The Education Ministry has requested disciplinary actions against teachers who participated in a nationwide condemnation of the recently revived state-authored history textbooks, officials said Sunday.
According to the ministry, officials have called for punishment of 21,379 teachers from 3,904 schools across the country who publicly denounced the government’s plan to use state-issued history textbooks for secondary education on Oct. 29.
The governmental plan, which hinges on its claims that current privately authored textbooks are biased in favor of the leftists, has sparked criticism from mostly progressive educators and the opposition who claimed that the move will squash out diversity in history education.
The ministry has requested the education offices to impose severe punishment ― including dismissal, demotion or suspicion ― on 22 members of the left-leaning Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union who organized and led the movement. Teachers who did not take on a prominent role in the movement will be warned or receive relatively light punishment, according to the ministry.
Korean law stipulates that civil servants ― which include teachers for primary and secondary education ― are banned from taking actions that can be interpreted as “political.” The government has already filed for criminal charges against 84 KTU members for violating the cited clause.
“As it is clear that (the public denouncement) is illegal, we believe that education superintendents will follow through on punishing the teachers. We will take appropriate actions if they do not comply,” a ministry official said.
But education superintendents, who reserve the right to impose disciplinary actions on teachers, may defy the ministry’s move, as the majority of them are known to be progressive and have publicly decried the state textbook plans.
Gangwon Education Superintendent Min Byung-hee said earlier this month that he has “no justification to punish teachers who oppose state textbooks.”
The KTU is planning to hold candlelight vigils in protest of the state textbooks from Monday to Friday this week, and is planning to hold another mass-scale protest on Friday.
Recent polls indicate that anti-state textbook sentiment has billowed ever since the contentious plan was confirmed on Nov. 3. A Gallup Poll conducted during the first week of November showed that 53 percent of the respondents were against the policy while 36 percent supported it, showing the opposition growing from 49 percent the week before.
Local teachers group Good Teachers Movement said Sunday that its survey showed 90.4 percent of the teachers in elementary, middle and high school oppose the policy, which marked a steep increase from 62.6 percent in their September poll. About 89 percent of the respondents disagreed with the government saying that people need a “unified historical point of view.”
On Saturday, the KTU and civic groups participated in a massive joint protest ― in which tens of thousands are estimated to have participated ― against the government’s recent policies including the state textbook and labor reform plans.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has also raised suspicion that the ministry rigged petition tallies related to its state textbook plans, on grounds that many of the signed petitions supporting the plan had same addresses or handwriting.
According to the ministry, 152,805 people submitted a written petition for the policy while 452,459 petitioned against it.
By Yoon Min-sik