[Outlook]Historic changesIn the end, the dispute over the revisions to high school history textbooks had to be resolved in the courts. Authors of the books refused to accept the government order for partial revisions and filed a petition against any changes, claiming they were illegal.
But the court turned down the petition, as the writers had signed contracts that said they would “faithfully follow guidelines given by the Education Ministry.” This chapter of the controversy has come to a close.
The authors insisted that their rights as the creators of the text should take precedence over legal procedures and education authorities. This perspective, however, represents a dire lack of common sense.
The main issue is the writers’ misunderstanding of the difference between the freedom one has in private scholarly pursuits and public education that is conducted on a government budget.
This battle on moral bankruptcy has gone on for too long. In the books, the late totalitarian leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, was described as “a highly admirable figure who clearly defined his ideological obligations surrounding the establishment of a socialist nation and won public support.”
At the same time, the books described past South Korean presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee as epitomes of “dictatorship and corruption” who “stood above the Constitution.”
The texts also made the absurd claim that democracy has been trampled underfoot in modern Korean history, while North Korea “proceeded with reforms in the socialist political system” and “coped with global changes, upholding Korean socialism and the ‘Korean people first’ policy.”
As such, North Korea has been spewing criticism about the revisions to the history texts, claiming “pro-American and anti-communist historic distortion.” The North’s Education Ministry spokesman released a statement saying, “The South’s retrogressive revision of history textbooks is a violent infringement against justice and truth, and poses a serious challenge to history and truth.”
In fact, the ideologically biased history textbooks trampled on the Republic of Korea and upheld the cause of North Korea, all under the guise of academic freedom.
Kumsung Publishing’s history textbook was flawed, to the extent that it received a grade of C at the outset of the examination, as it took an ideologically biased position. It could hardly be recognized as the result of balanced scholarly research, and was inappropriate as history material for the young generation.
However, the Education Ministry failed to cancel the approval of Kumsung Publishing’s textbook and only called for a partial revision, ending in the authors’ rejection of the government’s order.
The proceedings mirrored distortions in Korean identity.
All history textbooks in the world are centered on encouraging students to learn and inherit their countries’ challenges and achievements while establishing national legitimacy. However, our textbooks focus on leading students to deny Korea’s successes.
The Education Ministry and the authors ought to apologize first for the miserable situation in which the controversial textbook passed through approval procedures and was used in schools for the past six years.
The history textbook revisions are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the problems in our educational procedures are concerned.
Korea faces serious challenges from powerful social forces who deny our historic achievements. Many people, anticipating the failure of Korea and its government, strive to mislead people based on their distorted civics education and skewed perception of history. They learn about how to resist first, before learning about free democracy and the market economy, which contributed to Korea’s prosperity. People spend more time learning about Korea’s problems and mistakes.
As a result, young generations belatedly understand the reality only after several years of work experience after graduating from university.
It is high time we start making a change. Although Kumsung Publishing implemented a partial revision to their textbook, the Education Ministry should explore more fundamental measures aimed at fixing the problem.
A thorough investigation should be conducted into how the textbook has been approved in the first place and made its way into our schools. Then we can resolve the problem and establish an education system that rests on a solid foundation.
For now, it is urgent that we overhaul education procedures across the board.
We must be more careful about what our children are taught.
The writer is the president of Nara Policy Research Institute, Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kwang-dong