Academic freedom on New Korean history textbook?

The word, academic freedom, is not just for the higher education. Nowadays, in South Korea, new Korean history textbook for the secondary education  is a huge issue because the new text book which is published by one of publisher, “New Right”, includes both too much right-wing ideology and too much errors about the Korean modern history. It is possible that every history of every county can be interpreted with various viewpoints because every single person has a different background, ideology, philosophy, and the aim of life. The publisher insisted that this is academic freedom, and the students have a right of selection for their textbook. If the students do not want to use New Right’s Korean history book, they can refuse the textbook. I think it does not make any sense because the textbook for the secondary education student is only the textbook. This book is not a journal or other types of paper. In this case, do we respect New Right’s opinion as academic freedom, and do we accept their Korean textbook as academic freedom? Read the article below, and think about this issue.

A decade-long battle between liberals and conservatives over how to teach the nation’s modern history has become fiercer since the latter group published a new textbook.

To sum up, the “new right” history textbook is not just slanted toward right-wing ideology but contains too many errors to provide young students with correct and balanced historical viewpoints. One can hardly see why the screening committee approved it.

Most egregious is its glorification of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea. The book, for instance, insinuates that Japan’s occupation contributed to modernization of Korea, saying, “… as Japan’s colonization continued, more Koreans had come to accept the modern concept of time.” It also distorts notorious pro-Japanese collaborators as patriots.

Even more glaring is its incorrect, downplaying description of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of foreign women. The book’ presents the tragedy of the so-called comfort women as if it had started in 1944 while the Japanese Imperial Army committed unprecedented abuses of human rights as early as the mid-1930s. Even some Japanese history textbooks describe it more extensively and correctly than the latest Korean one.

It’s small surprise then that the new textbook effectively justifies the dictatorial rule of conservative Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee, too, as inevitable for the protection of South Korea from communist North Korea and the nation’s industrialization. For the same reasons, it makes light of the important events in the journey toward democracy, such as the April 19, 1960 student movement, and May 18, 1980 uprising in Gwangju.

Academic freedom is of course an essential part of a free society and one may take the contents of the new textbook as just an example of various viewpoints. Considering that this is not just a scholastic journal but a textbook for students, however, it should at least respect the nation’s Constitution based on democracy, freedom and human rights. Which of these crucial elements existed under the Japanese colonial rulers or military dictators?

The controversial textbook one-sidedly stresses state-led, or –dictated, economic growth and other remarkable accomplishments achieved while ignoring the hardships and sacrifices made by the Korean people in the process. What’s the difference between the “new right” historians and “old right” scholars and even Japan’s ultra-rightist revisionists of history who have long become the targets of international criticism for turning back the historical clock?

The best solution might be to cancel the authorization of the textbook in question. If that is difficult legally and politically, it’s up to schools to cast it aside, as most conscientious Japanese schools turn a cold shoulder toward ultra-right books.

Conservative and liberal political parties should also stay away from the debate because most Koreans are too tired to add an historical ruckus to the ideological one already underway which concerns a leftist politician. They had better let history remain as just history, not nationalistic history, let alone politicized history.

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