Introducing U.S.-South Korean Relations in U.S. High Schools

The Stanford Program on International and Cross-cultural Education (SPICE) serves as a bridge between FSI’s research centers and elementary and secondary schools throughout the United States. Over the past year, SPICE curriculum writer Rylan Sekiguchi and Joon Seok Hong (MA, East Asian Studies, 2007) have been developing a curriculum unit for secondary schools called “U.S.–South Korean Relations” in consultation with Professor Gi-Wook Shin, director of the Korean Studies Program (KSP). The KSP was formally established in 2001 at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center with the appointment of Professor Shin as the founding director. “U.S.–South Korean Relations” is the result of SPICE’s first formal collaboration with the KSP.

For more than half a century, the United States and South Korea have been close and strong allies, a relationship nurtured under war and the pursuit of common interests. Despite this long and established alliance, U.S.–South Korean relations and Korean history are not adequately taught in American secondary schools. “U.S.–South Korean Relations” seeks to fill the gap by exposing students to the four core pillars of the alliance: democracy, economic prosperity, security, and sociocultural interaction. Each pillar supports the U.S.–South Korean relationship in a different and important way.

Lesson One examines South Korea’s maturing democracy, providing students an overview of South Korean democratization and engaging them on the concept of democracy. Students also study how the U.S.–South Korean relationship affected South Korea’s democratization and vice versa. Ultimately, students consider how common political and social values serve to strengthen relations between two countries and societies.

Lesson Two introduces students to the economic aspect of the U.S.–South Korean relationship and encourages them to recognize how economic interdependence between the two countries has served to draw them closer together. Students examine modern-day trade,such as the recently concluded U.S.–South Korean Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), and also learn about the historical role the United States played in helping South Korea industrialize after the Korean War.

Lesson Three outlines the security concerns that South Korea and the United States have shared since the Korean War and the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1953 to the recent nuclear weapons issue with North Korea. Students study the history of the U.S.–South Korean security alliance and evaluate why both Seoul and Washington have considered the alliance so important and beneficial.

Lesson Four complements the broad country-tocountry perspective of the first three lessons and encourages students to consider how the U.S.–South Korean relationship has influenced the individual lives of Koreans and Americans. Students contemplate how the cultural interactions between the two countries have influenced both societies and changed the lives of their people.

The U.S.–South Korean relationship is one of the most successful bilateral relationships in the world. SPICE hopes that the curriculum unit, “U.S.–South Korean Relations,” not only offers U.S. secondary students a broad overview of this relationship but also inspires students to enroll in college courses on Korea through programs such as the KSP.