National pride through historySchool history textbooks should contain content that guides young people to a fair and accurate vision of history. Textbooks should facilitate pride in our heritage and imbue students with the vision and spirit to create the future. The ultimate responsibility for historiography lies with the government.
The Seoul High Court recently ruled in favor of the government’s demand for corrections to what it saw as pro-North Korean and leftist statements in history textbooks published by Kumsung Publishing. The court’s decision has reaffirmed the government’s authority over textbook editing to ensure an unbiased and fair account of history in school textbooks.
The court also acknowledged the government’s authority in vetting and supervising the textbooks produced by private publishing companies. It concluded that the government can censor textbooks that contain views or expressions that discredit the legitimacy of the state or its system of government. The government, therefore, can require changes in problematic textbooks even after they have been published.
The court ruled that the accounts in the Kumsung textbooks were “incorrect.” The text’s biggest flaw was that it discredited the accomplishments of South Korea and painted North Korea in a favorable light. For instance, the text said that the Taegeukgi (South Korea’s national flag) was not the only flag that went up after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, in order to highlight the role of foreign countries in Korea’s liberation. It also said that both North and South Korea took steps to establish governments, implying that South Korea was partly to blame for division of the country and war. This could have led students to believe their ancestors were the culprits in a historic tragedy.
The government is currently rewriting new Korean history textbooks for release in 2013. It has announced new guidelines and plans to write and edit the books based on them. The government has been working with scholars since April to fix problems in textbooks and the history curriculum. Their efforts must result in thoroughly factual and fair historical accounts.
History textbooks should, most of all, report history in a way that fosters national pride in our heritage. They must underscore Korea’s remarkable triumphs despite colonization, division and war through modernization and democratization. The narrative on North Korea should also be true and just.
We should stop making textbooks that demean ourselves and our historical legacy.