The new Hungarian curriculum: Hungarian language and literature (I)

The current Hungarian government is inclined to move backward instead of forward. In almost every facet of life its ideal harks back to a time that is long gone. If the ideal ever existed, because this kind of nostalgia is rife with self-delusion. Life was never as idyllic as some Fidesz and especially Christian Democratic politicians try to portray it. The ideal family never existed and neither did those perfect schools that produced little geniuses.

 

Rózsa Hoffmann’s ideal school from the nineteenth century

Life has changed fundamentally in the last hundred years, and today’s needs cannot be satisfied by the reintroduction of old concepts and old institutions. It simply will not work. This government’s experiment in the field of education is dangerous. The reorganized schools and the reintroduction of old pedagogical concepts might have a negative effect on Hungarian society for decades to come.

A few days ago Rózsa Hoffmann’s office made the new “Basic National Curriculum” (Nemzeti Alapterv or NAT) available on the ministry’s website and asked for comments. Since then, I noticed, only three professional organizations complained in writing. All three made their objections public via MTI, the Hungarian news service.

The text of the NAT is 204 pages long and is jam-packed with information. I feel sorry for the professionals who are supposed to comment on the proposals within a week. Mind you, I doubt that it matters what these people think or say; nothing will be changed in the document.

I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here with the NAT’s emphasis on morality, national self-realization, patriotic education, or self-knowledge. Neither will I dwell on the puzzling questions of “education for media consciousness.” Instead I will focus on one subject: Hungarian language and literature. The part of the NAT dealing with this subject has been severely criticized by the Association of Teachers of Hungarian (Magyartanárok Egyesülete or MTE).

One major problem seems to be the amount of material that children are supposed to learn. According to the Hungarian literature teachers, the material outlined in the document is about triple what could possibly be covered properly. And that despite the fact that Hungarian students log more classroom time than most of their counterparts worldwide. By high school, students spend about eight hours a day in school. And I assume they still have homework to do.

So what are students required to learn about Hungarian and world literature under the new curriculum? For starters, they will have to memorize poems and long prose passages: Endre Ady, Attila József, Dezső Kosztolányi, Miklós Radnóti, János Arany, Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, Janus Pannonius, Ferenc Kölcsey, Sándor Petőfi, Mihály Vörösmarty, and Sándor Weöres. Often the specific poem is mentioned. Part of János Arany’s “Toldi,” an abominably long epic poem; Petőfi’s “János Vitéz.” Oh, “Toldi”! Will I ever forget you? Yes, I managed to forget every line I memorized. But I will never forget the hours I spent as an eleven year old trying to learn one hundred lines of this poem.

When it comes to the analysis of Hungarian literature, again, the number of authors and their works is staggering. The laundry list goes on for two solid pages. Moreover, in Hungarian classes the student is also supposed also learn something about the literature of other nations. In the curriculum I found the following compulsory topics: at least one novella by Boccaccio, parts of Don Quixote, parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer, Iliad, a little Goethe, a little Swift and Voltaire, and two novels and two short stories to be chosen from Balzac, Emily Brontë, Chekhov, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Gogol, Victor Hugo, Pushkin, Stendhal, and Lev Tolstoy. They must read at least two prose works by Borges, Bulgakov, Camus, Faulkner, Garcia, Marquez, Hrabal, Kafka, Thomas Mann, Orwell and Solzhenitsyn. Plus a contemporary writer’s novel.

And this is not the end. They will study a range of poetry: Horace, Virgil, Petrarch, Villon, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, T. S. Eliot, Goethe, Keats, Poe, Rimbaud, Schiller and Shelley.  As far as drama goes, they start with Sophocles, continue with Shakespeare and Molière, and conclude with one drama from the nineteenth century plus two works from the twentieth.

Are you surprised that the Association of Teachers of Hungarian finds the whole thing unacceptable? I’m not. How much will students learn and in what depth? How much will they remember? And will what little they remember in fact be worth remembering? I doubt it.

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Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

You know I would love to take and learn the curriculum at my age (47). When I was 11 yrs old I was working, delivering newspapers to put clothes on my back. Plus my school curriculum and duties. Aside from poetry adding character to oneself, what will they do with the extra knowledge? What if they decide not to go to college?Poetry is not bad for an 11yr old, most likely it will start being just BORING!My hat goes to the lovely educator. I do not read Hungarian too well, otherwise I would devour it.It can only be a good thing for all students to learn.

