“State textbooks just structurally not good”

Posted on : 2015-10-17 15:35 KST Modified on : 2015-10-17 15:35 KST
A scholar with experience says state-designated history textbooks inevitably reflect bureaucrats’ views

“This isn’t the text I wrote!”

 It was the day the final version came out for a middle school Korean history textbooks for the seventh educational curriculum in 2002, and one of the participating writers was up in arms.

 “They would assemble the drafts written by the supervising writers for different units and put them through a ‘standardization’ process of polishing and correcting the text, and it became a routine occurrence for the staffers to revise the text without consulting the writers.”

 This was the bitter recollection of Pusan National University history education professor Yang Jung-hyun on the reality of state-designated textbooks.

 “Even if you’re not living under a dictatorship, you can just look at the writing process for state-designated textbooks and see that there’s inevitably going to be ongoing involvement by Education Ministry officials, staffers, and other bureaucrats,” Yang said in an Oct. 15 telephone interview with the Hankyoreh.

 “The end result is that you’re going to get textbooks that reflect the bureaucrats’ views. A state-designated textbook is structurally just not going to be a good textbook,” he added.

 According to Yang, it was “routine” for staffers to make their own edits without hearing writer opinions during the 2002 making of the middle school history textbooks. By his account, the textbook production process at the time was one in which writers were assembled to decide the overall framework over several meetings, after which they were responsible for submitting “drafts” of sections related to their area of specialization. One or two additional meetings were held after the submissions, while the remaining process was conducted by working-level staffers who “spent a very long time making dozens of changes,” he explained.

 The system is one in which some form of “outside involvement” in the textbook-writing process becomes very likely, Yang said.

 “The bureaucrats in charge of the practical part of things end up saying, ‘The higher-ups are only going to like a certain type of textbook.’”

 “Even then, they assigned a period of two years to make the textbooks. With the administration now saying they want to make designated textbooks and distribute them to schools within one year, there doesn’t even appear to be any intention of making good textbooks,” Yang complained.

 Yang said he previously kept records “to leave an account of the writing process for the seventh designated textbooks [for future improvements].”

 “I didn’t keep them because I thought, ‘We’re never going to be talking about state designation ever again,’” he explained.

 “If I’d compiled my data from back then, it might have provided a reference for the current situation. I’m really sorry that someone who specialized in history like me would throw them away without recognizing the value of that record,” he lamented.

 By Heo Seung, staff reporter

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