The Ministry of Education said Tuesday that what it called “outside pressure” had forced schools to withdraw their selection of a controversial Korean history textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co.
“The testimony from school officials showed that certain civic groups pressured schools to not use Kyohak’s textbook,” the ministry said in a press release. The textbook had been blasted by historians and opposition party Democratic Party lawmakers for “whitewashing” Japanese colonialism and South Korea’s past military dictatorships.
Nearly all of the 20 local high schools that had chosen to use the book were abandoned the decision after their students, alumni and civic groups protested it. As of Wednesday, all but two of the schools had caved in to a hailstorm of protests from students, parents and civic groups.
Saenuri lawmakers had claimed that left-leaning groups and the Democratic Party coerced the schools to overturn their choice, prompting the Education Ministry to conduct a two-day probe.
The DP said the only pressure the schools faced was from students and parents, and argued that the Education Ministry’s probe itself can bee seen as outside pressure in favor of the textbook, whose content is fiercely disputed.
Scholars have raised doubts over whether the book meets the minimum standards required of certified textbooks.
“What is more serious than the biased viewpoint is the overall quality of the book,” said Kim Sung-bo, a professor of history at Yonsei University.
Kim added that the ministry’s investigation should not only focus on pressure against the Kyohak book, but also on schools’ alleged pressure on its teachers to choose the book.
Last week, a teacher revealed that he and his colleagues had been forced by their school to choose Kyohak’s book over others.
Another history professor who wished to remain anonymous berated Kyohak for blaming other people without considering its own responsibility for the textbook controversy.
In a bid to prevent controversy from spreading further, leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party said Wednesday that it was time to consider the reintroduction of a state history textbook.
“If (history) textbooks become a cause for public discord and create unnecessary conflict, it is time to seriously discuss a possible return to state textbooks, at least for future generations,” said ruling party floor leader Choi Kyoung-hwan.
Seoul’s education chief Moon Yong-lin essentially agreed to the proposal.
“If a dispute over a certain textbook intensifies, we cannot but think that we may need a state textbook,” he said.
The opposition Democratic Party denounced the proposal as a political pressure, and said that no democratic and advanced country teaches history with state textbooks.
“Saenuri must stop its defense of Kyohak, and accept the public’s yearning for correct history education,” a DP committee handling the textbook issue said.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)