Public verification a mustAt Wednesday’s press conference, Kim Jung-bae, the head of the National Institute of Korean History in charge of history textbooks for middle and high schools, outlined the direction for writing new state-authored textbooks, including the selection of writers. Kim said he would tighten the verification process to produce an accurate and balanced textbook based on the Constitution and the facts. He also said he would post a public invitation for textbook writers by Monday.
Kim plans to thoroughly screen all factual errors and verify different views on Korea’s prehistoric age, ancient times, the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, and the modern era. His remarks were on par with what Hwang Woo-yea, deputy prime minister and education minister, said a day earlier. On Tuesday, Hwang stressed that he would develop new textbooks directly verified and supervised by the public through transparently managing the whole process on the web.
But many obstacles await. Above all, the government must recruit approximately 36 writers and wrestle with the question of whether to make their names public. When it comes to inviting writers for the modern period, the job gets even tougher due to the liberal camp’s threat to lay their backgrounds bare. Even scholars with conviction hesitate to join the writing group or simply give up, as evidenced yesterday. Shin Hyong-sik, professor emeritus at Ewha Womans University, an expert on ancient history, and Choi Mong-lyong, an honorary professor of history at Seoul National University, shied away from appearing at Wednesday’s press conference, citing personal reasons.
The institute hurriedly announced it would not disclose the names of about 30 writers - except six major writers - even after the selection, until November 2016, when the books are finished. But the decision will most likely trigger criticism that the government still adheres to secrecy.
Because the controversy over government-approved textbooks, under attack for their ideological bias, originates from writers leaning toward leftist values, the institute must first gain the public’s trust by making their names public. There’s nothing to fear if the institute recruits the best-qualified scholars. The opposition camp must also not stain their scholastic reputations by digging up dirt.
The institute must refine its writing standards. If the government wants to clear all confusion about the establishment of the Korean government and the nation’s founding, it must use a precise compass. If the government’s effort ends up being an empty gesture, it will no doubt spark public outrage.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 5, Page 34