South Korea and the Textbook Tragedy

When I lived and taught in Japan, one thing that really bothered me about the Japanese education system was the textbooks used in schools. I didn’t care for history much as a teenager, but I had a great U.S. History teacher during the end of my high school career who changed my life. He taught me how to really evaluate how the government works, the media’s role in our lives, and how to take everything with a grain of salt. Those were things that I really needed to learn as a new adult about to set off for college and make my own decisions.

However, the Japanese education system does a great job of censoring its textbooks, news, and other kinds of media when it comes to history. Japan just won’t own up to the many terrible things it did (especially to its neighbors) and often likes to play the victim. However, countries like Germany readily apologize for past war crimes, and even try to educate their students about the atrocities of war so as to prevent them from happening again.

Of course, every country wants to make itself look great in the eyes of its people, but the way Japan does it essentially brainwashing. The textbooks usually hide the events of Nanking and what happened to many Chinese and South Korean women during the Japanese invasion. I remember watching a documentary in my college Japanese history class about how little the Japanese people knew about Nanking. They went around interviewing people on the street, and no one could tell them what it was.

Let me just say, I’m not a history expert, nor do I know everything about politics, but I’m learning more every day and I love to keep informed and learning about all sides of the story is important to me. Also, as an educator, I really disagree with guarding students from information about history. My history teacher taught me to learn about the importance of past events and their consequences. And although the events in Japan’s history it’s trying to cover up happened many years ago, that doesn’t entitle the government to saying it didn’t happen, especially after the many protests of victims and their families regarding Abe and his visits to Yasukuni.

Recently, there is a large controversy going on in South Korea regarding textbook censorship. President Park Geun Hye wants to replace textbooks in middle schools and high schools with a government-made version. Apparently, the new textbooks are essentially going to be written in a way that covers up just how communist and totalitarian North Korea is. This decision is dividing the Korean people, and just walking around outside, I’ve already seen protesters and signs about the controversy, along with the Japanese government. (Note: If you’d like to learn more about Korean history, I’ve done two book reviews that might interest you, here and here.)

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Even a member of SHINee, one of my favorite K-pop groups, has spoken out about it. There are also already U.S. news sources picking up the topic. At this point, my opinion is that South Korea should oppose the new textbooks, but who knows how this will turn out. South Korean people have had a lot to protest about lately, but honestly I like that I’ve seen more interest in politics here than in Japan.

I only talked with a few people in Japan about politics, and I was stunned by how indifferent people were. Elections were often held for mayor and other government positions, but no debates ever took place, and people were essentially voting on the candidate with the best poster. The news I watched was hardly ever aimed at the government. In South Korea, I see a lot more news about what is going on in the government and about protests, and although the country still doesn’t have televised debates like we do in America, I feel like there is progress being made.

In college, I started becoming more informed about politics and I like to think I’m decently informed about many things. I’ll continue to vote in elections, even though that means I have to watch debates on youtube after they’ve aired and even though my ballot will be in the mail rather than in a booth. Education, in every form, needs to be as open and available as it can in order for us to better our world.

4 thoughts to “South Korea and the Textbook Tragedy”

  1. Oh, I am with you! No censorship. Nice to see people getting worked up.

    Texas, of course, is currently attempting to slip in textbooks with African slaves masquerading as “workers,” to better push the conservative agenda on high school students.

    My favorite bumpersticker: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

    1. Wow I love that!! Yeah I saw that, too. The abstinence only sex ed most states in America teach is also one of the things I’m outraged by. Information shouldn’t be hidden. Especially when it relates to the health and wellbeing of the people.

  2. I love that in South Korea people really like to use their right to protest. They get so into it! I live next to City Hall in Busan, so almost every time I am walking anyway I walk past a protest outside the building there.
    I didn’t realise there was this thing with the textbooks though! I try to read the banners but my Korean just isn’t good enough ;___; Same for watching Korean news.

  3. I love that in South Korea people really like to use their right to protest. They get so into it! I live next to City Hall in Busan, so almost every time I am walking anywhere I walk past a protest outside the building there.
    I didn’t realise there was this thing with the textbooks though! I try to read the banners but my Korean just isn’t good enough ;___; Same for watching Korean news.

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