A controversy on history education is looming. The superintendents in charge of educational affairs in 16 city and provincial governments announced Monday that they will prohibit high schools from using modern Korean history textbooks allegedly containing ideologically biased content.
They plan to provide analysis materials of six textbooks to headmasters and members of school operating committees, who have the authority to select textbooks for students, and to hold training programs for them.
Another plan is also reportedly in the making to send dozens of conservative figures to high schools to give special lectures on “redressing Korean modern history.”
Textbooks questioned by superintendents allegedly hold the United States and the establishment of the Korean republic responsible for the division of the Korean Peninsula, and emphasize the negative aspects of South Korea’s rapid economic development while taking a neutral or sometimes favorable attitude toward the North Korean regime.
They deserve criticism for such a bias. Nevertheless, neither the educational authorities’ current plan of censorship nor the conservatives’ lectures are justified.
Furthermore, it violates the schools’ right to choose their own textbooks, and serves to show that history education in Korea is controlled by politics and affected by the times.
The key to desirable history education is unbiased textbooks.
In that sense, what the educational authorities should do first is correct errors in the existing textbooks and make them “well-balanced.”
Remaking history textbooks from scratch through academic discussions and verifications is urgent. Sensitive parts that can give rise to ideological disputes should be left to the discretion of scholars.
History textbooks must contain accurate historical facts and values that can be shared by the members of society.
This should be taken as an opportunity to devise a fundamental system guaranteeing the production of ideologically well-balanced history textbooks.
One way to do this is to collect the opinions and analyses of scholars and experts, and through this process find universal consensus.
The textbook verification system also needs revision.
A possible solution is to diversify the composition of the textbook screening committee so that ideologically biased textbooks will not be accepted in the first place.