Growing up during a brutal dictatorship era in South Korea, Dr. Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean of Stanford School of Education, learned early on that you can’t fight violence with violence. Instead, he believed that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world and promote peace, harmony, and a modern, stable democracy. In this episode, Dr. Kim joins Anne Pratt to share with us the importance of education for every child; HOW to deliver this to underserved communities worldwide when you are at the cutting edge of technology, digital innovation, and education; his adventurous journey from his South Korean homeland to the United States after high school with no English language ability, no friends, and no money. We learn how he overcame language barriers, discovered the true meaning of education, and understood the value of Inquiry-Based Learning – What Questions to Ask? He dives deeply into current USA and global educational challenges and issues; the 6 C’s (competencies) of 21st-century leadership, how the education sector can help shape, mold, and develop future leaders; why Education is a human right, and why every child has a tremendous gift and deserves a chance. Join Dr. Paul Kim with Anne Pratt on this new powerful weapon to change the world.
Listen to the podcast here
A Stanford University Education for Every Child with Dr. Paul Kim
A Powerful Weapon of Cutting-Edge Technology, Innovation, and Education
Our bold leader joins us from the Southwestern state of California to the South of San Francisco and North of San Jose. He grew up during an autocratic era in South Korea. After completing high school, his father bought him a plane ticket to relocate to a Democratic, free United States of America. As an immigrant at college, he gave away free beer to make friends and learn to speak English. Since 2001, he has been the Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean of Stanford University School of Education.
Apart from advising investment bankers, venture capitalists, and private equity companies operating in the education technology space, he is pioneering an unconventional model for education for the 21st century, taking academic projects from the classroom to the real world and using cutting-edge technology, digital innovations, and education.
He is also a qualified airplane pilot. He has worked with multiple international organizations developing mobile technology solutions for education and flying to the most underserved communities and faraway places in Latin America, Africa, and India. Why? He believes every child deserves a chance and the world is better with education for all. We warmly welcome Dr. Paul Kim and welcome to the show.
Paul, thank you so much for being part of this conversation. Thank you for making the time. I’m so looking forward to it.
Thank you for having me.
You’ve had a remarkable life of change and transformation. I know you grew up in South Korea, and I was wondering if you could take us back in time to South Korea. Paint a picture. Share with us how some of those challenges shaped you and your feelings during that time.
I was born in 1970 and grew up in Korea, where I attended elementary, middle, and high school. For twelve years, I attended schools in Korea. I’ve seen dramatic changes over that period. When I was born in the ’70s, we were under a dictatorship of form there, and many dissatisfied citizens wanted a valid democratic country.
(Editor’s note: The third Republic of South Korea was the government of South Korea from December 1963 to November 1972. It was a Unitary presidential republic under the authoritarian military dictatorship of President Park Chung-hee. It was founded on the dissolution of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, which overthrew the Second Republic and established a military government in May 1961. Park Chung-hee, the Chairman of the Supreme Council, was elected President of South Korea in the 1963 presidential election.
The Third Republic was presented as a return to civilian government under the National Assembly. In practice, it was a dictatorship under Park, Supreme Council members, and the Democratic-Republican Party. The Third republic prioritized South Korea’s economic development, anti-communism, and strengthening ties with the United States and Japan. Park was re-elected in the 1967 presidential election, and the National Assembly forced through a constitutional amendment to allow him to seek a third term. He was re-elected in the 1971 presidential election. Park declared a state of emergency in December 1971 and announced plans for Korean reunification in a joint communique with North Korea in July 1972. He launched the October Restoration in October 1972, declaring martial law, dissolving the National Assembly, and announcing plans for a new constitution. The Third Republic was dissolved on approval of the Yusin Constitution in the November 1972 constitutional referendum and replaced with the Fourth Republic of Korea.
The Fourth Republic, from November 1972 – March 1981, was founded on the approval of the Yushin Constitution in the 1972 constitutional referendum, codifying the de facto dictatorial powers held by President Park Chung-hee. Park and his Democratic-Republican Party ruled under the centralized and authoritarian Yushin System until the assassination of Park on 26 October 1979. The Fourth Republic entered a period of political instability under Park’s successor, Choi Kyu-hah, and escalating martial law was declared after Park’s death. Choi was unofficially overthrown by Chun Doo-hwan in the coup d’état of December Twelfth in December 1979 and began the armed suppression of the Gwangju Democratization Movement against martial law. Chun launched the coup d’état of May Seventeenth in May 1980, establishing a military dictatorship under the National Council for Reunification and dissolving the National Assembly, and was elected president by the council in the August 1980 presidential election. The Fourth Republic was dissolved after adopting a new constitution in March 1981 and replaced with the Fifth Republic of Korea.)
While they were struggling in 1980, there was a military coup again, so the country was going in the right direction. I witnessed all the struggles, political turmoil, and the process of making a democratic country. Although I was quite young, I could see what was right and what was not right, and then I thought that people should be able to express their opinions because of the freedom of speech and that it’s in the Constitution.
