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Publishing history textbook is not a military mission

Posted November. 04, 2015 09:23,   


The South Korean government has declared that the state will publish history textbooks for secondary schools from 2017. Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Hwang Woo-yeo announced the final notification of the standardization of history textbooks on Tuesday, emphasizing that it is impossible to issue proper history textbooks under the current system. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn also made a statement saying, “It doesn’t matter how many different textbooks are currently available. They are all the same in terms of being left-leaning. Around 99.9 percent of high schools are teaching with such textbooks, meaning that there is already no diversity of views in the existing textbooks.”

The government and the ruling party concern that the current textbooks can negatively affect historical perspectives of young minds. However, then the right direction should be restoring diversity, not rooting it out by issuing state-controlled textbooks.

The government has been aggressively pushing the plan as if it is trying to “strike the iron while it is hot.” Upon announcing the plan, the government put up an advance notice, and directly moved on to implementation within a month of time, giving no room for listening to different opinions. The final notification was made two days earlier than the scheduled date. It is questionable whether it is appropriate to decide a matter of history education as if carrying out a military mission without having proper opportunities to weigh the pros and cons.

As soon as the plan was announced, there were strong oppositions from all walks of our society. There were much more negative opinions than supportive ones submitted to the Ministry of Education. Prime Minister Hwang said in his speech on Tuesday, "Current textbooks are undermining the meaning of the establishment of the Republic of Korea by writing that the Korean government was founded in 1948.” In fact, this is exactly what the guideline for history textbooks released by the government is saying. The government should take the blame that it is responsible for causing a chaos by recklessly deciding to standardize textbooks without first trying to strengthen present guidelines and authorization system.

There can be no single right way to interpret history, and any attempt by the state to control historical views of the public is meant to fail. There are only a few countries in the world that issue state-controlled history textbooks, mostly authoritarian regimes such as North Korea and Vietnam. Triggering controversy over history textbooks, which will be renewed whenever the regime is changed, is a waste of time and energy.

The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy declared to boycott all events scheduled at the National Assembly in a sit-down strike on Tuesday. Although it is the opposition`s work to contain the government and the ruling party, showing such an extreme reaction would lead to back lash. It will be irresponsible for the first opposition party to engage in hardline sit-in strikes, arbitrarily defining the yet-to-come textbook as being Japan and dictatorship-friendly.

The National Assembly is daunted by pressing tasks, including the passing of legislations on labor and economic reforms and next year’s budget plan. The Saenuri Party should persuade its counterpart to come back to work, and the NPAD should return to its main job of reviewing next year’s budget plan. Both parties will not be free from criticism if they aggravate the situation by using the textbook issue for their own political interests.