Mutt Damon
Guest
I’m certainly not an expert of educational matters (no, I don’t mean I’m uneducated, I’m not a teacher) but this author list is actually not that bad. What’s wrong with it? Is it really too much? Some authors are missing? Anyway the students will survive. in 1981 I got a 4 (from 5) on my baccalaureate literature exam on the Bank Ban and I haven’t even read it. It was sooo boring … I also flipped through the pages of this national curriculum and I have to admit many things actually made sense to me. I searched for the word “Trianon” – one hit – XX. century Hungarian history. That’s it. So far so good. Then I searched the word Christian (“keresztény”). There is some religious education in general and definitely there is an emphasys on Christianity (a whole bullet point) but nothing very invasive. The foreign language education part didn’t seem too wacky either. It mentions that the first language should be either German or English depending on resources. I didn’t detect the aversion to the English language we were detecting from Hoffman. I also saw a lot of modern things – information technology and the one you mentioned,… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Penny Sue: “You know I would love to take and learn the curriculum at my age (47).”
Sure, the curriculum is very nice a paper. But in practice for children between 6 and 18? There is no way.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and insight Mutt & Eva,…..Eva, do you think this literature curriculum should be introduced in Hungarian College? If so I have to agree to both of you and none of us,Mutt are stupid. As a matter of fact I will research on my side of the continent just what Hungary is offering the children. After all they will be the next generation of workers and supervisors!!!!

An
Guest

Hmmm…if the Association of Teachers of Hungarian thinks it is too much,then it probably is. They should know….but looking at the list it pretty much looks like what we covered in high school in the 80s (except for the more recent stuff, of course). A lot of the novels were assigned as readings for the summer break.
The excessive memorization is definitely stupid.

GDF
Guest

I am tempted to agree with Mutt Damon. I went to a Hungarian school in Romania. We had to study the Hungarian poets and writers listed (except Sándor Weöres) plus a lot more (including many contemporary Hungarian poets from Romania). They also expected us to learn passages by heart which I always hated.
There was no course of study of world literature, we did that on our own at home (by reading the novels that belonged to the general culture of many at that time). Those whose parents did not know these novels did not read them and they were left behind others whose parents did. Therefore, I think that introducing everyone to this course of study is not a bad idea.
Is it too much? I guess that’s debatable and perhaps literature should be taught at various levels (similar to honors, AP etc. levels in the US), to allow those who can absorb all this to do it.

Petofi
Guest

Missing stuff: De Tocqueville, Jefferson, Emerson, Montaigne,
Plato, St. Augustine, Aristotle ie. some stuff with a little ‘ethical’ content.

Petofi
Guest

Ooops, I forgot the best of all: Ovid and Chretien de Troyes; Brandeis, Frankfurter, and Lincoln speeches;

Minusio
Guest

There are lots of rotten national curricula. To my mind, the best is the International Baccalaureate (IB; for the last two years before university entrance). But education begins at home, at kindergarten, primary school, etc.
The new Hungarian approach seems to simply nod through the kids who already know how to drop names appropriately. Given the official aim of reducing numbers of pupils and teachers, that is not unsimilar to the Morgenthau plan for post-war Germany – reducing a country to its basics. A small-sized Pol Pot system without the killing fields, hopefully.

Paul
Guest

Well, I was forced to do Shakespeare and Dickens, neither of which I understood, and both of which I came to hate.
Luckily, the 60s liberal revolution arrived half-way through my senior schooling and we went on to read books that were far more accessible and relevant, and which I devoured – leading to a life-long love of reading (including, eventually, Dickens, but, I’m afraid, still not Shakespeare).
On a point of pedantry – is it true that Hungarian high school pupils are in school 8 hours a day? My understanding is that you only have to attend for the morning session, ‘homework’ then either being done at school in the afternoon, or taken home.
The busz schedules in Debrecen and personal observation appear to support this.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

I have read all these comments and it seems to me that more people have to speak up and out and forward on this subject.In the USA in public schools Poetry has been left on the wayside. I suppose if a child wanted to be a poetry scholar, this paper curriculum would be ideal. What parent in todays society would support such curriculum. Or in Hungary do parents have the freedom to say no?

Paul
Guest
I was forced to learn poetry at school, and I hated it with a passion. As an indication of how deep this went in the school, the most hater master was nicknamed ‘Keats’ because of his habit of handing out Keats’ poems – for punishment! Now however, on the bookshelves behind me, there are several volumes of poetry, much of which I love, some of which moves me deeply, and a little of which I can actually quote! And one of my proudest moments was when I shook hands with Roger McGough after a poetry reading. But, thanks to my schooling, I had to come to all this by myself, wasting half my adult life when I could have been reading and enjoying poetry. One of the things that most impressed me on my early visits to Hungary was the esteem in which poets and poetry are held. Ordinary people read and enjoyed poetry and could often quote great chunks of it. Several times I sat in living rooms or gardens whilst young and old quoted their favourite poets/poetry. I simply couldn’t imagine that happening in the UK – not without a great deal of pretention, anyway! Although a sad… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Completely OT – we found out today that my parents-in-law are both going on the pro-government demo on the 15th. This will be the first demo either of them have ever been on.
If this is typical of how the ordinary Fidesz/OV supporters are feeling at the moment, prepare for an even larger demo on the 15th. And a great deal more of the ‘We are not a colony’ nonsence.