However, people couldn’t speak freely, especially about the country’s leadership. If you often expressed your opinions, you could disappear, and nobody would know what happened to those who wanted to express their opinions and the country’s status. I read newspapers. I particularly paid attention to what was happening in other countries because I was very interested in what was right and is this the right way of having a life in a country.
I looked at other countries that were labeled as democratic countries. I was able to see the contrasts. When I was attending middle school and high school, many people were out in the streets fighting for democracy. The government wanted to block that effort, and a lot of tear gas was going on and many arrests.
What city were you in?
I grew up in a city called Incheon, which is about 40 minutes from Seoul. Incheon is the primary (international) airport city in South Korea. It was quite an active place, and since its proximity to the capital of Korea, it was almost the same as you living in the metropolitan areas. There were many activities, and many educated people, university students, and people labeled as freedom speakers came out on the street to talk about how human rights were violated, so I witnessed a lot of activities growing up.
I felt disappointed with the level of freedom you could have at that time. I really wanted to see some changes. As a student at a middle school, you can’t really do much. I really thought that we needed a different experience and a different education, and the government has to promote freedom and human rights. The government should embrace diversity and different opinions. I felt we’ve got to do something, but I will do it when the time is right. That’s how I felt a lot about growing up.
What was your light bulb moment? Can you recall a particular moment or an event when it really struck you that this was a call to action, something for you not only to want something different but to act on that and take a stand? When was that light bulb moment for you?
I felt that I really needed to do something about this country when I was going to school in middle school age (around 12-14 years old). It was on a bus ride, and then a tear gas bomb came into the bus and exploded, and we were suffocated. I don’t know if you could die from it, but as little young students, we were all experiencing excruciating pain because of the bomb that exploded in the bus, and we all tried to escape.
There were police out there beating up people. Beating them to death. Watching all that, I thought, “This is not right. I really need to do something about this country. Whatever it takes.” I knew that you could not change your country by force because it would lead to another coup or other forms of violence. I figured maybe education. We all need to be re-educated; that way, we know how to promote peace.We all need to be re-educated. That way, we know how to promote peace, harmony, and true democracy. Click To Tweet
You’ve had a remarkable journey. I think you came to America in about 1990 when your father bought you an airplane ticket. How did you pivot out of that? You were sitting in middle school. Can you briefly share with us how you pivoted out of that and what was the big lesson of that moment?
My father used to say that once you graduate from high school, you can live your life any way you want, and you are out of there. He kept on saying that while I was growing up. I thought that maybe I should start early. What about now? What if I go out and live my life as I need to? I talked to my father. “Can I leave now? I’m a middle school student, but I think I’m ready to leave.”
My father said, “Where are you going to go?” “I want to try different places like the United States because it’s considered to be democratic. Democracy there in practice and preserved, so I want to try that out.” He said, “You better graduate high school before you go anywhere,” so I had to wait until I graduated from high school. Once I graduated from high school, I told my father, “You promised that I could go anywhere I want in the world, so can I go now?”
He said, “Okay.” He bought me an airplane ticket, which led me to come to the US and start the second chapter of my life. I felt a sense of freedom when I came to the US and knew I could say anything I wanted. I could talk about politics. I could complain about the leadership of the country. That was a real genuine sense of freedom.
Arriving in the United States, you couldn’t speak English. I believe you lived in Georgia, where there weren’t a lot of Asians. Can you take us through the significant learnings and takeaways about being an immigrant arriving in a foreign country and not speaking the language? Share with us how you fast-tracked that process and still held a sense of hope and possibility. How did you do that?
I intentionally picked this place in Georgia. It’s called Americus, Georgia. (Editor’s note: Americus, GA, is the county seat of Sumter County, rich in history and culture, and offers a variety of social opportunities, including theaters, dining, sports activities, and churches It prides itself on education, as it is home to two institutions of higher learning: Georgia Southwestern University and South Georgia Technical College.) A lot of people don’t know where that is. I picked that place because there aren’t that many Asians. If you go to a store, everybody looks at you, and you are like a stranger, and somewhat you could be intimidated by that experience. For me, I felt like I’m the star. I am a unique one in this community, so it didn’t bother me at all, and that’s how I started.
I could not speak any Korean (language) with anybody because there were no Korean people when I arrived. I thought that was good because that way, I could learn English faster. I had to go through the ESL training program to learn English. One thing that I did to make friends very quickly was I put a sign on the dormitory and said, “Free Beer, Room 211.”
Everybody knocks on my room and says, “Where is the free beer?” I made friends quickly. I became a very famous star in the whole school there as well. They said: ‘There is a cool Asian guy who came in he’s got a brilliant idea. He’s funny. Be a friend of his.’ I made a lot of friends right away. I did learn some English, not a lot, but just good enough to pass the tricky test to attend the college courses.
