Textbook row taken to Constitutional Court

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Dec 22, 2015 - 19:01
  • Updated : Dec 22, 2015 - 21:34
South Korean civic groups on Tuesday filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court against the government for “infringing upon the impartiality of education” by taking over the publication rights for secondary education history textbooks.

Minbyun, or Lawyers for a Democratic Society, said it made the appeal against the Education Ministry’s recent plan to reinstate government-issued textbooks from 2017, a contentious plan that has stoked opposition from mainly the progressive faction and much of the education circle. A Network to Stop State Textbooks, a collaboration of 466 civic and education groups including the left-leaning Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, also took part in the lawsuit. 

Professors and lawyers opposing the state-authored history textbooks head into the Constitutional Court in Seoul to hand in their appeal on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

“A country monopolizing the interpretation of history conflicts with the basic ideas of democracy ... it goes against what our democracy has accomplished, and turns the clock back to the times of dictatorship, while violating the constitutional principles of independence and political impartiality of education,” Minbyun said in a press conference held in front of the Constitutional Court in Jongno-gu, central Seoul.

Minbyun and opposing groups of the state textbook have alleged that a book authored by the Park Geun-hye administration may attempt to whitewash deeds of controversial political figures such as dictatorial former leader Park Chung-hee, the father of the incumbent leader.

The groups also took issue with laws that the state textbook is based upon, namely Article 29 Clause 2 of the elementary and secondary education law that stipulates that publication ― among other details such as price, selection, distribution and censorship ― of a textbook can be decided by a presidential decree.

Korea’s secondary schools currently use one of eight history textbooks privately published and screened by authorities before hitting the market. But the Park administration officially scrapped the system ― fully established in 2011 ― last month, saying that the current books are biased in favor of the leftists and North Korea.

According to NSST and Minbyun, 3,374 citizens participated as claimants in the lawsuit.

The collective lawsuit follows a separate constitutional appeal on the state textbooks by Minbyun lawyer Chang Deog-cheon, who said he is challenging the government policy “out of concern as a father” of his 11-year-old son.

He said the state textbooks infringe on the constitutional right for one to make his own decision about education.

By Yoon Min-sik