Christian love and physical punishment of children in today’s Hungary

I would like to introduce to you a truly Christian gentleman. His name is József Michl, a member of the Christian Democratic parliamentary caucus and mayor of the city of Tata. He must be a man of compassion because after all he has a degree from a college specializing in teaching the mentally retarded. He also must be full of Christian love because he also enrolled as a student of theology. But then why was "Fabius," a well-known blogger, prompted to write in today's Varánusz "That's why I will become an atheist instead of a Christian"? What did József Michl do?

Well, he did something that a good Christian and an intelligent man shouldn't have done. He proposed an amendment to the new law on public education that would have deleted a sentence that read: "The child and student cannot be submitted to corporal punishment, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment." His reason was that the sentence immediately preceding this one stated that "one must respect the personality, the human dignity and the rights of a child and student and must shield him from physical and psychological assault." To Michl's mind the sentence he wanted to excise was redundant.

Michl Jozsef

József Michl in Parliament

One can argue whether the passage about physical punishment is redundant or not, but Michl didn't stop there. In an interview he expanded on his educational philosophy. According to him for some children a "koki," a word that became infamous as a result of Viktor Orbán's use of it after his less than fortunate appearance before the European Parliament in June, is "actually praise." Of course, he added, there are some who would run to the ombudsman after getting slapped around a bit. Thus, a fairly long debate developed between Michl, who after all worked as a special education teacher, and the reporter who also started his career as a teacher. From the conversation it became clear, at least to me, that József Michl must have used force with some of the children under his care. Moreover, it also became clear that he used corporal punishment with his own five children. He admitted that he authorized the teachers of his children to feel free "to behave like a father." In plain language these teachers were supposed to slap Michl's children around as obviously their father did at home.

Quite aside from this manifestation of Christian love from a Christian Democrat with training in theology, Mr. Michl must be an ignorant legislator to think that corporal punishment can be allowed in Hungarian schools. After all, there are international agreements that prohibit such practices and Hungary is one of the signatories to these treaties. It seems that his fellow Christian Democrats called his attention to this rather obvious fact. Most likely they also explained to him that his move was damaging to the reputation of the Christian Democratic party.

So, in two days' time he changed his tune. But his 180-degree turnabout didn't make him look any better. As a matter of fact, by then he looked absolutely ridiculous. Why? Because although he withdrew his original proposal he came up with another. This time he suggested punishment of those who "make fun of a child's religious beliefs." So, if one child calls another "szentfazék," a colloquial word for a goody-goody, overly religious person, that child should be punished. Children say worse things to each other, let's face it. Can you imagine what would happen if every child who is called names ran to the teacher and asked that his fellow student be punished? But Michl was still not satisfied and added that "one cannot allow unjust accusation of a student and naturally can't allow a lack of love toward a child" (gyermekkel szembeni szeretetlenség). So, teachers, let your hearts be filled with love. It will be mandatory.

My only experience with corporal punishment in school was in first grade during religious studies, then a compulsory subject. In those days boys and girls were taught in separate classes but there were so few Protestants that our classes were held after the regular hours and the boys and girls were put into one classroom. I don't think that there were more than five or six of us. I sat in the first row and the minister who taught us religion used to beat the boys right in front of me. He had a cane and the poor boys had to bend down on my desk, lift their jackets, and wait for the good minister to beat their behinds with his cane. Somehow I don't think that these boys considered the beatings "actually a praise." By the way, this is the only thing I remember from four years of religious studies with this charitable fellow.

All this would be only slightly amusing if I hadn't read the following news item this morning. On Monday Viktor Orbán had a meeting with members of the Fidesz-KDNP caucus in order to discuss the details of the new law on public education. He was obviously a bit behind on the status of the hundreds of amendments to the bill and thought that Michl's amendment on corporal punishment was still in the law. Orbán announced that he very much liked the idea. At this point Michl said that he had withdrawn his suggestion. Orbán's answer was "What a pity!"

One ought to know that Viktor Orbán until he was seventeen years old received serious beatings from his father who was a very strong man. According to Orbán he was able to lift 160 kg weights. According to one of his biographies Orbán for a while hated his father for the way he treated him. But interestingly enough, years later he semed to have approved of this treatment. He considered himself to have been such a difficult child that he couldn't be handled without these beatings. As he said, he knew that what he was doing was wrong but he couldn't help himself. 

It is widely believed that children who were physically abused become abusers as adults. I find it telling that corporal punishment in school appealed to Viktor Orbán. Moreover, I can forgive József Michl's ignorance about international treaties, but it is much more difficult to be so forgiving with the country's prime minister. 

