The only high school in South Korea to adopt the controversial state-issued history textbook is now having trouble finding someone to teach from it.
Parents and students at Munmyeong High School protested on the opening day of this school year on Mar. 2, prompting the cancellation of the inauguration ceremony. So far, three freshmen have transferred, and one has dropped out of school altogether.
Protests at Munmyeong High School led to the cancellation of the inauguration ceremony.
State-issued history textbooks are one of President Park Geun-hye’s signature policies. They were originally mandatory; but after a nationwide backlash, combined with Park’s involvement in the current corruption scandal, the Ministry of Education announced last December that these “nationalized textbooks,” as they are called in South Korea, would be optional for each school.
Once the Ministry wavered back, only three private schools in North Gyeongsang province, which is largely conservative, volunteered to adopt the textbooks. Parents and students at two of these schools resisted, and the books were dropped. By late February of this year, Munmyeong was the only secondary school in the country that remained committed to adopting the high school textbook.
In the past, the government had approved a selection of privately published history books, leaving the final decision to individual schools. In 2015, Park’s administration said it would make the new, state-issued books the sole option for South Korea’s secondary education curriculum. Park called the previous history textbooks “ideologically controversial.”
The contentious move was widely criticized as a step back toward the country’s authoritarian past under Park’s late father, president Park Chung-hee. Last November, the release of the first drafts exacerbated the criticism, pressuring the Education Ministry to roll back its plan.
After retreating from its original plan, the Ministry expressed its willingness to “support and protect” schools that choose the state-issued textbooks, including subsidies of up to 10 million KRW. While Munmyeong High School remained the only school to adopt the book as a primary resource, 93 more institutions, including Munmyeong Middle School, decided to adopt the books as a supplementary resource.
Munmyeong’s inauguration ceremony was cancelled, but the school’s troubles are far from over.
On Mar. 4, two days after the school year had begun, Munmyeong High School posted an “urgent” recruitment notice on its website for a new history teacher.
The day before the first day, a contract-based history teacher expressed his reluctance to teach from the government book. He had been hired after the school’s previous history instructor also refused to use the material. And on the the first day of school, the newly recruited teacher just didn’t show up.
President Park’s fate is likely to be determined by the Constitutional Court this Friday. Likewise, her controversial flagship education policy faces an uncertain future.
Update: Park was ousted from office on Mar. 10. A week later, Munmyeong High School confirmed with Korea Exposé that the history textbook will not be used in the near future. This decision follows a court injunction, halting the high school’s status as a test school for Park Geun-hye’s textbook. The school says it will accept the court’s decision.
Jieun Choi wrote this radar report.