Leave it to the schoolsA local high school’s entrance ceremony for freshmen was cut short due to protests over the school’s decision to use the new state-authored history textbooks. Munmyeong High School in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang, was designated by the government in February to start using a textbook that had been authored by state authorities. The ceremony had to be called off after 10 minutes due to students and parents chanting protests of the controversial state-published textbooks. The Education Ministry gave schools options to keep using textbooks of private publishers or choosing the new state-authored books on a trial basis in return for a subsidy.
Only three out of 5,566 middle and high schools across the country, including Munmyeong High School, applied for the subsidy and volunteered to accept the state textbooks. Two bowed out due to opposition from students and teachers. The textbook might also be shunned by Munmyeong, given the conflict between parents and the school. The opinion of students, parents and teachers is crucial in deciding school textbook use. But an outside organization interfering and exercising influence would impair the autonomy of the school in choosing its curriculum.
According to the school’s administration, the conflict arose because the teachers’ union said the state-authored textbook painted Park Chung Hee, former strongman and father of impeached President Park Geun-hye, in a favorable light. This complaint came at a peak in anti-president sentiment due to the abuse of power scandal involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. Members of the Korean Teachers & Educational Workers’ Union and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions rallied in front of the school and stirred up students and parents.
The school still plans to teach Korean history based on the state-authored textbook. Students and parents plan to file an administrative lawsuit. Regardless of the students’ rights, the anti-government organizations should be criticized for their narrow-mindedness in trying to stop a single school from experimenting with the state textbook.
It is true that the underlying rationale for state-published textbook is questioned. But the decision is up to individual schools. Critics have opposed state textbooks fearing they would be partisan in a political sense. But barring state textbooks for political reason is also an act of partisanship. The case requires careful scrutiny from education authorities.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 4, Page 26