[Viewpoint]Rewriting our history
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology recently began revising social science textbooks including those involving modern history and the economy.
For a ministry responsible for inspecting and approving textbooks, the project is natural and marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of modern Korea.
Teaching students unbiased historical and economic viewpoints is the most important function of a textbook. Borrowing an expression from French philosopher Ernest Renan, history is a nation’s soul.
Forming a consensus about our history can help establish our identity and unify our people.
Textbooks can foster a better understanding of both liberal democracy and the market-based economy. However, Korea’s textbooks have been criticized repeatedly for their failure to do so.
Many parents have complained that they cannot debate Korea’s modern history with their children at the dinner table. There is a divide between the history that the parents have experienced and the history written in textbooks.
This is wrong.
Because of faulty historical education, even the military academy and army has trouble educating and disciplining their students and soldiers.
Among countries that became independent after the Second World War, Korea is the only one that simultaneously achieved industrialization and democratization.
The reason for this is clear.
Korea was built on the foundation of the principles of liberal democracy and a market economy, respecting an individual’s freedom, equality and property rights.
That was possible because Korea formed an alliance with the United States and became a member of the liberal world.
Despite this, some of the current textbooks describe our country as a product of national division, painting the past 60 years as an embarrassing failure.
Many include groundless criticism of the principles of market economy, which brought us economic prosperity.
Some blame the United States for the North-South division and foster anti-American sentiments. Such a misunderstanding has frequently been noted by scholars and economists. Yet it still makes its way into textbooks.
It is fortunate, albeit belated, that the Education Ministry has begun a review aimed at revising faulty textbooks.
In a liberal democratic society, inspection and approval of a textbook can never be the state’s unilateral decision. It always needs the public’s review and approval.
It is important that textbooks be based on solid research and reflect historical consensus. As such, the narratives of current textbooks must be fundamentally revised. If the revision takes time, special classes should be organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the nation’s modern foundation. Those classes must correct inaccurate historical perspectives.
Our history textbooks should center on how the Republic of Korea was established, as well as the hardships this entailed and the difficulties our development faced.
When we divide our 5,000-year history into two parts, with the foundation of Republic of Korea somehow inexplicably appearing at the center, our history is nothing short of a miracle. After reaching the “middle,” our nation made more achievements than in thousands of previous years.
The history before the founding of the republic should focus on important events that are necessary to comprehend, including the independence movement during the Japanese colonization period.
There is no need to mix the history of North Korea after the national division with our modern history. Not mixing these the two would have prevented the unbelievable mistake in current textbooks that directly compared the Saemaeul (New Village) Movement of the South and the Chollima Movement of the North. These are, in fact, two completely different concepts.
Recently declassified documents of the former Soviet Union show that immediately after Korea was liberated from Japan, Joseph Stalin ordered that an independent regime be established in the North. New interpretations of history based upon such information available in the post-cold-war world should be reflected appropriately in new textbooks.
Revising textbooks to help our younger generation learn correct historical and economic views is an urgent task that cannot be further delayed.
*The writer is a professor of international politics at Sungshin Women’s University.
by Kim Yung-ho