Let schools decideHigh schools that chose a textbook published by the Kyohak Publishing Company, which has been controversial for some ultra-right descriptions and biased political representations of Korean history, are under attack by liberal educators. The left-wing Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union protested and demanded the schools change their minds about using the textbook. The names of the schools have been released, and they are lambasted on Twitter and other social networking platforms as being pro-Japan and pro-authoritarian for choosing the textbook.
The textbook is one of seven history books the Ministry of Education authorized for the 2014 academic year. It has been reviewed and approved by the National Institute of Korean History with a group of historians. The ministry discovered some questionable content and asked publishers to make changes before the beginning of the academic year. Kyohak was also ordered to revise its ideologically controversial content. Schools made their textbook choices after the final revisions.
One deputy principle in a school in South Gyeongsang that chose the Kyohak book asked why the school had to come under attack for selecting a textbook that has been certified by the education authorities. But one official at the Gyeonggi Provincial Education Office of Education, which is headed by a liberal superintendent, said schools that adopted the conservative history book could come under a special audit. Critics of a certain publication are exercising intimidation and pressure to kill a history book that has views they disagree with.
The boycotts are undermining the order in textbook publication. The government sets the guidelines in direction, publication and examination, and schools are free to make their own choice for their curriculum. The textbooks that passed authorization and certification are all legitimate for classrooms. This free choice for schools is based on our constitutional principles and democracy, and schools are free to select their textbooks. None of the teachers’ unions, civic organizations or netizens have any say in the independent choice of a school.
Outsiders must stop playing judge and jury. At the same time, the Gyeonggi Education Office must withdraw its comment about conducting a punitive audit. The government has stressed the importance of Korean history education and adopted it as a compulsory social science subject for the state college entrance exam. But that is not enough. The Education Ministry must let schools freely choose their curriculum and textbooks without outside pressure or intimidation.