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Parties collide over state history textbook

Rival parties traded barbs again during a parliamentary audit of the Education Ministry on Thursday over the government’s impending decision on whether or not to reinstate contentious state-published history textbooks for secondary education.

Members of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy stepped up their offensive, arguing that state history textbooks would allow the government to whitewash the flaws in controversial figures such as President Park Geun-hye’s late father, former President Park Chung-hee, who is touted for his economic leadership, but criticized for his authoritarian rule.

Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea (left) speaks during a parliamentary audit of his ministry on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea (left) speaks during a parliamentary audit of his ministry on Thursday. (Yonhap)

But the ruling Saenuri Party countered that the state textbook was essential to ensure unity of the people.

NPAD Rep. Bae Jae-jung accused President Park of conducting a “historical coup” just as her father rose to power through a military coup.

The comment sparked an exchange of incendiary remarks among lawmakers during the audit. Rep. Rhee Chong-hoon demanded that the parliament’s education committee chair Park Joo-sun ban comments unrelated to the audit.

Saenuri Rep. Han Sun-kyo argued that the NPAD’s attacks were politically motivated.

“Some say state textbooks destroy variety and force a monolithic point of view on history. But a closer look at our education shows that variety and creativity face bigger threats under the current system,” he said during a party meeting before the audit.

Saenuri Party leader Kim had said that the textbooks were self-depreciative about Korean history and that the private publication system could not work because “90 percent of historians are leftists.”

Both the Education Ministry and Saenuri Party have criticized current history textbooks for excessive errors and ideological bias, even saying some parts “looked like a North Korean textbook.”

Minister Hwang Woo-yea remained mum on his stance over the state history textbooks and reiterated that the ministry would announce its plans “soon after” the parliamentary audit wraps up.

Prior to the audit, the ministry submitted two possible options for history textbook publication. Option one is having the state-run National Institute of Korean History author the textbooks under commission run by the ministry. The second option is to retain the current private-authoring of textbooks but reinforcing the authorization process.

If the ministry decides on the former, the changes will be applied in 2017. If the government goes with option No. 2, it will be applied in 2018.

The ministry is expected to unveil its decision next week. 

By Yoon Min-sik (