I had to decide what course would be the easiest for me and I thought I love music, so I’m going to take some music classes. How about that? I sat in a course which was Music Appreciation 101. I thought I could really appreciate music. I signed up for that course and was shocked that I made a huge mistake because the professor said you listen to Beethoven and Mozart and listen to all these musicians’ music – very profound music
You had to write a five-page essay. I thought, “I don’t know all the adjectives. How long might it take me to write a five-page essay?” I struggled, and I could write one sentence, “This music is very good. I like it.” The professor said, “What is this? This is not an essay. I want a five-page essay.” I told the professor, “I really love music. I have a lot of ideas, and it’s just that it’s hard for me to express them in English.” He said, “What language do you speak?” I said, “I speak Korean.” He said, “Then write it in Korean. Give me a five-page Korean essay about this music.”
We didn’t have a computer back then, so I had to write it. I wrote a five-page essay in Korean, and the professor said, “You have your dictionary, bring it.” I took the dictionary, and he said, “Sit down and then explain to me word by word.” I went through the essay word by word with the Korean-English dictionary. After explaining the essay to him, he said, “This is not an English class. This is a music appreciation class, and your expression of this music is spectacular. Therefore, you deserve an A.”
He gave me an A. That was my first A from my very first class in the US. That was inspirational for me. It was highly motivating, and I thought, “That is a true educator. An educator who understands the weaknesses and strengths of a student then coaches the learner so the student can really get the best out of him or herself.” That professor became a role model for me. Since I got my first A, why don’t I study hard to get straight As? I took math classes, and then I started to get As. That was the beginning of the second chapter of my life in the US, and feeling that this was the right thing. This is really the right stuff.A true educator understands the weaknesses and strengths of a student and then coaches the learner so that the student can get the best out of him or herself. Click To Tweet
To live a life. That’s what we do. We learn, and we strive to be the best. People around you are helping you get the best out of you. That is the right model for living and learning. That’s what I’ve been sharing with students around the world about actual learning, the meaning of coaching, and what a genuinely democratic country can be. Being surrounded by great people and being able to speak freely. You can complain about the leader, and that is no problem. I think this is a free country and is the right environment that everyone should be in and enjoy their life.A free country is where you can complain about the leader, and there's no problem with that. That is the right environment everyone should be in and be able to enjoy their life. Click To Tweet
I know you work internationally. If we look at the significant challenges of this time and if we look at our future for the next generations, what do you think are the significant challenges now?
From my experience, so many things need to be done, initiating various education projects in the developing regions in schools. This is already 2022, so we’re well into the 21st century, yet we have the education model borrowed from the 19th century. What I would like to share with you is that I’m not satisfied with education programs, especially in the developing regions; I’m not happy about the environment that our donors of the 21st century are in, in most developing regions.
Are these trends that you see in developed regions or only developing regions?
There are different levels of education quality. In the developed regions, there is a much better quality of education, although the model itself is still not where it needs to be. In the developing region, a much lower education quality, teacher qualifications, and lack of resources are serious issues. At the same time, the learning environment the students are in.
The culture, environment, and conditions are not ideal in many cases. What I see is that students are afraid to ask questions. That’s something I felt when I was in Korea, going to grade school. Students were afraid to ask questions. I remember raising my hand, asking a question, and then the teacher said, “That’s the dumbest question I have ever heard. You deserve some spanking.” Things like that.
We were afraid to ask questions, which is true in many developing regions. Students are not feeling a sense of safety. That’s why I started to initiate various education models centered around Inquiry-Based Learning to provide students with a safe environment to ask all kinds of questions, some of which could be hypothetical questions. I give a lot of value to hypothetical questions. What if we worked through a democratic country? That is a good question.
I encourage students to ask a lot of critical thinking and hypothetical questions. As I was doing these projects, I’ve done them in many countries in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. One day I was in Ethiopia doing this Inquiry-Based Learning with the students, and then I collected a lot of questions. In the beginning, students ask many simple recall questions because that’s what they’re used to.
They memorize for the tests. I asked the students, “There are different levels of question quality.” Simple recall questions are at the bottom. The hypothetical creative questions are at the top. I train the students to come up with better questions. In a fifth-grade class, a female student came up with a series of questions I looked at the questions that she came up with, and I was very satisfied and inspired by her question.
One of her questions was, “Do we really have constitutional clauses that protect women’s rights in Ethiopia?” By looking at that question, I thought, “When she grows up as a leader, what difference will she experience when she grows up?” I feel very proud that I need to do more of these sessions with the students so that they can ask more hypothetical questions that can trigger change in her life, in the community, and in her country in the future. The global community as well by having students ask creative, critical thinking, and hypothetical questions to better their lives, society, and beyond. I think that is an important piece that was missed in many of the education programs worldwide. I think that we need to promote Inquiry-Based Learning much more aggressively.
What you said in Ethiopia, when was that?