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Wondercat
Guest

“Wer nicht hoeren will, muss fuehlen.”
My sisters didn’t need beatings to remember to be good. My brothers and I all needed them.
Beatings were not what our father used first, mind you. He explained, he reasoned, he lectured, he pled. And my brothers and I were naughty anyway.
Maybe for my father to spank me was wrong; but inflicting pain on me when I had been bad both saved him time (all those explanations and implorings, in my one ear and out the other!) and got my attention. He did the best he could with what he was given, and I was VERY unpromising material.
I seem to have more in common with VO than I thought.

Member

Wondercat, I cannot argue with you when you say that you think it was a good thing for you to be beaten, and for that matter I do not think Orban got enough. Maybe this is what he is missing, a good beating.
I did smack my daughter when she was around three years old. She pulled her hand out of my hand and almost dashed through traffic. Let me tell you if anyone, and I mean anyone, a teacher, a priest, a rabbi would hit my child, there would be a real problem. A State that authorizes the use of corporate punishment on any of its citizens, young or old is simply barbaric. Anyone who agrees with the use of corporate punishment (except for self defense) by strangers on children is barbarian, should be stripped off its citizenship and casted off to a remote island under the rules of similar thinking individuals. No exceptions!

Member

Now here is my message to this “Nyilas Michi”. I don’t care what law you come up with, but if you hit my kid (or grandkid, sigh), I’m going to beat the living crap out of you.

Paul
Guest

As an atheist heading rapidly towards antitheism, I am constantly disappointed (if no longer surprised) at how so-called Christians behave and think.
I’m left wondering if they’ve ever actually read the New Testament.

Pete H.
Guest
In the early 1970’s, when I was in the 7th grade, my father moved us to Austria for a year. We lived in the town of Baden bei Wien. My family enrolled me in the Hauptshule for Buben, where physical punishment was given out liberally. It was a terrible experience that still upsets me to this day. My head teacher would beat up on those he disliked frequently and others on occasion. He once called me to the front of the room for the alleged crime of breaking an electric piano and slapped me on the face several times. He kicked another student from the back to the front of the class, for the crime of missing homework. A janitor once slapped me on the face for putting a foot up on the bench while tying my shoes. My brother and sister who attended another school as 5th and 6th graders had a similar experience. This was a school kids feared to be in and I don’t believe the use of physical punishment fostered their love of learning or success academically. Bullying was common in this school among students. I was once invited by the son of a famous soccer… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

Off topic, I caught Dr. Balogh moonlighting. She has posted an interesting entry over at the Dissident Blog on the dismantling of democratic institutions on Hungary.
http://www.dissidentblog.org/en/articles/hungarian-democracy-tatters

Paul
Guest
I was at school in the 50s and 60s and was caned, slippered, smacked, etc many times – and saw a lot worse. I have also had two families, 25 years apart, so have experienced both a culture where smacking (and worse) was regarded as normal, and one where even mild physical punishment is practically regarded as child abuse. Of course physical punishment is wrong, no civilisation can support the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. But how would the anti-smacking brigade suggest I persuade a two-year old not to keep biting his sister? And, if you’ve seen the state of some secondary schools in the UK, where the pupils more or less do what they like and teaching is virtually impossible, how do you answer the people who think the solution is to bring back corporal punishment? (I’m not saying that IS the solution, but nor do I don’t know what the answer is.) And, much as I understand Pete, Mutt and Some 1’s feelings, is threatening someone with violence because they hit your child really the answer? How do you explain that to your child – it’s wrong to hit, therefore I’m going to beat the living… Read more »
Member

Paul. There’s nothing wrong with beating people. Just make sure you beat only the one’s who deserve it. Violence works. It worked in WWII … I don’t think my kids would have been terribly confused if I gave a shiner to somebody who hit them. My rules.

An
Guest

@Pete H. Thanks for the link. What an excellent summary of the current state of affairs in Hungary!

Odin's Lost Eye
Guest
Oh how Christian and other bigots love corporal punishment! They have pretty viscous ideas. One of is to burn heretics alive so that the agonies might just save them from eternal damnation. If the heretic recanted they strangled the wretch and as they had the firewood handy they burned the body. One queen of England, in her short reign, burned some 300 of her people alive. She would have burned her own half sister if death had not intervened. As someone once said when he came across a woman taken in adultery. She was to be stoned to death. The man said “Let he who is without sin amongst you cast the first stone”. Let this be a warning to all bigots. It does not surprise me that the Mighty Viktator approves of (if you will pardon the military quip) Corporal Punishment but he is heading for a Major Disaster as he is at heart a nothing but a bully. It is interesting to note that most child molesters were subjected to such abominations as children, so were, as it seems the proponents of state corporal punishment. The Viktator wishes to create a population of violent manual labours. I suppose… Read more »
Guest
Interfering English democrat here! Listen: There is a difference between state sponsored violence that Eva has highlighted here – and what parents do in their relationships. Professionals have no right to physically punish their charges – It should be illegal (and in England it is ill-advised to even TOUCH a child – as a result of the Roman Catholic child-abuse scandals)(See…. even a mature democracy is still maturing!) This physical violence is a failure of the professionals. (My partner (from Gyor) said that the teacher used to pinch her cheeks because she was so cute – Her teacher LIKED her! – But was so painful that she would hide and was ever on the lookout so she could avoid her) Violence from parents is also a failure of parenting – but more understandable (I think! – I have no children of my own.) but is still an invasion of the individuals rights – try other means. But to enshrine this violence in legislation just shows how much the young democracy that is Hungary needs to learn….like the freedom of the press/media… like the independence of the judiciary…. like the fine balance of Parliament…. like the independence of the civil service….… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

