Turning our backs on history

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Turning our backs on history

The study of history is a noble pursuit in which we learn from the past to prepare for the future. It fosters national pride and identity and gives the future generation the right values to lead society and the country. No community can prosper without a proper awareness of history. But Korea has chosen to give up on the teaching of history.

Under the 2009 curriculum revision, Korean history in high school classrooms became an elective course. Until last year, history was mandatory, but from now on students can choose to ignore the subject. The obvious outcome will be that more of the younger generation will be ignorant of their country’s history, potentially taking a toll on our country’s future competitiveness. Without knowing their roots, future generations cannot be expected to grow up with the insight and knowledge to become global leaders. Before it is too late, education officials must put Korean history back on the list of compulsory subjects. Nearly everybody - 91.2 percent of the public - demands it. At the same time, the quality of history teaching must be honed.

Ahn Byong-man, vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on Education, Science and Technology, reported to the council’s chairman and President Lee Myung-bak that history should be mandatory for all Korean students. Eleven ruling and opposition lawmakers also petitioned last year for the revival of Korean history in high schools. If the government and the National Assembly have the will, they can make the change. Seoul National University has taken the initiative of making Korean history courses a criteria for students applying for admission. Other universities must follow suit to force high schools to teach history.

Equally important is an improvement in the method of teaching history. We must not hand down cynical and negative views of our past, but instead, breed national pride in younger generations. This year’s textbooks gave a negative view of the country’s first president, Syngman Rhee. Teachers must also find new ways to teach history more efficiently and enjoyably. No student will take interest if it’s just another subject that demands memorization. We must learn from Western-style history education, which encourages debate and field studies to experience historic events and their significance. Our history is challenged endlessly by our neighbors, who distort the facts for self-serving interests. We cannot challenge them without knowing our own history. We must find ways to restore the status of history for our future’s sake.
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