It was back in 2012 or so.
The question I have is how relevant it is for some of the developed countries and some of the really difficult conversations that are taking place even now about education in the United States, for example. To what extent is that relevant to the current environment in places like the US? A follow-on question is how critical this thinking is for corporates dealing with significant issues around transforming their workplaces and creating a more inclusive environment. How relevant is this in the US now? How relevant is it for the corporate world?
People talk about the scholars and competencies of the 21st century. Some research reports that many competencies are missing at the management and leadership level, and then there are four Cs. I think we hear about the four Cs a lot. Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical thinking. These four competencies are critical in the 21st-century workplace.
However, schools are not promoting those four Cs. I like to say that the four Cs are important and essential pillars of competence building in education and training. However, I would like to add two more Cs. I always emphasize these two additional Cs, which are Compassion and Commitment. You can get really smart.
However, suppose you have no compassion for people who need help. What good is it to be smart and be a leader without compassion, without thinking about others living in marginalized communities and in dire need of help? That’s why I think that compassion is a really important critical competency for 21st-century leaders.
Another competency that I emphasize is commitment. You can have compassion, but if you don’t do anything about it, what good is that? I talk about the six Cs, and I think these are the competencies that the leaders in the company possess also, the students must be able to understand what these competencies are and learn to practice them.
Oftentimes you think, “What’s innovative when you ask that question?” True innovation comes from understanding the actual needs of the people. They will be much more successful when they come up with solutions and products. Therefore, I think that even in corporate training, they’ve got to teach and train the people with six Cs. I think these are the most critical competencies of the 21st century.
Speaking about education, I understand this incredible need within developing countries and many challenges in developed countries. Are there any other significant challenges that stand out for you regarding the future of leadership that is required from the educational sector to help shape, mold, and develop future leaders?
What we have seen during the pandemic, I think the problem that’s been out there grew drastically, which is digital access and literacy. To those people with the infrastructure, those communities with the sound infrastructure for fast access to the internet and connectivity access, the problem hasn’t been that dramatic.
In many developing regions where there is a severe lack of communication, technology, and infrastructure, the school cannot operate. Students stopped learning. This learning gap, which is still happening now, will have a tremendous impact in the future because of the learning gap, which will directly translate into an economic gap. This polarization of the economy and then also the learning will have a severe impact in the future.
Countries with good infrastructure can continue to educate their kids through online programs. They also have a pretty good level of digital literacy, the teachers and students. This whole thing stopped in the third year of the pandemic in developing regions. Therefore, I think the leading countries must do something about these developing regions because it will come back to them as a burden. There will be a lot of issues in the developing regions.
The political stability of these regions is very important for developed countries to thrive as well. We are looking at an opportunity to have a truly collaborative community that can help each other and be successful together. Otherwise, this gap will become much more severe and will come back and bite them if we do not act on them. That’s something that I see as a severe issue.
You’ve been at the forefront of technology. In the 1990s, you were already developing virtual reality technology. I think you’ve been way ahead of your time. You’ve done so much fantastic work in terms of using technology to help scale up and create online educational opportunities. Do you have a practical example you can share with us around a country or community battling? Just share with us what the situation was in a particular context and how the use of technology and digital literacy and scaling up transformed that community. Do you have an example that you could share with us?
I will share a few examples. When I was working on my Doctorate in Education Technology, we were talking about the ’90s. The internet just came now. Smartphones weren’t available. When people talked about virtual reality, most people didn’t understand what that was. Back then, I thought virtual reality would be an essential element in the future of education.
Back then, it was called the VRML or Virtual Reality Markup Language. I used that to construct a virtual hospital with a virtual patient. The sequence of making the diagnosis and requesting different images or the tests done on the patients were all recorded in the background. Anyone evaluating the student’s performance would be able to tell whether the student did a good job, a proper sequence, or a wrong sequence.
I developed that thinking that this would take off very quickly, but back then, it just didn’t. We were talking about using a modem. I don’t know if people today would understand a modem. It was very slow. I thought that technology would be fast enough to evolve quickly. I think in 2022, we will be talking more about metaverse and virtual reality, in general, more often than before. I think technology is moving, but not as fast as I thought.
I visited various locations in Latin America and Africa with mobile technology before iPhone came out to the market. I thought that if they didn’t have a school or teacher, I still wanted to give them something so they could learn from it. Around 2005, I visited an indigenous community in Mexico. I went there to help build homes for migrant workers and was part of a team.
I was there building houses for these migrant workers from the Oaxaca region. It’s a mountainous area. They came down to a corporate farming region and got a job. They were working from 4:00 AM until 6:00 PM, so they were working hard. Their children also worked on the farm, making $2 to $3 a day, and so forth. (Editor’s note: Oaxaca is in southwestern Mexico. One of the most culturally rich places in Mezcalexico, a beautiful area to visit. This region, and the city, in particular, is widely known for its mezcal Tequila, chocolate, and mole sauce, as well as the diverse indigenous groups still calling the Oaxaca Valley home after hundreds of years.)
