Public protests against government standardization of history books

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On Oct. 12, the South Korean government announced its proposal to become the sole regulator of the content of history textbooks used in curriculums. The current system implemented in 2010 allowed high schools to choose their textbooks from eight major publishing companies. However, the government’s proposal will mandate that middle and high school students learn from a single history book called “The Correct Textbook of History” – one that will be created and approved by a committee put together by the federal government.

The proposed system of a state-unified textbook was once enacted under President Park Chung-hee in 1974. His daughter, current President Park Geun-hye has been trying to regain control of the nation’s history books in response to accusations of current textbooks as too left-leaning, encouraging anti-American sentiments, and supporting North Korean ideas, thus in need of revision. Specifically the areas of modern Korea and the era of Japanese colonization era have been topics of controversy both in political and public arena.

“It is surprising to me that the conservative government is attempting to manipulate our nation’s own history,” said David Kim (12), Rho Kappa Honor Society president. “In the year 2015, Korea should not be amidst a heated debate on whether or not state-authored textbooks should be implemented. I hope that the revisions remain objective and do not sway toward the conservative side.”

The government’s proposal has been met with firm opposition, with the public accusing the act as a possible distortion of the country’s history. Academic experts have referred to the Constitution and political neutrality in education, calling the rewriting of history an infringement on independence. Those who oppose the new proposal have also stated that the government is ultimately discouraging freedom of speech in a means of similar to that of North Korea.

“It’s extremely shocking to me that we’re dealing with something like this,” Yoon Lee (12) said. “It’s almost like the dystopian futures that we read about in literature classes. The government’s control of a country’s history education can be seen as a violation of democracy.”

Even history teachers have stood against the government’s future plan for textbooks. Outside the government complex where the decision of state-authorized history books was announced, retired teachers have protested by wearing shirts and carrying posters supporting “democracy in history education.” Many protesting teachers have been punished by the government with criminal charges.

“History is one of the most important things that can change the world,” said Paul Roberts, social studies teacher. “In order to make the world a better place, we need to look at history and see what we have done poorly. If countries choose not to talk about controversial issues in their history, it is difficult for them to come up with solutions to controversial problems.”