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Proceed with caution

May 27,2017
School history textbooks are under the spotlight again after President Moon Jae-in ordered a reversal of the previous government’s decision to author and publish them. Moon’s Democratic Party is said to be preparing guidelines to restore the government’s role of supervising textbook publication rather than fully administrating it as the previous government wanted.

A committee from Moon’s campaign team will present the guidelines next week to the planning and advisory board that is acting as Moon’s de facto transition team. Their recommendations will mostly center on the period of colonial rule under Japan, the so-called comfort women and the Korean War. Upon review, the planning committee will report to the president.

The design and direction of the guidelines are critical in shaping the textbooks. The process must be free from political influence and strictly based on academic and educational content. If the Democratic Party gets involved, the new administration, too, could come under fire for attempting to influence history textbooks. The teachers and civic groups that opposed state authorship are also against meddling from the liberal government.

The guidelines set by the previous conservative government should be revisited and moderated. The Education Ministry’s guidelines based on the past ones contain questionable one-sided views. But it is still not appropriate for the Democratic Party to take the initiative in making changes. The textbooks, which came under fire for serving former President Park Geun-hye, could easily be criticized for serving the current president.

What the government should aim to do is remove any controversy and confusion regarding textbook policy by ensuring accuracy, objectivity and balance in publication. It would be best for an independent body to supervise the publication. There is no rush. It should give one or two more years to distribute the new textbooks originally set for next year. A balanced historian with approval from both the left and right should be recruited to oversee the process. What is most important is keeping the textbooks free from political influence.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 26, Page 34