A good president makes history, a bad president changes history books..

Well, how this thing of either making history or changing history is so common across countries. In a country like India we are continuously debating over our history and what should be taught and not taught. Most Indian politicians draw some parallels or justify their actions based on some historical construct. This makes history a fairly dangerous subject as well.

Anam Naqvi has this interesting post on South Korean policy deciding on what to be taught in  their history:

A nation is shaped by a certain narrative—how it came to be what it is today, what values and beliefs its people hold and cherish, and how it is portrayed.

Education has a vital role in shaping this narrative and in moulding people’s attitudes, and the state and its governing bodies play a substantial role in deciding what is taught. Right from learning the alphabet to getting a doctorate certificate and beyond, watchdogs hold magnifying lenses to see what is being taught. The most controversial subject would probably be history. The saying goes “catch them young” and that is perhaps what South Korea is trying to do with its view of commissioning a single history textbook for its middle and high school students.

Like most countries, South Korea also has its historians who are sought after by publishers to write textbooks. Although these are then submitted to an official panel for approval, secondary schools are free to choose from a pool of books to use any of them as a part of their syllabus. But with what the Park Geun-hye administration has in mind, schools may have to part with some of this freedom.

The main bone of contention is the story of a young girl in the early 20th century who protested the Japanese occupation in her country and inspired her fellow Koreans.  Her death, from being allegedly tortured, made for a heroic history lesson. On inspection, however, it was found that not many text books carried the tale of Yu Gwan-sun, sparking a debate on how and what should be taught as part of Korea’s history.

Civic bodies and citizens are protesting against what they believe is an attempt to dictate history and produce like-minded individuals. The government, it is feared, wants to be the first and last word on how history is taught and interpreted. Koreans also fear that this ‘small’ suppression of thought may lead to further curtailment of human rights, as has happened earlier in their history.

All of this sounds a little too familiar, does it not?

Nice read..


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