When I was there building houses, I thought, “How come the kids are not going to school? There’s got to be a school for them.” I asked them, and they said, “There’s no school for these kids, and there is no school in the whole area.” I said, “That’s not right. These kids need the opportunity to educate themselves and make a difference in their lives, family, and community. I believe education is a human right.”Education is a human right. Click To Tweet
The kids were not getting access to education at all. I said, “I’ve got to do something about it.” I was very lucky enough to get hold of the small mobile devices that used to be used in museums. When you walk into a museum space and take a picture of a barcode, it explains what that piece of art is. A company was going out of business and left with a bunch of these devices, so I said, “Can I take them all?”
I took many of those devices that I reprogrammed and put storytelling books there. I put sing-along songs, dictionaries, and mobile games. I put those things and then went back to where I used to build houses for migrant workers. I gathered the children there and said, “I heard that you guys are the smartest kids in the whole region, so that’s why I came here. I came from a very far place. I came here to get your help.”
I said, “I got these strange objects. I don’t know what these are. Can you investigate and tell me what you find.” These kids said, “No problem. We’ll find out now, and we’ll let you know.” They took my devices and started to take them apart. They use the rock to break it, open it up, and see what they are. I patiently watched, and I did not want to interrupt them.
One of the girls there accidentally pressed the power button and pressed it for three seconds, and then it turned on. It started to make noise. It started to show things. All the kids around her came to her and asked, “What did you do?” She goes, “I’ve pressed this thing, and then this happened.” Everybody was able to turn on the device, although there were a few broken ones too; they were all able to turn on the devices and start to share like, “If I do this, this happens. If I press this button, it goes back. If I press this button, it plays music. If I press that button, it reads a story,” so they were teaching each other.
About 40 minutes later, they said, “We think we got it. We found what we were investigating.” I asked, “Can you explain to me what you found?” They said, “To make this make noise, you need to do this. You turn it on, and then you browse through different buttons.” They explained the contents, how to play music and stories, go to the dictionary, and so forth.
The most important thing about this is that I did not want to teach them because they would become passive learners if I started to teach something. Then there wouldn’t be any opportunity for discovery, experimental, and autonomous learning. I did not want to teach anything. I just wanted to allow them to explore, experiment, and discover, and then that’s how they learn.
I named this alien pedagogy because I am a foreigner who came from a far place and then just gave them the devices and gave me the setting for the exploratory learning to take place. These kids were really brilliant, and after a few days, they said, “We read all the stories. We listened to all the sing-along songs. We studied them all. Do you have more content?” “I’ll be back with more content.”
That was the beginning of my mobile learning journey back then, and then I expanded to many more countries and I added much more educational content on these mobile devices. To me, every child worldwide is a great engineer, scientist, artist, and educator. It’s just that they don’t get a chance. If a child gets a chance, he or she could become a fantastic person, and I genuinely believe in it. I think every child is born with a tremendous gift that’s unrealized if they live in places without opportunity.Every child is born with a tremendous gift that's unrealized if they live in places without opportunity. Click To Tweet
That’s why I would love to give children around the world at least once the opportunity to find out about themselves, their gifts, and talents, and realize, develop, and use them to be committed to being compassionate about others to make this place a better place. I want to do that for the rest of my life. I got a pilot’s license to go to these places more frequently and conveniently.
Did you hire some people?
The last time, I began that journey with the other pilot friends because we took a turn. With my pilot friends, we flew down to a remote place that was for an indigenous community. We started education projects through that experience. What I’m doing and what’s so exciting is that I could fly to these remote areas where the indigenous community children live and do this more frequently. I can go faster, and I can expand this project. I love this journey which I think it’s chapter three of my life. This is something that I will do for the rest of my life.
You commented on the importance of we need to re-educate ourselves. What do you feel about the broader educational system in terms of how we are developing? I know a lot of your work has happened at the child level, but if we think about children and developing young adults and even older adults, how do we need to re-educate ourselves? What do you think needs to happen differently?
What’s sad about these young adults that I see around me and especially in developed countries as well because of this polarization of wealth, which is becoming severe, young people give up very quickly, and I’ve seen that. In South Korea, I don’t know if you know, but the suicide rate is very high. They tried something that didn’t work and ended up with a lot of debt, and they committed suicide, and that’s really sad in a developed country setting.
I published a book called Relearn. I published a book to help these young people rethink their life and reevaluate their talents and gifts that they may not have discovered yet. I say relearn because relearning is very different from learning. I say this to relearn; you have to get rid of your previous learning in a way. You had to eliminate some biases and stereotype all of the prejudice. You have to get rid of them to start anew. That’s why relearning is a little more challenging but rewarding.To relearn, you have to get rid of your previous learning in a way you have to get rid of some biases, stereotypes, and prejudice. Click To Tweet
We know that in our generation, we’re going to live exceptionally long compared to our previous generations. I think life expectancy has increased tremendously. If you are twenty, you think you have grown up, but you haven’t even started yet. Even if you’re 30 and 40, you still haven’t really started because the life you will have is much more than your previous generations.
