[KS] examples of Korea in the textbooks
Mark_Peterson at byu.edu
Sun Dec 10 17:01:42 EST 2000
I've been working with the Korea Society lately on two
projects having to do with improving the content of the U.S.
textbooks concerning Korea, particularly at the secondary level.
Apologies to those of you not in the U.S., but this may be germane to
your country as well.
One motivating factor for me is the concept that our
post-secondary students come to us from secondary schools, and if
they are interested in Korea from high school, they will be part of
our enrollment at the university. Frankly, this factor is
simplistic, and mostly untrue; most of our students knew nothing of
Korea from high school, but are motivated by other factors --
ethnicity, travel to Korea, taekwondo, or any number of things.
Still, the idea of improving the coverage of Korea in the secondary
textbooks seems like a worthwhile endeavor, whether it serves our
immediate interests, enrollments, or not. The idea of teaching about
Korea beyond my classroom appeals to me.
So, I have had the opportunity to meet several publishers,
editors, and writers of secondary textbooks in fields of world
history and geography. One issue they raise is the competition for
space within the textbook. It is a complicated matter, and oft times
involves higher levels than the writer, or the editor. Corporate
interests are involved. So, how do we get more and better material
into the textbook? To ask for a chapter on Korea, or a larger
section in the Asia chapter is very, very difficult.
One way is to feature Korea more is to cite Korea as a good
example, or maybe a bad example, of something. For example, the
economic miracle is an easy one to cite. The development of
democracy, from a once military-dominated government, to an
opposition leader as president is another. The Korea War often
appears in a chapter on the Cold War. But are there more? And are
there some creative ways of featuring Korea as an example of
something, and thereby teach that thing, and Korea in the process.
One that occurred to me while talking to one group was the
example peaceful cooperation of potentially conflicting religions.
In a world where Arab and Israeli, where Serb and Croat, where Irish
Protestant and Irist Catholic, are prime examples of fighting and
killing over religion, Korea is a good example harmony. And this
where the two major religions, Buddhism and Confucianism, could not
be more different. One says leave your familiy, deny the world and
society, look to nirvana; where the other says family, society is
everything, and this life, not the next is of primary importance.
The idea is to present such a concept to writers/editors to
work into the textbook, and in the process the student learns
something about Korea.
Can you help me and the Korea Society to come up with some
other examples? Many of you in your teaching probably cite examples
of where Korea provides a unique or interesting case of this or that
in cross-cultural perspective. I'll give you another that I use:
the long dynasties. Few countries have one dynasty that lasts 500
years, but Korea has two or three or five -- depending on how you
count Shilla, and Paekche and Koguryo^. To me, that signifies
tremendous political and social stability. Unfortunately, in my
view, many scholars are still stuck on the Japanese implanted
rationale for destroying the dynasty, that it was "stagnant". Some
Korean scholars are starting to talk about the longievity issue with
a positive view, but most still see Korean history as primarly
war-torn, choatic, and faction-ridden. I argue that such a view is
tainted by the twentieth century experience, and that comparatively
speaking the political turmoil was minor, and the invasions few,
although the Mongol Invasion and the Hideyoshi Invasion were
certainly catastrophic. The common view is that Korea was invaded
hundreds of times, even thousands of times, but there you have to
count every pirate raid as an "invasion"; which they were not, not on
the scale of the Mongols and Hideyoshi. The concept then is this:
Here is a society that was not militaristic, but had sophisticated
civilian governing apparatus that had a long, peaceful, stable
dynasty or rule.
On this same front, the idea that Korean never invaded its
neighbors reinforces my view that Korea has a mostly peaceful and
civilian history, not a warrior and military history. And this can
possibly be worked in to a case study or example for the textbook,
maybe with a comparison of a country on the opposite of the scale,
i.e., the Japanese and bushido, samurai, and turmoil.
Another part of the long, stable government is the concept of
the censorate that formed a kind of precursor to modern democratic
"checks and balances".
Can you share any others that you use or talk about? I hope
this idea is of interest to many of you. We will be asking some of
you to join us in some workshops with small groups of textbook
writers -- different groups for different "families" of publishers.
There are four major publishers and each has several smaller firms
within their conglomerate, and each has several titles that they
publish. It's complicated. We hope to help them come up with
interesting ideas that will present more about Korea to more high
Well then, asking for your input....
and apologizing for being so wordy....
I am, respectfully, your colleague,
PS; if you don't want to reply to the whole list, I'd appreciate
input privately as well @ map3 at email.byu.edu.
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