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Textbook wars hit rural high school students hard

Posted January. 10, 2014 01:19,   


Cheongsong Girls’ High School is a small school in a rural area in North Gyeongsang Province. With only two classes per grade and 140 students in total, the school produced 47 graduates last year. Parents are mostly farmers near Cheongsong area. After apples from the region have recently become famous, earnings of some farmers increased from their apple farms.

This tiny rural school was in the midst of textbook wars for the past three days because it adopted a Korean history textbook that was said to be biased towards conservatives. The name of the school was the most searched term on portal sites. Social networking sites were filled with pros and cons over the issue. The school had a number of journalists with microphones and cameras.

It is understandable that parents oppose the textbook published by Kyohaksa. In November 2013, the Education Ministry released its probe result of eight Korean history textbooks for high school students. The textbook of Kyohaksa had a total of 251 errors, which have two to four times more than those of other text books. Though being certified, the textbook from Kyohaksa seems to be less complete. To draw an analogy of an apple, it is an apple that does not cause a health problem to children but is neither sweetest nor most nutritious. Any parent would want to give their child the sweetest and the most nutritious apple, not an edible apple.

The problem was not the parents but those from outside who opposed the adoption of the textbook. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, liberal civic groups, and some Internet users were violent. The school was paralyzed on Tuesday when the media ran a story that the school adopted the textbook of Kyohaksa. A flood of unidentified calls hit the teachers’ room and the principal’s office. Some showed up with pickets bearing words like “pro-Japan” and “glorifying dictatorship.” The school Principal Park Ji-hak said, “I’ve never been in a situation like this. I had butterflies in the stomach.” It was not right to protest in a manner that the text book is biased and unrighteous.

Students of the school are hardest-hit victims by the textbook wars. Students came to school for extra classes during a winter vacation, but they saw journalists, unfamiliar adults, and pickets bearing words of criticism. A senior student said on her way to school on Thursday, “I’m scared because my school is being mentioned all over the Internet and on the news for a bad thing. I hope the school can become quiet again and address this issue as soon as possible.”

The brouhaha is now over and the new semester starts next month. Many people who shook the school will disappear but the school is left with scars. What will the students think about this? Will they look at their teachers in classes in the same way that they did in the past? Can the students say hello to their principal with a bright smile? Who will be responsible for their memories, if they are left with not fond but painful memories in 10 or 20 years?