What will you do for the rest of your life? Thinking about committing suicide, or will you think about the failure of your early attempts? No. You want to spend the rest of your life learning and relearning, discovering your undiscovered talents and gifts, connecting newer dots, and creating opportunities for yourself and others.
I think it is essential for young people to rethink whether it means relearning and resetting, and connecting newer dots with undiscovered competencies and talents. I encourage people to do that, and that’s something that I enjoy doing. When I speak with young adults, I always like to coach them, just like the coach who started my college life in the Music Appreciation 101 class. I like to understand their strengths and weaknesses to give them the best course of action, and that’s the beauty of coaching.
For one thing, who was your extraordinary professor at the time? I didn’t get their name.
He was an adjunct professor. He was long gone when I tried to track him down again. Unfortunately, I don’t have much information.
In your sharing of your book, what would you say are the 4 or 5 takeaways in helping people understand how to rethink and relearn? In summary, what would the four big takeaways be?
Let me see if I can do four.
The first one is attitude wins over statistics. It doesn’t matter how statistics tell you that it’s impossible if your attitude is right that you will win over statistics. My coaching technique and the big message out of that to young students is that even if you are born poor, it doesn’t matter what the statistics say, whatever the numbers say if your attitude is right.It doesn't matter how statistics tell you that it's impossible. If your attitude is right, then you will win over statistics. Click To Tweet
Attitude will always win over statistics. That is the number one lesson that I like to give to young people. Don’t complain about external elements like your poor family or how uneducated you may be now. If you educate yourself and train in one of the statistics, you will win over it. That’s number one. Number two. If you feel like you are lost, if you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, there are a few things you need to do as a pilot. If you get lost while you’re flying, climb. You get to go higher altitude because you may hit something if you get lost, so go high.
Climb and circle. You have to circle and see where you are. Try to identify where you are, and you have to conserve resources. You have to communicate. ATCs, Air Traffic Controllers. Try to find other pilots around you in the air and confess. Tell them the truth. Where you really are as much as you know, what you really need, and your problem and situation. You need to do this as a pilot, and I think this applies to everybody. If you are unsure where you are and feel lost, don’t do well in your place. Climb up to a high altitude so you can look around and see who could be helpful to you.
Talk to people as much as you can. Talk to people and confess. Tell the truth about what help you need. There would be people out there who are waiting to help you. Talk to as many people as possible because if one person out of 10 can give you the proper opportunity and help, you will really get out of that situation that you may be in. That’s lesson number two.
Lesson number three is about: Where are you? Are you in the wrong place? This is a question you may want to ask. It is similar to number two, but this is a little different. Are you in the wrong place? Imagine, let’s say, a little bit about programming, and then you try to get a job in Silicon Valley, which is very difficult. By knowing a little about programming, you will not get a job at Google, Facebook, or Apple.
Imagine if you are in Congo working for an NGO that teaches children coding, your programming skill probably the highest in the whole region in that area. You make sure whatever skillset you may have. You may think this is so tiny and insignificant, but you may want to think again because your talent and the skill you may have could be a tremendous talent and skill in a different place worldwide.
Don’t limit yourself to just one place. I know that you may want to get a job at Facebook, Apple, Google, or a big corporation making seven figures, but I don’t know if that is the true meaning of life. I don’t know if that is the value of real joyful life. If you have to seek money, and if that is the only thing you want to seek, you may have to stay wherever you are and try to make a difference there.
Although it may not be perfect or excellent, whatever skill set may be regarded as a considerable talent and skill elsewhere. Whatever they may be, the skillset may be, rethink and rethink about repositioning yourself. I see that people who are struggling here could be thriving in a different place. Always ask yourself, “Are you in the wrong place?” Try to answer that. That’s number three.
Number four: Do you have the integrity to live truly joyful lives? What I mean by that is that I’ve been thinking about integrity a lot, and I always question myself, “Do I have that integrity? Do I express that? Do I reflect that?” One time I went to an airport to take a flight, and there was a gentleman. He was in a wheelchair.
When I approached my aircraft, he asked me, “Can you help me?” I said, “What can I do for you?” He was in a wheelchair. He said, “Can you get me on that plane?” He was pointing to an airplane. “Okay. Why not?” I lifted him and put him in the aircraft, and I thought, “Maybe you want to take a picture?” “No.” However, a few minutes later, he took the plane (he was the pilot) and flew away with a very professional radio. As a pilot, you must do an excellent job on the radio, communicating with our airspace controller, etc.
He sounded like a real pro, and I thought what did I do wrong here? In my earlier stereotyping, I thought he would take a picture, but I was totally wrong. It happens a lot in our life. When you look at something and then think that you know something. You really don’t know and when you are evaluating a person, you don’t know by the person’s shape or look.
