Opposition to state-sponsored textbooks grows

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Opposition to state-sponsored textbooks grows

Ten education superintendents on Tuesday released statements opposing state-authored history textbooks in response to a government plan to standardize them.

Debate over state-authored history textbooks began in 2013 after controversy erupted around the material contained in history textbooks approved by the National Institute of Korean History.

While the government and the ruling Saenuri Party have asserted the necessity for state-authored textbooks, the opposition regards it as a challenge to democracy.

Since he was appointed in July 2014, Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea has insisted that history education be standardized and consistent. The issue resurfaced after Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung stated on Sept. 2 that neutral state-authored history books based on facts were needed to prevent confusion among students.

On Tuesday Cho Hee-yeon, Lee Jae-joung, Lee Cheong-yeon and Min Byeong-hee - the superintendents of Seoul, Gyeonggi, Incheon and Gangwon, respectively - issued a joint statement declaring that state-authored history textbooks went against the democratic values Korea had achieved.

“We express our deepest concern ahead of the government’s official announcement on state-authored history textbooks,” it continued. “It does not coincide with our efforts to diversify and liberalize our curriculums.

“We cannot deny that history [education] is more important than any other subject, but the government cannot just standardize it, particularly given our cultural diversity and creativity.”

The plan has drawn immense criticism in the education field since it was initially floated.

On Sept. 2, Oh Soo-chang and Yu Yong-tae, both history professors at Seoul National University, visited Hwang to submit a petition against state-authored history textbooks that was signed by 34 history professors - or 77 percent of all the 44 history professors at the university.

“We are concerned that the discussion [over state-authored history textbooks] in the political circle is not in accord with the Constitution, which stipulates independence, professionalism and political neutrality in education,” the petition read.

The same day, 2,255 history teachers at elementary, middle and high schools nationwide issued a similar announcement. “For the government to give a uniform explanation of history with state-authored history books goes against the principles of education,” their announcement read.

“The government says it wants a balanced textbook, but the truth is that it is part of their efforts to beautify pro-Japanese activities and dictatorship,” it added, regarding speculation that certain politicians are merely attempting to glorify their ancestors’ pro-Japanese exercises during the colonial era and after.

The issue has resulted in political conflict between both parties.

On Friday, opposition leader Moon Jae-in and Lee Jong-kul, the floor leader of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), held a hearing with civic groups that oppose state-authored history textbooks. “Kim said we should not bring up a self-torturing view of history, but that would be like Japan’s rightists denying the war [they started],” Moon said. “I can never agree with the government, because standardizing history textbooks is just its effort to control the public.”

The Ministry of Education plans to make an official announcement later this month as it finalizes the new secondary education curriculum.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]
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