History textbook row escalates as political parties enter fray

By Yoon Min-sik

Nearly all high schools cancel plans to adopt disputed Kyohak book

  • Published : Jan 7, 2014 - 20:45
  • Updated : Jan 7, 2014 - 20:45
Sangsan High School principal Park Sam-ok announces his school’s decision not to use Kyohak Publishing Co.’s history textbook in a press conference on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

A local high school announced Tuesday that it is overturning an earlier decision to use a controversial history textbook from Kyohak Publishing Co., following a firestorm of criticism from its students, alumni, parent and civic groups.

“Unlike our original intention of wanting to provide balanced history lessons, there is now the risk of students suffering from severe division and distrust among students, teachers and parents,” Park Sam-ok, the principal Park Sam-ok of Sangsan High School in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, said in a press conference.

He said there was no outside pressure to change textbooks.

In light of Sangsan’s announcement, Cheongsong High School and Hanmin High School ― a boarding school for the children of military personnel ― became the only two school known to have selected the disputed textbook. Hanmin, however, may also decide to bail out of the textbook conundrum, as it announced it is reconsidering its selection of the Kyohak book.

Some 15 schools that had originally planned to use the textbook, which opponents claimed whitewashes Japanese colonialism and South Korea’s junta dictatorship, faced mounting criticism led by liberal groups and students.

The Education Ministry on Monday announced that it was investigating whether the schools that stopped using the Kyohak books were pressured to do so by outside parties. The probe is expected to take two days. Its decision was berated by Rep. Yoo Ki-hong of the main opposition Democratic Party, who said that the investigation itself can act as outside pressure in favor of the textbook.

Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education also urged the ministry to stop the investigation, saying that it may act as “unfair pressure from the outside.”

The ruling Saenuri Party claimed that the DP and the Korean Teacher’s Union had “vandalized democracy” by pressuring the schools not to use the textbook.

Lee Myung-hee, one of the book’s co-authors and a professor of history at Kongju National University, denounced the protests against his book and claimed what people said were errors in his book were merely “new perspectives.”

When asked about some teachers’ testimony that schools had pressured them to choose the textbook against their will, Lee said it is “very natural” in the case of private schools for principals or the school board to reveal their opinion on choosing textbooks.

By Yoon Min-sik (