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Poet-turned-politician’s work may be cut from textbooks

Controversy has erupted over a move by educational authorities to remove the literary works of a poet-turned-opposition politician from textbooks.

It was disclosed Monday that the state-run Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation recommended late last month that publishers of middle school textbooks take out or modify poems and essays written by Do Jong-hwan in their revised editions.

A renowned poet and recipient of many Korean literary prizes, Do’s works have been widely anthologized and appeared in many textbooks. Currently, half of the country’s 16 middle school textbooks carry his works. 
Do Jong-hwan
Do Jong-hwan

The institute said the recommendation reflected concerns over political neutrality in schools, after the poet earned a parliamentary seat in the April general elections for the main opposition Democratic United Party.

“It is our principle to refrain from using the works of incumbent politicians (in textbooks) for the sake of political neutrality,” said Park Nam-hwa, a spokesperson for the institute. “A final decision will be out in August.”

The institute also recommended the deletion of references to movie “Wandeuki,” in which Jasmine Lee starred before she was elected a proportional representative for the ruling Saenuri Party. Philippine-born Lee is the first naturalized Korean to become a legislator.

Textbook publishers can challenge the institute’s view through a review process. Final endorsement of new textbooks is scheduled for Aug. 30.

Do said he can’t accept the decision.

“My poetry has appeared in textbooks since 2002. I don’t understand the move to leave them out just because I joined politics,” he said. Do is a proportional representative and currently serves as spokesperson for the party’s presidential contender Moon Jae-in.

The KICE’s move invited strong reactions from both political and literary circles.

“It was pure absurdity. Do’s poets are loved by many Koreans, but do (textbook reviewers) they read like just political propaganda?” Rep. Kim Hyun, a spokesperson for the DUP said.

A leader of the ruling Saenuri Party also voiced criticism.

“Taking out literary works that have been introduced in textbooks for their literary value just because the writer has become a politician? It needs a more careful approach,” said Lee Jung-hyun, a member of the party’s top decision-making Supreme Council.

An association of writers issued a statement, harshly condemning the education authorities.

“Those are works of poet Do Jong-hwan, not politician Do Jong-hwan, having been written way before he was elected to the parliament. We will stop (his works from being deleted from textbooks) with all possible means,” the Association of Writers for National Literature said.

By Lee Sun-young (
Korea Herald Youtube