[Viewpoint] Rehabilitating our history education

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[Viewpoint] Rehabilitating our history education

I give my full support for the efforts the JoongAng Ilbo is making to include Korean history in the high school curriculum. All other nations require the study of their history in school curriculums, and as competition among countries becomes more intense, it has become a trend to reinforce history education.

However, in Korea, history has long been considered a memorization-oriented subject in the college admissions-driven curriculum, and the teachers who are members of the Korean Teachers’ Union have exposed students to a distorted historical perspective.

Korean history is considered to be a shameful past that should be corrected, not a respected heritage that we should continue. Moreover, controversies over the interpretation of modern history is another obstacle.

Shin Ho emphasized, “Seeking patriotism without understanding history is like trying to see without eyes and run without legs. You have to first teach history completely if you want to boost patriotism.”

Henry Kissinger said, “History is the memory of states.” A person who has lost his memory would struggle to lead a meaningful life. Without historical consciousness, citizens cannot open a meaningful future.

If you don’t know history, you cannot understand reality. If you don’t know about the circumstances of how the Republic of Korea was founded and what kind of obstacles and challenges the country has overcome, you can’t judge how glorious Korea’s development is and how proud we should be. You won’t understand how valuable the liberty and prosperity we enjoy are, and you won’t have the same pride for the country.

The world is amazed by Korea’s development, but we, Koreans, are rather discontented with the country.

Washington-based Pew Research Center surveyed 47 countries on national satisfaction in 2007. Koreans had the third-highest dissatisfaction rate for their country, after Palestine and Lebanon.

The percentage of young citizens in Korea who are willing to fight in case of war is drastically lower than its neighbors, and the percentage of citizens willing to choose Korea if they were given a chance to be born again is also very low.

Today’s Korea is the crystallization of the blood, sweat and tears of its ancestors and past generations. For the past 100 years, Korean history included colonial rule, the founding of the nation, a war, industrialization and democratization.

The last six decades especially are considered a success model for developing countries, accomplishing the miracle of security, industrialization and democratization.

If we don’t understand the precious sacrifice and endeavors of the past generations, and if we don’t understand the values they pursued, we won’t be able to successfully steer the future.

Japan claims that it has contributed to the development of Korea through its colonial rule, and China insists that it participated in a war of justice even though it fought against us during the Korean War.

In contrast, the United States has been a partner in security and prosperity all along. Will the generation that has not studied history be able to respond to the challenges posed by China and Japan and make the right judgment on why the Korea-U.S. alliance is so valuable and needs to be protected?

Public education is a key function of a modern state, and history education is at the core of that public education.

The objective of public education in the United States is to develop mature citizens of democracy. In order to attain the goal, American history is a required subject starting in elementary school. If a foreign immigrant wants to obtain U.S. citizenship, he or she will be tested on American history as part of the process. American history is obligatory knowledge and a part of the culture to Americans.

What is the status of Korean history in the public education system? Public education that fails to provide proper history instruction is virtually dead and is no different from private education. Korean history must be designated as a mandatory subject in high school curriculums once again. It is the shortcut to normalizing public education.

And authorities should not stop there. Educational authorities need to come up with innovative ways to improve and boost the instructional content and teaching methods to provide a more interesting and meaningful education.

National efforts to develop modern history textbooks and to re-educate history teachers are lacking, and the established generation also needs to have a correct, unbiased sense of history.

Various examinations offered by the government, such as the civil service examination, bar examination and teaching license examination, should include a test on Korean history.

Moreover, educational and training programs at government agencies need to offer reinforced instruction on Korea’s modern history.

*The writer is a research fellow at the Sejong Institute.

By Kim Choong-nam
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