Some 40 historians chosen to write textbooks

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Some 40 historians chosen to write textbooks

The National Institute of Korean History completed its selection of authors on Friday for government-authored history textbooks, which the government aims to distribute in middle and high schools starting in March 2017.

The state-run institute newly tasked with writing textbooks said it had finished selecting nearly 40 historians for the Park Geun-hye government’s ambitious project to take back control over history learning in schools.

The Ministry of Education is expected to announce the exact number of historians involved in the writing and their exact fields of study on Monday. However, it is likely to keep the names of participating authors from the public due to opposition to the project.

It was earlier expected that about 36 historians would take part in writing the books. But mindful of suspicions that the government is trying to whitewash atrocities committed by military governments from the 1960s to the late 1980s, the institute has decided to add three to four scholars who specialize in political and economic theory and the Constitution.

The Park government’s textbook policy has elicited a strong backlash from opposition parties, liberal civic activists and in academic circles. Critics claim Park aims to emphasize the economic achievements of her father Park Chung Hee, the military strongman who ruled the country for 18 years from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.

Critics also say advanced democracies have no need for a state-authored history textbook system.

The government contends that current history books have leftist and pro-North Korea views, and that they downplay the economic and political achievements of South Korea over the past 70 years.

The latest public poll on state-issued textbooks shows more than half of respondents do not favor the textbook policy. In a poll conducted by Gallup Korea of 1,004 adults from Nov. 3 to 5, 53 percent said they opposed the measure while 36 percent were in favor. Eleven percent declined to answer.

Should the process go according to plan, first drafts are expected to come out in March, and the names of the 40-some authors are expected to be made public at that time.

To protest the plan, the liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) staged a rally near Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Friday, and the group said nearly 2,000 people took part. In order to stage the protest, the union group urged its teacher members to take a leave of absence from schools. The KTU organized a march around Seoul City Hall without major clashes with the police.

The Education Ministry warned of punishment for those who followed the group’s instructions, saying their collective action violates the public servants act, which prohibits government employees from taking such action. Prior to the Friday protest, the ministry accused 84 union members of violating the public servants act and referred the case to the prosecution.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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