[LA Times] A textbook war divides South Korea

October 22, 2015
Members of a conservative group take part in a rally in Seoul on Oct. 13 to express their support for the government's plan to reintroduce a single state history textbook for secondary school students. (Yonhap)

Members of a conservative group take part in a rally in Seoul on Oct. 13 to express their support for the government’s plan to reintroduce a single state history textbook for secondary school students. (Yonhap)

[LOS ANGELES TIMES]

For years, the South Korean government and private Korean organizations have objected to Japanese textbooks that convey a rather sunny version of Japan’s imperial and colonial history. Now a textbook controversy is turning Koreans against Koreans, and exposing deep divisions in Korean life.

All sides acknowledge that young South Koreans need some understanding of what’s going on in North Korea, but how should high schools portray life on the other side of the border? Should they depict their neighbors as enemies or victims? Is objectivity even possible?

The government’s National Institute of Korean History, convinced it’s the arbiter, plans to replace existing textbooks with an authorized “correct history textbook” by March 2017, leading some to accuse the government of spreading propaganda while trampling on freedom of expression and discussion.

Conservatives say the liberal scholars who wrote the existing textbooks have tended to ignore the darker aspects of the North Korean dictatorship, while liberals accuse conservatives of wanting to “demonize” the North.

One particularly spirited argument revolves around what textbooks teach high school students about juche, or self-reliance, North Korea’s avowed national philosophy.

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