History education deserves devotees

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History education deserves devotees


Choi Young-jin, vice president of New York-based The Korea Society, is visiting Korea. Every summer, she brings a group of social studies teachers to Korea to offer them hands-on lessons in Korean history. This year, 32 American educators are spending 10 days in Korea, but Choi said that she is not sure if the program will continue next year. The Korea Foundation, which has been sponsoring the program, is reducing its support lately.

Choi settled in New York 30 years ago, and when she noticed that the global history curriculum at her daughter’s high school did not cover Korean history, she started a campaign to include the subject by educating the teachers and developing necessary materials. Twenty-five years ago, she started the Korean history training program with the support of The Korea Foundation. “The teachers who have visited Korea distinguish Korean history from Japanese history. Japan has been very aggressive to promote its history, and many educators understood Korea’s ancient history from a Japanese perspective. So we began with developing and distributing history texts on Shilla and Gaya, the parts with especially serious fabrications,” she said.

Japan invites 300 to 400 American educators every year to offer history lessons. The size of the program is getting smaller due to the economic slump. But lately, China has begun a similar, yet large-scale program, inviting a large number of teachers to offer history education. So the latest concern is that Korean history distorted by the Chinese viewpoint may be included in the history curriculum. At this critical juncture, the small program of inviting 30 teachers for Korean history training is not guaranteed in the future. But Choi is not willing to let historic fabrication take over the global history curriculum in U.S. schools. She has opened a Web site on the history of the Joseon Dynasty for American educators and students. The Web site offers paintings from the Joseon Dynasty, pictures and video files, history texts by local scholars of Korean studies, and papers on historic figures.

But Korean students are just as ignorant in Korean history as Americans, and considering the absurd reality of Korean history education, we are more than grateful for the efforts of the Korean-American community. Last month, a survey shocked the nation as 70 percent of high school students responded that the 1950-1953 Korean War was a northward invasion. A drive of collecting one million signatures is in progress to make Korean history a required subject for college admission. Only recently, the education superintendents proposed a reinforced history curriculum to the Ministry of Education. The reality of Korean history education is pathetic at home and abroad. What keeps the history education going on is the devotion and endeavor of ordinary people like Ms. Choi.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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