State history textbook plan collapses

Residents picket outside Munmyeong High School in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province, March 7 to protest the school’s participation in the education ministry’s pilot program using the state-authored history textbook. Munmyeong High School is the only school taking part. / Yonhap

By Kim Bo-eun

The plan to have schools adopt a single state-authored history textbook, one of now-impeached President Park Geun-hye’s key policies, has flopped.

In November 2015, the government pledged to draw up a history textbook to replace the ones of private publishers used by middle and high schools.

In a Cabinet meeting the same month, Park said, “Without knowledge of the history of one’s country, one will become spiritless, and if one does not correctly learn history, one will end up without a proper spirit.”

The plan met with strong opposition from liberal historians, educators and opposition lawmakers, who claimed the conservative government _ by imposing a historical view in its favor _ was attempting to justify former military dictatorships and Koreans who collaborated with Japan during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea.

Some said the plan, which was to introduce the state-authored history books at all secondary schools in 2017, was the Park administration’s way of marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of her father, former dictator Park Chung-hee.

However, the book was compiled and the education ministry unveiled a draft last November.

Controversy, developments

As expected, the book stated Aug. 15, 1948 _ three years after Korea’s liberation from Japan’s occupation _ as “the foundation of the Republic of Korea,” instead of the “establishment of the Republic of Korea government” as stated in other books.

Liberal historians state this view downplays the significance of the independence movements that took place under Japan’s rule as well as the provisional government established in Shanghai in 1919.

The book also gave extensive coverage to Park Chung-hee’s economic achievements during his 18-year rule, downplaying his human rights violations.

The list of authors disclosed by the ministry showed they were mostly conservative _ specifically new-rightists.

The ministry collected public opinion on the draft and disclosed the revisions it made the following month. The revisions, however, were only on factual errors, while comments on disputed interpretations of history _ such as on the country’s establishment _ were not reflected.

More than half of the 17 regional education offices nationwide vowed not to cooperate with the ministry’s plan.

Due to growing resistance, the ministry took a step back, altering its plan to allow schools to choose between state-authored and private publishers’ books starting in 2018.

In the meantime, the ministry said it would seek schools that would volunteer to employ the state-authored books on a pilot basis in 2017.

However, with many education offices refusing to distribute the ministry’s document outlining the pilot program, as well as opposition at schools, only three schools in the traditionally conservative region of North Gyeongsang Province applied. Among them, one pulled out after protests from students, and another was disqualified as it did not follow due procedure of holding a steering committee.

Munmyeong High School in Gyeongsan is the only school taking part in the pilot program using the state-authored history book. Even there, students, teachers and parents continue to object to the decision. School parents have filed an administrative suit calling for the school to withdraw from the pilot program.

The poor outcome prompted the ministry to distribute the books as learning aids to schools. Last week, the ministry said it ordered 75,000 books for 143 schools.

However, according to the nation’s largest liberal teachers’ union, only three schools ordered the books for an entire grade of students to use for classes. The rest have simply requested copies to place in libraries, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) said.

Meanwhile, a bill banning the use of state-authored textbooks at schools is pending at the National Assembly.

Future of state-authored textbook

Meanwhile, following Park’s impeachment last Friday, the future of her key policies appears murky, especially hotly disputed ones such as the state-authored textbook.

“We concede the plan has lost force, but as of now it is an ongoing project,” a ministry official said, Monday.

However, KTU spokesperson Song Jae-hyeok said, “It is already over; the plan has completely failed. No school will use the textbook for history class.”

However, Song said the ministry will have to officially recall its plan, which will have to be a priority of the next government, he said.

“At the end of the day, educators should be choosing what to teach, instead of the government imposing anything. The government should not be using its authority to support the use of a certain book.”

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