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History textbooks have resurfaced as a political issue. Politicians have joined the heated academic dispute about whether to allow the government to author high school history textbooks or keep the current arrangement in which schools are free to choose from a number of selections from private publishers after review and authorization by a state education board. In a parliamentary address, Saenuri Party head Kim Moo-sung said government production of history textbooks was necessary in order to prevent biases in history education. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy strongly opposed the idea saying that the conservative party was turning the clock back to the military dictatorship period.

The Ministry of Education is expected to announce the fate of history textbooks in the revised education curriculum it unveils later this month. Deputy Prime Minister Hwang Woo-yea, who is also the education minister, earlier said the government could set up a body to publish history textbooks. History professors at Seoul National University issued a statement arguing that state publication of history books goes against the Constitution, which guarantees political neutrality and sovereignty of education. Separately 2,255 history teachers from middle and high schools issued a statement warning against government interference in history textbooks. Politicians will be fanning the controversy if they join the dispute during parliamentary questioning sessions.

Except for a select number of countries like North Korea and Vietnam, governments around the world mostly approve history books and leave their contents to private publishing houses to offer diversity and choice in education. The Constitutional Court in 1992 ruled that state authoring of history books did not violate the Constitution, but nevertheless was not recommended. We no longer live in an age when a military regime attempts ideological brainwashing through history narratives for its own sake. What the government should do is to draw up stricter and fairer guidelines for the publication on historical facts and national identity and to prevent any biased narratives. There also must be greater diversity in history books from the current choice. Academic circles should stop fighting with each other and the conservatives and liberals need to work together to develop balanced textbooks. What the government and politicians can do is to sponsor public hearings to help them come to good decisions about a subject that involves every Korean who steps into a classroom.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 4, Page 30


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