Historians balk at plan for textbooks

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Historians balk at plan for textbooks

Historians want nothing to do with the government’s plan to reintroduce state-authored history textbooks in Korea’s middle and high schools.

The entire faculty of Yonsei University History Department issued a statement on Tuesday saying it will not cooperate with the Park Geun-hye administration’s plan to write and publish history textbooks for students.

“We will not participate in the process in any way,” said the 13 professors in the department. “We cannot hide our despair to see the return of state control over textbooks in today’s Korea.”

They condemned the government and ruling Saenuri Party’s decision, which they said was political and had no academic or educational merit. “This will have a seriously bad impact on education and society,” they said.

The Ministry of Education announced on Monday that Korea will restore state control over history textbooks starting in 2017. According to the plan, the National Institute of Korean History will select up to 40 authors from a wide range of backgrounds and age groups in mid-November.

Initial drafts are to be completed in November 2016. After additional reviews by the public, the final texts will be printed in February 2017 and distributed to middle and high schools the following month.

On Sept. 21, a group of 132 Yonsei University professors from humanities and social science departments issued a statement protesting the government’s plan. Tuesday’s statement was an official rejection, the history professors said.

A group of nine history professors from Kyung Hee University issued a similar statement on Wednesday, also vowing not to participate in the writing of the textbooks.

The protest is expected to spread in the world of academia.

Earlier last month, 34 history professors from Seoul National University and 160 professors from Korea University’s humanities and social science departments stated their objection to state control of textbooks.

Professors at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Catholic University of Korea and Pusan National University have also expressed their objection, as well as the history professors at the Korea National University of Education. Seven academic societies, including the Korean History Research Association, also said they object to state-penned history textbooks.

The National Institute of Korean History said it will still be able to select competent authors, but concerns are growing that only conservatives who support state control over textbooks will participate in the process.

While the protest grew in academia, the ruling Saenuri Party tried to sell the state-controlled textbooks to Korean parents.

“Parents are showing a lot of interest in school lunches, but they appear to be indifferent to what goes into their children’s heads,” Kim Moo-sung, chairman of the Saenuri Party, said Wednesday morning. “If parents looked at their children’s textbooks, they would be shocked. History textbooks are spiritual nourishment, and historical perception decides our view of the future, so these are extremely important materials that decide our children’s future.”

Rep. Won Yoo-chul, floor leader of the ruling party, said using a single textbook will make preparations for college admission tests easier for students.

He also urged the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) to stop politicizing the plan and cooperate with legislative activities to better serve the people.

The NPAD continued to criticize the Park government and the ruling party. The party claims the new textbook will glorify Japanese collaborators and Korea’s former dictatorship. It claims Saenuri Chairman Kim is a descendent of a Japanese collaborator and that the dictatorship was started by President Park’s father, Park Chung Hee.

“Collaborating with the Japanese and dictatorship are not righteous history,” Moon Jae-in, NPAD chairman, said on Wednesday. “We cannot teach their views to our children as if it were proper history.”

State control over Korean history textbooks was first introduced under the military rule of Park Chung Hee in 1974 and ended in 2010.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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