[Newsmaker] Ideology dominates textbook dispute

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jan 9, 2014 - 21:25
  • Updated : Jan 9, 2014 - 21:25
Democratic Party lawmakers protest the Education Ministry’s announcement over a controversial history textbook at the National Assembly in Seoul, Wednesday. From left: Reps. Yoo Eun-hye, Bae Jae-jung, Yoo Ki-hong, Do Jong-hwan, Park Hae-ja, Woo Won-shik and Park Hong-keun (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)

The dispute over a local history textbook is turning into an ideological war as lawmakers locked horns over reinstating a government textbook.

Lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party condemned the ruling Saenuri Party’s proposal to bring back the state textbook system. Saenuri leaders had stressed the need for a single textbook in order to avoid disputes over historical accuracy such as the latest one surrounding the history textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co.

“Don’t even think about it,” said DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun. “Stop dragging history and education into an ideological spat.”

“Bringing back a state textbook is like turning back the clock to the Yushin era,” said Rep. Yoo Ki-hong of the DP. “Yushin” refers to the Yushin Constitution introduced in 1972 to allow dictatorial former President Park Chung-hee to extend his term.

Rep. Yoo Ki-june said that there is a need to “correctly set” the historical view. “For the sake of our descendents, we need to consider going back to a state-authorized textbook system.”

Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan said it is better to use state textbooks since most of the certified textbooks are biased in favor of leftists.

Both sides have engaged in a war of words over Kyohak’s textbook for weeks. The book had been criticized by the left wing for trying to whitewash Japanese colonialism and South Korea’s past dictatorial leadership.

Cheongsong High School on Thursday announced it will not use Kyohak’s book, citing errors. The move left Hanmin High School the sole school that has declared it is using the book in the upcoming school year.

Schools that had originally chosen Kyohak’s textbook had been under pressure from students, alumni, parents and left-leaning civic groups who are opposed to using the book.

The Ministry of Education said Tuesday that political pressure had prevented schools from adopting the book. The ministry did not specify which parties provided what it called “outside pressure.”

Saenuri lawmakers had claimed that left-leaning groups and the DP coerced the schools into overturning their choice. The DP refuted the claims, saying it was a result of “collective intellect.”

Scholars have questioned whether the book’s contents are accurate.

Lee Joon-koo, professor of economics at Seoul National University, said the book devalued the accomplishments of former President Roh Moo-hyun while exaggerating those of another ex-President, Lee Myung-bak.

Kim Sung-bo, professor of history at Yonsei University, said the overall quality of the book was a more serious issue than the supposed bias.

Although most schools canceled their selection, Seoul Digitech High School said Thursday it may use Kyohak’s book on condition that the publisher revises controversial parts, such as passages about comfort women.

The book had come under fire for saying that comfort women “followed Japanese troops around” during World War II” in spite of the testimonies and records of them being forced into sexual slavery.

By Yoon Min-sik