hongorma
Guest

To Paul: I think you could still find people who could quote those poems. I too have been deeply impressed at just how deeply poetry ‘lives’ in the Hungarian heart and soul…
I have kids in a Central European school system, they too have to memorize poetry (but nothing like in the quantities cited in this article). I think to a certain degree, it is actually a very good thing.
However, this new curriculum, which appears to be literature-loving and ‘politically correct’ (the inclusion of Radnoti), is probably a manipulation and a smoke screen for something much worse.
And how do they reconcile this with all of the horse-currying classes? Or those kids who can’t memorize Janos Arany’s collected works will be summarily sent out to the stables?
Anyway, the picture of Rozsa Hoffmann and her little diarama is just too rich for words…

Törpefejű
Guest

Missing the point entirely – it’s all about competing against Kyrgyzstan.
After all, the Kyrgyz national epic, the Manas, contains (in the longest transcription from the 1930s) a full 500,000 lines. Stack this up against the Mahabharata (only 200,000) or the pitiful Iliad (16,000!).

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary
Well, on the financial front the HUF is starting to retreat and the government spoke people are starting to react by starting to spam the fin news. This time Erste bank analyst are saying that Hungary is about to enter the same danger zone that Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland are in. Hungarian bond yields hold the #1, 2, 3, and 5th position in terms of yields. Meaning money is going to continue to be very expensive for some time to come. The markets are also starting to see through the smoke screen of meaningless spam. If this doesn’t get a tangible reaction soon…. As for schools, too stressful, too much testing, too much memorization of poems without any attempt to make them interesting or relevant. So, no depth. Memorization of many useless facts that I can find on wikipedia if need be. Great maths program which I really like. We have a couple of good teachers that bring enthusiasm to what they do, which the kids do appreciate, but many are just there… and at a take home of 120,000… can’t say I really blame them. My opinion, give the kids a test and as a teacher I don’t… Read more »
Törpefejű
Guest
On a more serious note: keeping in mind the Jesuitical attitude towards truth that the Orbanites share with all totalitarians, I wouldn’t trust this “program” at all. With my own academic background in linguistics, I certainly don’t think that memorization is at all a bad thing, and in my own pedagogic trade I’m thinking more and more that something should be done to protect the young against the mental flab of the Wikipedia age…. but here the intent is very clear: to grab hold of all of that amazing corpus of Hungarian literature, to let the plebian-minded village notables now in charge take full control of this living organism and turn it into something as dead and hollow as Jeremy Bentham in his glass case. Mistress Hoffman knows full well that no teacher can cover all of this material: it’s not an extension but an attempt to limit literature in total to a single defined canon, and of course to control its interpretation. What I wonder is how they will manage to lie about Radnoti’s murder to give it a patriotic spin. And also how they will manage to stuff this poem down the memory-hole: Hej de messze majomország, ott… Read more »
Törpefejű
Guest

Even if they throw it out from the textbooks, keep it circulating in cyberspace….
Monkeyland
Oh for far-off monkeyland,
ripe monkeybread on baobabs,
and the wind strums out monkeytunes
from monkeywindow monkeybars.
Monkeyheroes rise and fight
in monkeyfield and monkeysquare,
And monkeysanatoriums
have monkeypatients crying there.
Monkeygirl monkeytaught
masters monkeyalphabet,
evil monkey pounds his thrawn
feet in monkeyprison yet.
Monkeymill is nearly made,
miles of monkeymayonnaise,
winningly unwinnable
winning monkeymind wins praise.
Monkeyking on monkeypole
harangues the crowd in monkeytongue,
monkeyheaven comes to some,
monkeyhell for those undone.
Macaque, gorilla, chimpanzee,
baboon, orangutan, each beast
reads his monkeynewssheet at
the end of each twilight repast.
With monkeysupper memories
the monkeyouthouse rumbles, hums,
monkeyswaddies start to march,
right turn, left turn, shoulder arms-
monkeymilitary fright
reflected in each monkeyface,
with monkeygun in monkeyfist
the monkeys’ world the world we face.
SANDOR WEORES
From the Hungarian (trans. Edwin Morgan)

Guest
London Calling! ‘Learning by rote’ clogs up the brain! I believe if pupils are exposed to a teacher’s enthusiasm – and a wide range of poetry – then they will be self selecting in the poetry they read/enjoy/learn. This applies to literature too – I read most of the classics recommended by a talented teacher through his recommendations – not through a prescribed list. If the list is just a ‘reading list’, that is, “read some of these books for a balanced sample of Hungarian and worldly culture” – then fine. But if it is a list for learning by rote – and for being a lottery pool for exam questions – then not. I also believe it should not be a requirement to be tested on the texts! I can think of nothing more effective for destroying interest and enthusiasm – But hey I’m no teacher! Just give the pupils the tools to enjoy reading. Just as in music – one man’s meat is another man’s poison. I was required to learn 200 words of Shakespeare and the memory still sears my brain. Just to get to the threshold of 200 words I chose one of his ‘songs’ –… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

