THE ORBÁN REGIME BEGINS EDUCATING ITS CHILDREN IN EARNEST
2020 február 4. kedd, 21:20
After months if not years of suspense, the Orbán government has finally made public the “national basic educational plan” (NAT). It is a lengthy document, which most likely will call for careful scrutiny in the future, but the initial reactions of the Association of Teachers of Hungarian Literature and the Association of Teachers of History are devastating. Both the literature and the history instructional blueprints for grades 1, 5, and 9, when Hungary is the sole focus of both classes, are very detailed, including, for instance, which poems must be learned by heart in full and which in part.
The text of NAT can be found in the January 31 issue of Magyar Közlöny. Given the length and the complexity of the text, I’m sure that not even a small portion of the objectionable sections of the plan has been discovered so far. The overwhelming impression is that the mandated presentation of literary and historical material is anything but ideologically neutral. On the contrary, it is highly nationalistic with a definite tilt toward the political right.
According to the president of the Association of Teachers of Hungarian Literature, D. György Fenyő, since 1978 Hungarian curricula avoided direct ideological tasks and treated literature as an autonomous human endeavor. As a result, “literature ceased to be the handmaiden of politics.” Fenyő maintains that the anonymous authors of NAT, as far as Hungarian literature is concerned, were interested in only one thing: to portray “our literature and language as the negation of Trianon.”
The choice of authors included in the curriculum says a lot about the ideological orientation that NAT is supposed to convey. I don’t want to burden readers with a long list of far-right Hungarian writers they may never have heard of, but I’m sure the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with the names of Albert Wass and József Nyirő, both highly controversial and the former of questionable literary merit. Students in the first eight years of school must read 13 books, nine of which come from the category of “national classics,” which, according to teachers of Hungarian, is not the best way to make readers out of children.
In their four years of high school, students must examine ten authors’ works in depth, nine of whom certainly merit attention. The tenth author, Ferenc Herczeg (1863-1954), is a new and unexpected choice, although from the Orbán government’s ideological point of view a logical one. Herczeg was the favorite of the governments both before and after 1919, and the Orbán government also recently adopted him as a writer of note. Although hewas nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times in a row, based on his novel Az élet kapuja, he never won. It is this novel that high school students will, from here on, have to read. Imre Kertész, who did win the Nobel Prize in recognition of his novel Fatelessness, was omitted from the curriculum entirely.
Most literary historians would probably agree with Krisztián Nyáry, who on his Facebook page found Herczeg’s inclusion among the top ten Hungarian writers bizarre. He also called attention to an article of Herczeg published in 1936 called “The Duce,” in which Herczeg expressed his admiration for Mussolini. “We greet the great leader of Italy with admiration. He surely must know that the people he has now attached to the Italian nation has never deceived its friends in its thousand-year history. The mighty word of the Duce thundered across Europe as a cleansing storm swept across the fog and haze. The horizon is clear. The sun will shine soon.”
The Association of Teachers of History also has weighty objections. They cannot willingly accept the two main priorities of the new NAT: that the student should come to have a definitive Hungarian identity as a result of his studies of history and that all of them must learn the common cultural codes. The teachers also object to the emphasis on rote learning. And they certainly revolt against the introduction of a “compulsory ideology and behavior that follows the norms.” Pedagogically, they object to the strict chronological presentation that the new basic educational plan decided to continue. The 2018 NAT, which didn’t meet with the Orbán government’s approval and was therefore scrapped, gave up the custom of introducing children to history by starting with antiquity.
History teachers cannot agree to a curriculum in the lower grades that is allowed to mention only victorious battles during the period of the House of Árpád (1000-1301). Similarly, they object to calling the Horthy regime “recovery [talpraállás] after Trianon.” The word “deportation” appears in the elementary school curriculum as “deportation in peacetime,” referring to the Rákosi regime, and in the high school material as “deportation to the Gulag.” Not a word about deportation in connection with Hungarian Jews being sent to concentration camps and their deaths. They also object to the undifferentiated nature of the description of “the Kádár dictatorship in the Kádár regime,” which ignores the different phases of the regime.
They are happy with the introduction of civics into the curriculum, but they cannot identify with the way it will be taught, which consists mostly of “molding patriotic sentiment and acquiring basic military knowledge.”
As I said at the beginning, many more objections will undoubtedly be voiced after a more thorough reading of the plan. Interestingly, it was a politician, István Ujhelyi (MSZP MEP), who discovered a tiny little change in the new NAT. In the old version there was a sentence under the section on citizenship and democracy that read “Participation in public affairs demands creative, independent, and critical thinking and the development of analytical skills and the culture of debate.” There is one change, obviously arrived after due ideological consideration: “critical thinking” will be changed to “deliberative [mérlegelő] thinking.” I guess, anything critical gives the leaders of this regime the willies.