Textbooks get politically-correct fixes

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Textbooks get politically-correct fixes

Textbooks, along with other study reference books, are like bibles for most Korean students. A few years ago, a student who got a perfect score on the Korean Scholastic Aptitude Test told reporters that if students wanted to do as well as she did, "all they have to do is dive into the textbooks."

But the textbooks, it turns out, are not infallible. The National Human Rights Commission recently told the Ministry of Education to take "proper measures" on 13 cases found in various textbooks used by elementary, middle and high school students that are misleading or unfair to certain groups in society. The head of the commission Kim Chang-kuk said, "After carefully going through the textbooks, we found cases that could harm students' development of conscientiousness and sense of human rights." The Education Ministry accepted all the suggestions, and from next year's editions, the books will be revised.

One case the commission found fault with was in a high school social studies book that teaches about gross domestic product. The book used an example of a housekeeper and her employer. "If somebody gets married to his housekeeper, the GDP decreases," the textbook says. To illustrate, next to the passage was a drawing of a man -- kneeling and offering a ring -- proposing to a woman busily scrubbing the floor. The commission said that the expression "housekeeper" disparages that profession while the picture promotes prejudices about women. Above all, the commission said the example did little to explain how GDP is calculated.

Another thing the commission caught in its net was a definition of the disabled. Another social studies textbook for high schoolers says: "If the disabled can do work that is equal in quality and ability to what normal people can do, the disabled should not be treated unfairly." The commission pointed out that using the word "normal" implied that all people excluded from that category were abnormal, and thus the use of the word is improper for textbooks.

The commission also considered the winds of change. A science textbook for middle schoolers says: "A family consists of a married couple and their children." The commission said that since the formation of families varies as society develops, the definition should be more flexible. If not, the textbook could give students the idea that anybody from a family that doesn't fit the description is somehow incomplete or abnormal. The same textbook also said that "work time" refers to "office workers at work and students at school studying and housewives at home doing household chores." It should be changed to remove the gender discrimination, the commission said.

Another wrinkle the commission wants to straighten out is in an art textbook, which says: "Seoul's colors are green for its mountains, blue for the Han River and flesh color for the sun." The flesh color definition, referring to the average Asian's skin color, would offend those with different color skin, the commission said. The commission already set the same matter right in the Korean Industrial Standards manual last August. The alternative colors the commission suggested were "light apricot" and "light citrus."

The rights commission said that the country's textbooks probably have more improprieties that need to be remedied, and that it will continue to work on fixing them.

by Chun Su-jin

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