Standards come before content

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Standards come before content

You may not feel so favorable toward Chinese history textbooks. A textbook in a Communist regime is most likely to be a tool of party propaganda.

You are not mistaken. History textbooks used in Chinese elementary, middle and high schools contain propaganda content advocating the superiority of the Communist Party and socialism. However, it is limited to modern history. For medieval and ancient history, contents are intensely reviewed and verified.

I don’t mean to discuss China’s history education here. However, China’s case provides us with lessons regarding the controversy over history textbooks. In China, history textbooks are not authored by the government. Publishers write textbooks, and as long as they pass the Ministry of Education’s review, schools are free to choose any book. At least on the surface, China wants to avoid uniformity and lack of diversity of history textbooks.

Then how do textbooks guarantee history education that the state, people and party want? The ministry set standards through intense discussions with historians, and the criteria are divided into purposes and contents. Different set of standards are applied to elementary, middle and high school textbooks. Of course, in the process of setting the standards, they didn’t engage in a stupid debate over how to avoid ideological confrontation.

For history education in high school, the purpose is cultivation of historical awareness, acquisition of wisdom, not knowledge, expansion of perspective, understanding of relationships between China and the world and cultivation of a sense of historic duty. To meet these goals, history textbooks must include nine content areas: the ancient Chinese political system, invasion and struggle of the Chinese people, democratic revolution in modern China, China’s political foundation and unification, contemporary foreign policy, ancient Greek and Roman political systems, development of the representative system by proprietary classes in the West, theories of scientific socialism, and multi-polarization of contemporary international politics. Modern history receives greater focus since the purpose of history education is on development of today and the future.

The purposes of history education in elementary and middle schools are summarized as acquisition of wisdom, not knowledge, and cultivation of pride as Chinese people. As young students are in the early stages of intellectual growth, they first learn historic facts, which become the basis to view the world through China’s eyes and values. China and the Chinese people are uncompromising towards Japan, want to discuss world affairs with the United States and feel pride in socialism, and these attitudes are rooted in history education. China’s case advises that Korea should think about the purposes of history education before making state-authored textbooks.

The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 20, Page 34


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