PeterH.: “I caught Dr. Balogh moonlighting. She has posted an interesting entry over at the Dissident Blog on the dismantling of democratic institutions on Hungary.”
Yes, with one correction. The secretary of the Swedish PEN Club who is a reader of this blog asked me to write a piece for them.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Christian love and physical punishment? You are really scraping the barrel.

Member
Charlie, Paul: As I wrote, I did smack my daughter, and I certainly pulled my kids apart when they fought. Interestingly just this passed weekend I was part of a study with my teen at University of Toronto: “In this study we wanted to look at the contribution of parental values and parenting style to children’s development. Specifically we want to determine whether parents who place a high value on material possessions and financial success use different parenting techniques than parents who place less value on these achievements and how this relates to their children’s moral development, measured as generosity, cooperation, and how they reason about moral situations.” I will keep you updated. The questions were a wake-up call, to be honest. How much time do you spend with your teen on a weekday, on a weekend? Is religion important to you? Do you use corporal punishment? THere were questions related to money, self-worth, moral, etc. My daughter and i were in separate rooms answering to different questions, watching different movie segments. At the end we were in the same room, reading two small text regarding some moral/ethical situation. We had to discuss what would we do. WE had five… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

@Some1: If you have biddable children you are lucky. My father had two of that sort and three VERY un-biddable boys.
What do you do with a child who throws a stone through a garage window, is beaten for using bad judgement (my father: “I am not going to whip you because you threw a stone through the window; I don’t have that much confidence in your aim. I am going to whip you because you should have more sense than to throw a stone where you saw that it MIGHT hit a window”), and who then, after gauging the damage done by the whipping, thinks back at the lovely crash and tinkle as the stone went through and the glass fell and, by God, deliberately does it again?
Boys are the despair of parents.

Member

@Kitty There a lot ways to “punish” a child other then beating (“I take your internet away for a week” always worked for us). Just by pretending the withdrawal of your love will work the magic. But you can be creative. In this case, if it’s the middle of winter, I would cut a hole in his window and let him him sleep in the cold for a while. Your mileage may vary …
Family life is a lot like democracy. The correlation in people’s views and their parenting practices cannot be missed.
I’d say some parents are the despair for boys.

Guest

Re Orban’s military service: the Wikipedia bio says he complete his two year service between secondary school and law school. No other details. Other bios don’t mention it at all.

Member

@Gretchen It was 1 year between high school and college in 1981. It was mandatory unless you dodged it with fake papers. Spina bifida anyone 🙂 ? So my guess is that 2 year period in the Wikipedia is because he couldn’t get in the college for the first try. Well the boy wasn’t that sharp ..

Paul
Guest

“Christian love and physical punishment? You are really scraping the barrel.”
A very strange comment from our American troll. I fear it says a great deal more about ‘Jo’ than it does about this blog.

Wondercat
Guest

@TheMuttster — Forty-five years later, I sympathise with my Dad. I’d have hated being handed the job of turning me into a human being. As it is, he had to concede — he failed. The best he could do with me was: Cat.

Paul
Guest

Pete – thanks for the link.
A very well written article, Éva, it makes the point calmly and comprehensively. Fidesz’s only answer to a piece like that will be abuse, because there is simply nothing they can deny in it.

Member

Wondercat: So the beating did not work on you? It did not work on Orban either.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear “Odin’s Lost”,
re: “By the way professor did the Viktator do his stint in the Hungarian army?”
I do not know where to put this particular remark of yours. As a Hungarian Officer of my time: we did not have corporal punishment of any kind /of course/. I am hoping this is not what you insinuated.
Sincerely:
Peter Litvanyi

Wondercat
Guest

@Some1: Most tools employed in rearing children are dropped when the tools no longer work — or are no longer needed. I like to think that my father retired the switch when it was no longer needed, but perhaps indeed he just gave up, deciding that it didn’t work!