@ Paul: “Completely OT – we found out today that my parents-in-law are both going on the pro-government demo on the 15th.”
Paul, you’ll be thrilled to learn that the “Peace March for Hungary” has evolved into a civil movement.
I believe they collect donations.
You can catch up on all the latest efforts to thwart Hungary’s colonisation by evil foreign oppressors here: http://bekemenet-2012.hu/ and on their Facebook page.
Around Budapest (and elsewhere no doubt), you can see billboards with huge photos of the January “walk” as a reminder of what Hungarians believe in.
I predict that, just like March 15 this year, the August 20 national holiday (or, to give it it’s post-2010 title, “Együtt az Ország!”) will be similarly appropriated.
If it’s not too inelegant for this blog, the phrase “willy waving” springs to mind.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Minusio: “The new Hungarian approach seems to simply nod through the kids who already know how to drop names appropriately.”
You hit the nail on the head. This kind of curriculum is only good for name dropping at cocktail parties.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Completely OT – we found out today that my parents-in-law are both going on the pro-government demo on the 15th.”
Orbán thinks that if he just organizes a huge rally it will solve all the problems he managed to create. But, just wait. Tomorrow the European Commission will most likely throw back most of the “vague” answers the Hungarian government sent to Brussels and then just watch what will happen to the forint and the government bonds.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

hongorma: “Anyway, the picture of Rozsa Hoffmann and her little diarama is just too rich for words…”
I’m glad you like it. I found it somewhere maybe a week ago and I downloaded it saying to myself, “This will be good for something one day!”

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

Good afternoon Hungarians, go to my facebook wall and view the New Constituion of specific, verbatim pertaining to the values of the people. Penny Sue Oswalt in Westerville, Ohio USA

Member

Paul: “prepare for an even larger demo on the 15th. And a great deal more of the ‘We are not a colony’ nonsence.”
I would love to donate money for builbotd advertisiing and for huge signs saying ” Tell to Orban to leave the EU.” “Tell Orban to tell the EU that no more of the money from them needed!”, “Listen what Orban says about when will we leave the Eoropen Union!” Mondjatok meg Orbannak, hogy lepjunk ki az Europai Szovetsegbol!”, “Mondjatok meg Orbannpl, hogy mondja meg az Europai Szovetsegnek, hogy semmifele penz nem kell toluk!”, “Halgassatok Orbanra, mit mondd, hogy mikor lepunk ki az Eoroai Szovetsegbol!”
I am serious, if anyone reads this from Hungary who is willing to organize and book the signs, I am willing to donate, and I bet many others too. Orban;s lies just have to end, and there is no other way to that, then making sure that his fan base understands that everything Orban says is part of a big side show of the “do not listen what I say”circus.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Penny Sue Oswalt: “Good afternoon Hungarians, go to my facebook wall and view the New Constituion of specific, verbatim pertaining to the values of the people. Penny Sue Oswalt in Westerville, Ohio USA”
I do hope that you are not so naive as to think that the constitution in any way reflect the values of the Hungarian people.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

No!, I do not, but it is posted so that everyone knows what it is about and that Orban and his clan, cannot cram it down our throats. The new constituition does not even reflect me and I am not a Hungarian citizen.However Eva,….it has been authenticated. Who has a paper copy of the New Contituition and “can I get a witness”?

Member
@ torpefejo, THank you for the poem. In fact one of my favourite poet is Sandor Weores. It was not taught at the time went I went to school, but many others were and I enjoyed it. I am one of those rare species who actually love to recite poems, and plays, and very early on in my life I knew Hamlet and Rome and Juliet word by word, not because I needed to but because I always read and played out all the acts of everything in my bedroom. I could not stand Jokai at the other hand. I loved the movies from his books, but I was not able to fight my way through any of his books. I know it has nothing to do with the above article, but I just wanted to share. Back to Sandor Weores. My all time favourite poem by him named, Kazamataban . It is a great poem about today’s Hungarians actually. If anyone has the English translation that would be fantastic! My translation is a word by word attempt, and it will not be a poem. (Even as I typed away the poem, my eyes filled with tears, it makes me… Read more »
Member

@ Penny Sue Oswalt, Now we know why you started to post here so suddenly. Shielding, spamming. THis is not a free advertising space Penny, and if you wish to advertise yourself, then you should ask Eva for her permission. Common courtesy.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

Give me a break!You are obviously a supporter for dictatorship. I was not advertizing, if I was, I would have done it in the beginning,silly!

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