Did you think he wanted to take a picture of you with him?
I thought that he just wanted to help to get on the plane so that he could take a picture. I didn’t think he would be a pilot because he was in a wheelchair and could not walk. If you cannot use your legs and foot, you cannot control the airplane because of the rudder and brakes.
He was the pilot of the plane?
He was a pilot, and I did not think that he was. That bias. That was the issue, and that’s why I started to think about the integrity of a person.
What is your definition of integrity? How do you define that?
Someone who does not judge based on your look. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Someone who doesn’t have biases. I think that’s what triggered me to rethink my integrity. Later, I found out about him and then he was very famous gentleman who was a flight instructor. He was not just a pilot. He teaches other kids to pilot. In fact, he has his NGO teaching kids from marginalized communities to become a pilot.
The unfortunate thing happened to him when he was in his twenties. He used to do marketing and advertisement for a furniture company on a street corner. He was turning the big sign at a corner advertising for a furniture store, and that’s how he was making money, and he was a track to become an airline or a pilot. Unfortunately, when he went to a barbershop, he got shot five times in the spine and almost died. After surgery, unfortunately, he became paralyzed, so he could not walk by himself from that point on, but he did not give up. He did not give up becoming a pilot, and now his teaching.
That’s the fourth takeaway. In terms of the book, would you say those are the main takeaways regarding re-educating oneself and rethinking?
There are many more. I ask 27 questions in that book. These four are out of 27 questions I didn’t ask.
That’s a powerful formula – some food for thought. Going back to your journey. I know you came to the United States in 1990 and if we think about not giving up, I know we share an admiration for a remarkable leader of the 20th century. 1990 was the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison and I was wondering if you could share with us your Mandela Moment. I know you heard more about him when you came to the US. Could you take us back in time to your Mandela Moment? Where were you? What did you learn? What did you hear, and how and why has Mandela inspired you?
I learned about Nelson Mandela when I came to the US and he reminded me of a politician in South Korea. Kim Dae-Jung was one of the activists fighting against the leadership dictators back then and was not only President but also kidnapped. There was an assassination attempt and many ordeals. Nelson Mandela reminded me of him, and he became a president too. (Editor’s note: His Excellency Kim Dae-Jung was a South Korean politician and activist who served as the eighth president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003. He was a 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and East Asia in general and peace and reconciliation with North Korea and Japan.)
He’s a very well-regarded and loved part of the mission. He passed away, so I think his legacy is well remembered in South Korean history. I was reading about and learning about Nelson Mandela. What we learn from him is his perseverance and his will to fight against all the human rights violations and eventually become the country’s leader. That’s inspiring and something we need to share with as many young people as possible because people usually give up. Young people, especially these days, even commit suicide because they failed just a few times. I think that what Nelson Mandela has brought to us is the importance of freedom and promoting and protecting human rights.
Inclusiveness in political activities and protecting people with differences are educational contents for the 21st century. That’s why I think that people call him the father of the nation. His global legacy is out there, and that’s why he also earned the Nobel Peace Prize. I would love to share his story much more through my education projects, and I like to give his books to many children worldwide so they can regard him as their role model.
In many countries, some countries don’t have a role model. All they have are dictators, generals who are criminals, and things like that. I think that peace means you do not achieve peace through violence, but you achieve peace through peaceful movement. Nelson Mandela is an excellent example of that, so I love to share his legacy.
I’m super excited about engaging in more of those initiatives together. It’s remarkable just connecting some of the dots, not only in terms of Mandela’s life and legacy but also with some of your own South Korean role models. It’s interesting what you say about the importance of having those role models for our youth, empowering and educating them, and sharing those examples of possibility and hope.
I’m super excited to be continuing this conversation and working together on more of these initiatives. Moving to lighter points and fun facts in your life. When you first came to the United States. Can you briefly share with us one of your favorite discoveries in the US around food, culture, and entertainment? Can you share one of your fun discoveries?
When I first came to the US, I did not know the difference between the South and the West. I obviously picked up the Southern accent and which I could still practice. If I call some of my friends living in the South side, my accent changes immediately. That’s a whole lot of fun. The food they were eating and that I really enjoyed, and the cultural aspect, the line dancing, is a remarkable performance. I really enjoyed learning and participating in line dancing in the South. I don’t know if you’ve done it or not.
I have, actually. It’s great fun. That’s so interesting. It’s very inclusive. It’s a lot of fun and good exercise at the same time.
They’re very unique to the South.
What has been one of your favorite meals that you’ve discovered in the US?
I like all of them. Grits.
What is it about grits that you enjoy?
It is so Southern, and then if you love grits, you can survive in the South.
