[Column] How long are conservatives going to go on their ideological tirade?
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The piece concludes by noting the "ongoing controversy over left-wing bias in high school history textbooks ever since the first accusations emerged in earnest during the first year of the Roh Moo-hyun administration in 2003."
Let's look more closely at what the piece says. It criticizes the textbooks for referring to the Republic of Korea as the "only lawful government on the Korean Peninsula in which elections were possible,'" even though "the UN recognized it as the 'only lawful government on the Korean Peninsula.'" To this journalist, I would ask the question: who writes the narratives of Korean history, Koreans or the UN? Noting that the most widely distributed textbooks in schools nationwide are published by MiraeN, the piece criticizes them for "not only neglecting to include an account of the ROKS Cheonan sinking but also failing to address human rights violations in North Korea."
이 글자크기로 변경됩니다.
(예시) 가장 빠른 뉴스가 있고 다양한 정보, 쌍방향 소통이 숨쉬는 다음뉴스를 만나보세요. 다음뉴스는 국내외 주요이슈와 실시간 속보, 문화생활 및 다양한 분야의 뉴스를 입체적으로 전달하고 있습니다.
By Lee Byeong-ho, director of the South-North Research Institute
On Jan. 18, the South Korean president held his New Year’s press conference. That same day, the newspaper that purports to have South Korea’s largest circulation printed a headline on its front page reading “No ‘deliberate Cheonan sinking’ in textbooks read by 70% of high school students.” Underneath, the subheadings read, “Textbooks adopted by 1,310 high schools describe only ‘sinking incident’ without attributing it to N. Korea” and “1,634 schools teach ‘establishment of government’ rather than ‘founding of Republic of Korea’ and N. Korea’s ‘establishment of republic.’”
The piece concludes by noting the “ongoing controversy over left-wing bias in high school history textbooks ever since the first accusations emerged in earnest during the first year of the Roh Moo-hyun administration in 2003.”
The article was astonishing, but also nothing new. For a three-day period beginning on Dec. 16, 2019 — roughly one year before the current Korean history textbooks were developed and distributed to students — the same newspaper published articles on virtually the same topic as the Jan. 18 piece: the claim that left-leaning professors and Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) members have more or less taken over the entire textbook process from writing to reviews.
A year earlier, the Ministry of Education (MOE) insisted that the authorization and review committee members had been “selected according to prescribed procedures” and that the textbooks’ content had been “written by expert authors according to the educational curriculum and associated writing standards, as well as areas for consideration in the compilation process.”
The article claimed that this was merely the “opinion of education experts,” insisting that the content was “literal distortion” that “failed to state history according to the facts.” This part of the piece could be seen as accurate. As it says, history textbooks should print history according to the facts. It can also be argued that in matters of debate, they should only print what has been confirmed to be true, or what society has generally accepted as fact. Since matters such as responsibility for the Cheonan sinking and the “founding date” of the Republic of Korea are both matters of debate in South Korea, it could therefore be said that narratives should not be written in such a way as to only present the views of particular groups or individuals. In that sense, the current Korean history textbooks’ accounts can be seen as quite appropriate.
Let’s look more closely at what the piece says. It criticizes the textbooks for referring to the Republic of Korea as the “only lawful government on the Korean Peninsula in which elections were possible,’” even though “the UN recognized it as the ‘only lawful government on the Korean Peninsula.’” To this journalist, I would ask the question: who writes the narratives of Korean history, Koreans or the UN? Noting that the most widely distributed textbooks in schools nationwide are published by MiraeN, the piece criticizes them for “not only neglecting to include an account of the ROKS Cheonan sinking but also failing to address human rights violations in North Korea.”
Once again, I feel compelled to ask the author whether they are aware of the “Life and Ethics” textbook published by the same company, which includes content that both comments on human rights in North Korea and supports the Park Geun-hye administration’s logic justifying the withdrawal of South Korean businesses from the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Textbooks play a very important role in our schools, and their development follows what is prescribed by the law, including state educational curriculum standards as well as the textbook writing and review guidelines based on them. A great deal of deliberation and effort by numerous educational experts go into them. Even after this authorization process, textbooks are freely chosen by teachers in our schools and subject to school operating committee reviews. Only after receiving final approval by the school’s principal can the books be used.
Even when textbooks have been developed strictly according to the law and democratically adopted, you may find issues or be dissatisfied with the historical or educational views they express. But it can also be said that when textbooks have been developed according to the law and possess the kind of general, universal content sought by the state educational curriculum, the proper approach for a democratic society is to accept them.
The era of ideological confrontation and the debate over whether capitalism or socialism is the better choice ended long ago. It’s now time for us to consider approaches and work toward creating a favorable environment for peace, integration, and shared prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, both through inter-Korean exchange and cooperation and in our international relations with the US, China, Russia, and Japan.
We can never guarantee permanent peace on the peninsula if we adopt policies and attitudes that are strictly “anti-North Korea” and “anti-unification.” As the Moon Jae-in enters its fifth year in office, the year 2021 can be seen as a moment where the need for correct and appropriate education on history, peace, and unification is more urgent than ever before.
By Lee Byeong-ho, director of the South-North Research Institute
Please direct comments or questions to [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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