More time for the textbook

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More time for the textbook

The Education Ministry disclosed the authors and preliminary edited versions of the secondary school history textbooks rewritten under state guidance and administration while the president who had led the campaign is facing impeachment for power abuses and other excesses. Lee Joon-sik, education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs, said the government will gather public opinion until the middle of next month and decide whether to adopt the versions as textbooks for the new school semester in March. The Blue House maintains that the plan should go ahead.

We ordered several conditions when the government went ahead with state publication of history textbooks in October last year despite strong opposition. The authors should be unquestionably credible so that existing textbooks provided by private publishers and authored mostly by liberal and leftist scholars cannot raise any doubt, and the contents be written through lengthy study. The revised versions reinforced the ancient history section and made improvements in narratives in the modern history section. The dictatorial rules and pro-Japanese activities of early presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee were described.

Still the procedures and details cannot win full public trust and legitimacy. Half of the 31 authors were close to Kim Jung-bae, president of the National Institute of Korean History that led the work. Just one was specialized in modern history. Most controversial is the description on the founding of the country. The textbook reads that the Republic of Korea — instead of the government of the Republic of Korea — was formally “established” on Aug. 15, 1948. The narrative could undermine the legitimacy of the ad hoc government in Shanghai during Japan’s colonization of the country and pardon the pro-Japanese forces.

Descriptions on the Park Chung Hee government also were unbalanced with its achievements given more positive sides than negative. The opposition and education community protested the textbook being biased towards Park’s father.

History books are for students, and what they need is not political wrangling but good quality texts. There is no reason to hand out controversial textbooks to 6,000 schools when the new school year begins in March. The government should allow more time to reexamine the state-administered version or have schools choose between the public and private textbooks to teach their students.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 29, page 30
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