South Korea to replace all history textbooks with one state-approved textbook

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The South Korean government has announced a controversial plan to replace a variety of history books with a single state-approved textbook.

Currently, high schools can choose from books published by eight different publishing houses, but the government said those were all too left.

By 2017, The Correct History Textbook will be the only history book allowed in high schools in South Korea.

It will be written by a group of teachers and academics appointed by the government.

Opposition politicians and some students have already protested the move, accusing the government of “twisting history.”

Dr Emma Campbell, visiting researcher at the Center for Strategic and Defense Studies at the Australian National University, said the move was unexpected and disappointing.

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“I think I’m joined by quite a few people in South Korea who think it’s a pretty regressive movement, especially when you look at the few countries that have such strict control over textbooks, including North Korea.” , she said.

“So I think this is a disappointing and surprising decision on the part of a country that should really encourage diversity, democracy and freedom of expression.”

Dr Campbell said she believed the decision to control how history is taught was linked to domestic political issues in South Korea.

“The current government is right-wing and its leader and current President of Korea is Park Geun-hye, who is the daughter of the authoritarian former dictator of South Korea Park Chung-hee, and many in his party and in the current government have ties to the previous authoritarian regime that ruled Korea until 1987, “she said.

“And I think there is a desire within the right-wing government to control the presentation of this story in order to perhaps reflect more positively on the achievements during this period as well as their role and the role of their gone into this story. “

Dr Campbell said the manual could build opposition and anger towards an already unpopular government.

“It will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this opposition force,” she said.

“We hope this will encourage them to reconsider their decision to create a single manual.”

South Korea not the first to control history teaching

Educator Michael Dunn told the BBC that South Korea was not alone, with school history classes causing controversy in Western countries like the US and UK.

“I think Americans have a constant battle between the liberal and the more conservative over how they should present their past,” he said.

“Some would like to present a glorious story from the American past – in their opinion, it makes the country a happier place.

“On the other hand, liberals in the United States are much more inclined to perhaps present a more social view of the past and to give a voice to those who have been oppressed.

“I also think the UK has a very interesting approach. We tend to avoid controversial history in our program, we are very keen to examine more distant history and for some reason the less controversial it becomes. .

“But there are very few young pupils in our school who will be able to tell you about the British involvement in, for example, the Iranian state coup or how we dealt with the Suez crisis which was certainly not the best times. most glorious in our history. “

Mr Dunn warned that censoring history was dangerous.

“History just provides us with vital skills,” he said.

“I personally believe that the skills involved in history – that is, empathizing with the past, understanding what made people do what they did – is what makes history such an important thing to study. “

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