Does Hungary education reform mean more patriotism, but less democracy?
2019. szeptember 20. péntek, 19:02
What youth learn can shape their country’s destiny, so national curricula are hotly contested. But Hungary’s government is pushing patriotism over critical thought, to the frustration of teachers and parents.
Patriotism and democracy
Centralized education stirs up bad memories for many Hungarians who associate state control with the communist period under Soviet rule in which the ruling party’s view colored all aspects of life. Some of the most valued reforms after Hungary regained full sovereignty in 1989 were freedoms of speech, press, and education.
“Before the changes [in 1989], there was one state book with one ideology and then came freedom,” recalls László Miklósi, president of Hungary’s history teachers association.
But that has reverted as Mr. Orbán has pushed forward with his effort to reshape Hungary into an “illiberal democracy.” The prime minister has said that the next generation must be prepared to repel attacks from “two fronts,” an allusion to East and West. “We know how to make it clear to our children that protecting the nation is a task that all of us have to take part in,” he said in July. “Everybody has to have the basic physical, mental, and spiritual ability to protect the nation. … The national curriculum must teach this.”
The national curriculum has been revised twice to that end, first in 2018. It is being revised again this year after Mr. Orbán deemed its content not “patriotic” enough. But the changes have been made in an atmosphere of secrecy denounced by parents and educational professionals. The government declined to provide someone to answer questions about the motivations for its curriculum changes, the extent of which will likely be made public in November.
Critics are alarmed that Mihály Takaró, a professor of literature whose writings have been criticized by many of his peers for the inclusion of anti-Semitic or pro-Nazi overtones, will be included in the nationalistic update.
“Not only is he impossible to cope with morally, professionally he is not okay,” says Mr. Miklósi. “There is no question that if someone like this is included, it was decided at the highest level. … The teachers usually stay silent, like the people. Face-to-face they will say, ‘This is not good,’ but they don’t say anything too loudly.”
Once colorful textbooks are increasingly giving way to monochromatic texts full of errors that Mr. Miklósi has to fight to get reviewed, let alone fixed.
One correction he fought for was a textbook exercise contrasting the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015 with a speech by Mr. Orbán. The Hungarian premier extolled the merits of a homogeneous society and argued that countries that were former colonial powers should bear the brunt of the refugee burden.
“The prime minister gave his opinion on an issue that is very debatable,” says Mr. Miklósi. “The book had no sources that allow you to doubt or debate this option. The child’s thinking cannot deviate from the words of the prime minister. The child had to explain why the prime minister is right.”
The correction replaced the exercise’s leading question with an open one.
Loaded questions, scandalous sentences, and mistakes are only a fraction of his concerns. What truly worries him is that the curriculum packs in so much in terms of quantity – myriads of facts that need to be packed into the lesson plan – that real teaching, based on back and forth questions with opportunities for discussion and debate, is impossible.