Ensure liberty in textbook choiceOut of the 2,322 high schools in Korea, only one - Buseong High School in Busan - chose the Kyohak Public Company’s history textbook, which has drawn controversy for its conservative narrative of Korean history. The high school’s principal, Shin Hyun-chul, said his school would stand by its choice no matter what. High schools in the country are free to choose from among whichever history textbooks have been authorized by the government. Still, a principal must defend the school’s decision as if it is a life-and-death matter.
Kyohak’s textbook was stigmatized as condoning Japanese colonial rule and Korea’s military rulers, and it came under heavy attack even before it was published. It was accused of having referred to Kim Gu, the independence movement leader, as a terrorist and Yoo Kwan-soon, a Joan of Arc-like heroine student to Koreans for her protest against Japanese colonial rule, as a gangster. The liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union launched an organized slander campaign against schools that decided to choose the controversial textbook, claiming they were dumping garbage and dirt on young minds. One school had a surprising visit by a person scolding the school for being pro-Japanese.
If misleading or incorrect materials are included in school textbooks, they must be corrected. But schools chose the textbook based on their curriculum with confidence in the licensing and authorization procedures of education authorities. The Busan-based high school selected the history book after a review by a committee that included parents. Any school has the freedom to choose textbook materials without outside intervention and pressure. They are the core values that the current government textbook authorization scheme is trying to protect.
The liberal sect of educators declared to fight until the controversial textbook is fully boycotted. They stormed onto school grounds and pressured teachers to give up the textbook. They claim they were only offering advice. But school liberty over textbook choice has been seriously undermined by a collective action of a certain group.
Cornering a minority does not befit a democratic society. One school out of the 2,322 schools making a lone choice is not normal in a democracy. The Education Ministry must fix its review and certification process to ensure objectivity so that there are no more controversies from publishers and authors. Moreover, it must ensure school liberty in textbook choice.