Teaching democracy: The discourse of democracy and education reforms under the American military occupation of Korea, 1945-1948

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After Liberation in 1945, the concept of democracy was introduced to southern Korea through discursively contested representations formulated by the American occupation authorities and Koreans on the political left and right. One of the main fields of contestation was in education as the Americans and Koreans advanced their own interpretations of democratic education that addressed the relationship between the individual and the state. The American perspective on democratic education was grounded in the progressive ideals sweeping the United States. However, progressivism contained an inherent contradiction as it attempted the depoliticization of education while protecting colonial-era collaborators and enforcing anti-communism. The left-wing liberal Korean perspective challenged the social and economic contradictions inherited from the colonial period by critiquing bourgeois individualism in favor of a socially-oriented democratic education. The right-wing conservative Korean position was divided between the New Education movement and democratic nationalist education, but the latter emerged as the dominant education philosophy of the Republic of Korea. Democratic nationalist education under An Ho-sang pushed an ultra-nationalist agenda that submerged individualism in favor of the state but ultimately dismayed the American occupation officials who had previously overseen education reform. The discourse of democracy in the post-Liberation period initiated an evolutionary process of democratic development that has continued through modern Korean history up to the present day.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-561
Number of pages33
JournalActa Koreana
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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