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Are Our Textbooks Ideologically Biased?

Posted January. 19, 2006 03:12,   


The Youido Research Institute, a Grand National Party (GNP) think tank, criticized the contents of Korean school textbooks at the National Assembly’s “Grand Public Discussion on School Textbooks” yesterday, saying, “There is even a textbook which describes ‘family dining-out’ as ‘an attitude that pays no attention to starving neighbors’ and that describes the desire to provide for one’s own family as ‘ethically unhealthy.’”

The research institute said that another textbook painted a negative picture of the New Community Movement, saying it was “used to maintain the authoritarian rule of former President Park Jung-hee,” while at the same time describing the Chollima Movement of North Korea in a positive light, saying that it “greatly contributed to building the socialist economy.”

The think tank said that it analyzed about 100 textbooks used in elementary, middle and high schools based on seminar data from the Textbook Forum and the Korea Development Institute and found instances of distorted interpretations that were ideologically lopsided or based on theories which lack academic underpinnings.

The main points of the discussion were concerns that some textbooks contain views that undermine free democracy perspectives, deny the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea, underestimate and denounce the country’s industrial achievements, contain favorable assessments of the North Korean system, and express anti-corporation, anti-market and anti-globalization sentiment.

Park Hyo-jong, a Seoul National University professor who participated in the discussion, said, “A textbook by Kumsung Publishing actively criticizes Samcheong Training Camp, and even shows pictures of the camp, while not mentioning North Korea’s political prison camps at all,” adding, “The overall description of North Korea in the textbook is biased and could cause student confusion.”

Park continued his criticism, saying, “The textbook also mentions former President Park’s efforts to develop the economy as merely an attempt to maintain his rule. And even though it calls Korea’s economic development ‘The Miracle of the Han River,’ it emphasizes the side-effects and problems caused by development by using conjunctions like ‘however’ and ‘nonetheless,’ which amount to shallow and excessive denouncements of it.”

Chung Jae-hak, a middle school teacher in Jeonnam Province, accused unionized teachers of an ideological education agenda and cited an elementary student composition posted on the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTEWU) bulletin board that starts with the sentence, “The U.S. and Japan: those bad guys separated us.”

GNP Chair Park Geun-hye was critical as well, saying, “The incumbent administration enabled the KTEWU to dominate schools by railroading the new private school law through the National Assembly, allowed teachers to participate in political activities, and is giving an ideological education to students through biased textbooks.”

Lee Jae-oh, the GNP floor leader, pointed out, “I’ve been working as a Korean teacher for a long time. I feel today’s textbooks are much different from those from my school days,” adding, “It is true that there were many wrong parts in the textbooks of the past, but now, textbooks are moving in the opposite wrong direction.”

Jung-Eun Lee lightee@donga.com