Can you share one thing you think your father would share with the world about you in terms of your incredible positive mindset? What would he say about you as a child that spoke to the fact that you would come to this country, not know the language, and choose a place where you don’t have fellow Koreans to speak to? What is one thing your father would share with us about something he spotted in you as a child that revealed this incredible mindset and attitude?
He often said at the dinner table that nobody helps you. You got to do it yourself. You got to figure it out. That’s plan A and plan B. You got to be yourself. That taught me to be autonomous, independent, and self-regulated. He always emphasized the importance of learning. Although I still have funny pronunciation and accent. As I said, I don’t know all adjectives of the world, but I’m still struggling and learning.
As I’m learning, I feel I’m alive. If I don’t learn, I know that that’s the day I’m not living. As long as I’m living, I’m sure I’ll be learning I enjoy learning, which gives me the sense of a life. I think all of these are from the lessons that my father shared over the dinner table. I really appreciate him, and although he’s watching over me from heaven, I’m sure he must be proud of what I have done, at least some of it.
What’s one thing your mother said?
My mother would say that you look like your father.
In our final moments, are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with us around the future of leadership and what the world is calling us to be and do now? Any final thoughts around leadership, education, or even final thoughts around Mandela’s message to the world?
I always like to re-emphasize that the two important additional Cs are Compassion and Commitment. Being educated, smart, and intelligent. Don’t mean anything unless you’re compassionate, unless you understand the needs of others and you feel for them. If you don’t feel for it, it’s not real. If you feel for it, you can be committed to making a difference not only in yourself but in people you are helping and those in dire need of help.
If they are suffering and there is pain, you have to share that pain, and that’s how you truly understand them and come up with solutions for them. What’s the purpose of education and innovation? It is to be compassionate and commitment-oriented so that you are committed to making a difference. I like to share that with young people in the 21st century. Think for others and promote peace and prosperity for all.
Dr. Paul Kim, what a great honor and a great privilege. You, indeed, are a champion of change. I’m super excited about the initiatives we will be working on together. I hope you’ll return and share more of your mind-changing insights, stories, and lessons from around the world. Thank you for your remarkable life, and thank you for now.
Thank you for having me, and I’m looking forward to collaboration and opportunities in the future.
Speaking to Dr. Paul Kim at times took me back to a dark past of apartheid South Africa. Children were shot and killed for peaceful protesting. Voices went silent in the privacy of the jail cell, and people went missing without a note or avoiding a dress. It is hard to explain the immense risk, losses, and pain for everyone that will come if losing a democracy, especially when that is all that people have known.
Coming from an autocratic country, I personally know that democracy can never be assured. It can never be taken for granted. It is fragile, and it is a team sport. We all can and must show up and step up and make our voice count. Talking about making voices count, Paul’s passion and innovation around education remind me of a famous Nelson Mandela quote. He said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
Paul’s remarkable work shows us what is possible. In fact, I do not doubt that Mandela is proud of him (Paul) and smiling from above. We can and must take education from the classroom to the people.
We can and must give every child a chance. Why? When all students learn, nations prosper. Look at Finland or Singapore, or even South Korea. An educated population and an educated world mean a greater world of stability, peace, and economic prosperity for all.
Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful, clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action, just one small step at a time. One step for you, but together, one giant step for humanity. Until next time, take care and take thoughtful, bold action.
About Dr. Paul Kim
Dr. Paul Kim is Chief Technology OPcer and Assistant Dean for Stanford University School of Education. He has been leading various academic technology initiatives and teaching graduate-level courses related to learning technology and digital innovations at Stanford since 2001. His courses focus on contextualized educational innovations, mobile empowerment design, and enterprising higher education systems. He is currently one of the leading researchers for Programmable Open Mobile Internet, an NSF project to develop and evaluate ubiquitous wireless mobile computing and interactive systems for K-20 formal and informal learning and assessment scenarios.
He is also working with numerous international organizations in developing mobile empowerment solutions for significantly underserved communities in developing countries. In his recent experiments in Latin America, Africa, and India, he investigated the SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment), ROSE (Remotely Operated Science Experiment), and PocketSchool Network and the effects of highly programmable open mobile learning programs with literacy, numeracy, and entrepreneurship education programs (e.g., math games, storytelling, and farming simulations) in significantly underdeveloped rural communities. His research also explores mobile wireless sensors in simulation-based learning and ePortfolio-based assessment to promote creativity and critical thinking in problem-solving and learning.
He advises investment bankers and technology ventures focused on e-learning, knowledge management, and mobile communication solutions in the business and higher education sector. His due-diligence engagements include early-stage angel funding and later-stage private equity-based investments for large enterprises such as Grand Canyon University (Stock symbol: LOPE) and Northcentral University, NCA/HLC accredited online universities. He has a Ph.D. in Educational Technology and previously served as Chairman of the Intercultural Institute of California Board, Executive Director of Information Technology for the University of Phoenix (Stock symbol: APOL), and Vice-President & CIO for Vatterott College. His website is http://www.stanford.edu/~phkim.