Toward fairer history texts

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Toward fairer history texts

There must be no mistake or disagreement in the process of restoring the teaching of history in Korean schools. The government, under the outline of a presidential committee commissioned to reinforce history education, announced that all high school students are subject to a mandatory course in Korean history from next year.

The government has embarked on the work of publishing a new set of history textbooks. The history committee set up in February is currently setting the basic guidelines for context, editing and publication. The National Institute of Korean History will outline the direction for new textbooks and report to the committee by June.

Korean history textbooks in the past have been criticized for subjective and random contents according to the ideological beliefs of the government in power. Under liberal governments, some of the content was disproportionately left-winged or cast North Korea in an overly favorable light.

Publishers were blamed for incorporating subjective ideas and authorities came under fire for being negligent in objectivity and fairness in presenting history to students. Current textbooks from six publishers issued this year failed to include North Korea’s deadly attacks on South Korean targets, including the 1987 bombing of a Korean passenger jet.

Textbooks in the future should represent South Korea’s past and present, failures and successes, in a positive and future-oriented perspective. We must shake off self-consciousness and mortification of bad periods of our past, including the history of colonization, war and authoritarian regimes. Instead history should teach about our dramatic transformation into a free democracy after centuries of monarchy and the staggering accomplishments in post-war industrialization.

On North Korea, too, students should learn the importance of our common heritage as well as the communist regime’s follies in human rights, dictatorship and attacks. The new textbooks overall should represent the air of confidence and pride of a country that has joined the ranks of advanced countries.

New textbooks will be ready by 2013. The government should meanwhile fix any flaws in current books. It also has to study ways of strengthening the status of Korean history by making it a subject for college entrance exams. It must ensure all the processes be carried out based on a broad public consensus so that history education will no longer be questioned.

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