The Ministry of Education unveiled draft guidelines on the writing of Korean history textbooks for middle and high schools and social studies textbooks for elementary schools on Aug. 31.
Middle and high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks, for which draft guidelines were disclosed this time, will be used at schools from 2025 and 2026, respectively. Korean history is not a standalone subject at elementary schools. Elementary school students learn it as part of social studies.
Under draft guidelines for middle and high school textbooks, North Korea's invasion of South Korea should not be mentioned in principle from the description of the Korean War which broke out on June 25, 1950. Also, "liberal" should be erased from the term "liberal democracy" when textbook writers describe the identity of South Korea.
As for textbooks for elementary school social studies, draft guidelines do not propose writers narrate the causes and process of the Korean War.
Meanwhile, the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation disclosed 11 authorized textbooks for elementary school social studies on Aug. 31. Published by 11 different publishers, the textbooks will be used to teach fifth and sixth graders of elementary schools from next year.
Nine of the textbooks reportedly make no mention of "liberal democratic basic order," which is a term specified in the Preamble of the Constitution.
In 2018, the administration under President Moon Jae-in set guidelines that made it a rule to erase "liberal" from "liberal democracy" and introduced “liberal democratic basic order” instead.
Then, even the phrase "liberal democratic basic order" went missing from nine textbooks. Only two contain it. The deletion of the phrase is an effective denial of South Korea’s identity and an insult to numerous patriots who dedicated their lives to keep the liberal democracy of the fatherland.
The United Nations approved the South Korean government as the only legitimate government established on the Korean Peninsula in December 1948. Seven elementary school textbooks followed the Moon administration’s guidelines that made it a rule not to describe this obvious fact.
Eight textbooks do not deal with "the Miracle on the Han River," which refers to the rapid economic growth of South Korea following the Korean War.
Only one touches on North Korea's bombing of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, which is the North's first armed attack on a South Korean civilian residential area after the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953.
It is obvious that North Korea started the Korean War by invading South Korea in a surprise attack. This is not a controversial issue at all. South Korea defines its ideological identity as "liberal democracy" to make sure that it values liberty while rejecting other forms of democracy such as social or people's democracies.
But some left-leaning historians are unwilling to accept these proven historical facts. One cannot but question if they believe South Korea started the war by invading North Korea. Which side started the war is an important matter that students must learn. This must not be hidden nor equivocated. An opposition party lawmaker argued to the effect that the fact is so obvious that it does not need to be mentioned. But the argument is unconvincing. However, the historical fact must be taught at least at schools.
It is hard to understand why left-leaning historians were eager to avoid mentioning North Korea's invasion of South Korea and erase the word "liberal" even as they enjoy their freedom in a liberal democracy. One cannot but wonder what ideology they want the country to pursue.
A research team who drew the draft guidelines in question was formed by the Moon administration. Despite concerns about educational bias, it included left-leaning figures in the team in April 2021, about a year left till the end of his presidency.
The textbooks and draft guidelines hide important historical facts and distort the nation's identity. Young generations must learn Korean history from an unbiased standpoint. The Education Ministry must form a new research team as soon as possible and redraft guidelines. It must also seek ways to supplement the authorized textbooks.