Education Ministry draws more fire over history text

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 10, 2014 - 20:20
  • Updated : Jan 10, 2014 - 20:20
The main opposition Democratic Party intensified its attack on the government over a controversial history textbook on Friday, riled by Minister of Education Seo Nam-soo’s plans to involve the ministry in editing school books.

On Thursday, Seo announced that the ministry’s capabilities in editing textbooks will be “significantly bolstered” as part of the efforts to avoid controversies regarding textbooks, further fueling the controversy over its direct involvement.

While the ministry’s plan is an alternative to the government producing textbooks directly as it did in the past, Seo’s comments have incited further attacks from the opposition bloc.

“The Education Ministry, however, is now saying that it will become directly involved in verifying (the content of) textbooks when the public opinion went against its plans to produce government-issued textbooks,” main opposition Democratic Party chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil said on Friday.

Saying that the textbook has caused serious social unrest, Kim said the situation warrants the resignation of the education minister.

“This is a truly odd ‘normalization of the abnormal,’ and a truly shameless education minister.”

The textbook in question, compiled by the publishing company Kyohak, became the center of controversy soon after its release, with critics saying that it has beautified actions of right-wing administrations. In addition, the textbook is also criticized for containing parts that seemingly uphold Japan’s claims regarding developments that took place during its occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

The textbook was initially adopted by a small number of high schools, but its selection rate dropped to below 0.1 percent after most schools retracted their decisions.

The process of the Kyohak textbook being selected and subsequently dropped has also generated controversy of its own. Conservatives including the ruling Saenuri Party have accused progressive organizations of pressuring schools to reject the book, while others have alleged that the schools that initially chose the textbook did so under pressure.

“The schools that chose Kyohak history textbooks are taking back their decisions under pressure from specific groups,” Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan claimed on Wednesday.

“(If the current system) amplifies controversies, then it is time to seriously consider reverting to the system of government-issued textbooks.”

Choi’s comments have been met with strong criticism that the idea was from a bygone era. While Choi and other ruling party heavyweights have given their support, the idea of a state-issued textbook is meeting resistance even from within the party.

“This is an infantile approach. Talking of state-issued textbooks misses the fundamentals of the issue,” Saenuri Party Rep. Ha Tae-keung said in a radio interview on Friday.

He said that the real problem is that the textbook gives relatively high appraisals of conservative administrations and negatively assesses those of presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, while other textbooks do the opposite.

By Choi He-suk (