “Let’s omit weaving. It’s better to spend that time teaching them even one more character.”

    Convinced by his subordinates’ arguments, the Minister of Rites proposed to Sejong that weaving be removed from the curriculum. While Sejong and the ministers were nodding in agreement, Hyang raised an objection.

    “The foundation of the automatic looms used in textile factories is still the loom. To quickly identify the quality of the fabric or troubleshoot issues with the loom, those with weaving experience are more competent than those without.”

    “Ah…”

    Enlightened by Hyang’s point, Sejong and the ministers nodded in agreement.

    “That could be an issue.”

    “We’ve never weaved ourselves, so…”

    Muttering internally, Hyang grumbled about the privileged lives of these nobles.

    ‘Weaving is generally considered women’s work, but men often participate in the process as well. Especially in tasks like weaving decorative patterns, men’s participation is quite high.’

    However, most of the ministers filling the Geunjeongjeon Hall were from generations that never had to worry about making a living, so they were unaware of this aspect.

    “Of course, as automatic looms continue to evolve, there may come a time when knowing how to weave becomes unnecessary. But for now, it’s essential.”

    “That makes sense.”

    “We were short-sighted.”

    In the end, the proposal from the Ministry of Rites was dismissed.

    As April arrived, the screening process to appoint teachers began.

    Men and women who passed the civil service examination had to come to Hanyang for interviews. During the interview process, the examiners carefully observed the candidates’ tone of voice, demeanor, and other aspects to assess their character.

    Due to the large number of candidates, a spacious venue was required, for which Sejong offered Changdeok Palace[1], an unprecedented move.

    “Your Majesty! Offering the palace for this purpose is utterly preposterous!”

    Despite the ministers’ unanimous uproar, Sejong stood his ground.

    “Who are we selecting? Those who will teach the children of Joseon! And who are these children? They are the ones who will bear the future of Joseon! For such a significant endeavor, why should we hesitate to temporarily lend the palace?”

    Faced with Sejong’s firm stance, the ministers could no longer oppose.

    The ministers, having stepped back, gathered at the Council of State Affairs, where Maeng Sa-seong was the first to speak.

    “Let’s turn this crisis into an opportunity.”

    “A crisis into an opportunity?”

    “Among the criteria for selecting teachers, scholarship is important, but we cannot overlook character, can we?”

    “That’s true, but…”

    The ministers nodded in agreement to Maeng Sa-seong’s words, as Sejong had emphasized ‘character’ in the selection criteria.

    ‘The most important quality in a teacher is character! If there isn’t a significant difference in scholarship and talent, prioritize those with good character!’

    Maeng Sa-seong continued.

    “However, can we truly know one’s character from just one or two meetings? And with so many other matters at hand, we cannot allocate a large workforce to the teacher appointment process.”

    Kim Jeom, who had been listening quietly, clapped his hands lightly and added.

    “That’s right! Changdeok Palace[2] already has many court ladies and eunuchs. They can observe the candidates!”

    “That’s exactly what I meant.”

    Hearing the conversation between Kim Jeom and Maeng Sa-seong, the other ministers soon nodded in agreement.

    “Indeed, this could be turned into an opportunity.”

    Thus, the candidates had to stay at Changdeok Palace, undergoing a second round of interviews and receiving training.

    While staying at Changdeok Palace, the candidates were required to wear large numbered badges on their chests. The eunuchs and court ladies managing the palace meticulously observed the candidates’ attitudes and behaviors in daily life. The reports compiled by the court ladies and eunuchs were sent to the Ministry of Rites, serving as guidelines for eliminating candidates during the process.

    *       *       *

    Not only the Ministry of Rites was busy with the Samin School, but also Hyang’s Area 51.

    The Area 51 was bustling due to the textbooks needed for the Samin School.

    The number of children expected to enroll in Samin Schools nationwide was at least between 200,000 to 300,000.

    The entry criteria were boys and girls aged between 5 to 7, but those up to 12 could enroll if they wished, leading to the estimated numbers.

    Printing textbooks for all these students was impossible for the Type Foundry alone. Hence, the task was handed over to Area 51.

    “Why Area 51 again?”

    Young officials at the court frequently posed this question to their superiors, becoming wary of Area 51 as it gradually took on more responsibilities and expanded its influence.

    The superiors had a simple answer to the young officials’ inquiries.

    “Area 51 is the only place capable of handling the volume of paper needed for the textbooks.”

    “There are many guilds dealing with paper, though.”

    “Their capacity is insufficient for the supply, and the budget involved is significant.”

    Faced with their superiors’ explanations, the young officials had no choice but to concede.

    The Area 51 had access to straw paper[3], which made it uniquely equipped for the task.

    1. One of the five grand palaces built during Joseon dynasty.[]
    2. One of thefive grand palaces aside from Gyeongbokgung[]
    3. Yellow-colored paper, typically made from oat straw. Used for scriptures and other books[]

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