The new Hungarian curriculum: History (II)

I know that some of you would love to move on to discuss the fate of Hungary’s pending negotiations with the IMF. However, I would rather postpone that discussion until tomorrow when the Hungarian government receives the European Commission’s response to its one-hundred-page-long “counter proposals” which it sent to Brussels on February 17, the last possible day for a reply. For now all we know for sure is that, according to Viviane Reding, the Commission found the answers “vague.”

So let’s get back to the curriculum. After the teachers of Hungarian came the objections of the teachers of history. One of the idiosyncrasies of Hungarian education that has plagued the whole system is that students learn the same material twice, both in literature and in history. That situation was created when shortly after the second world war a two-tiered school system was introduced. Students had to remain in school until they were either fourteen or had completed grade eight. However, beginning in the 1950s, more and more students moved on to high school. Meanwhile the compulsory school age became eighteen. However, the curriculum of the first eight grades, especially between grades five and eight, was still designed as if some of the students were leaving school for good at the age of fourteen. Thus, eleven year olds learned some history of Greece and Rome, moved on to the early history of the Hungarians, and three years later they reached the 20th century. World history, on a most primitive level from 1,000 B.C. to the present. Came the first year of high school (grade 9) and the students went back to 1,000 B.C. The same was true about the history of Hungarian and world literature.

This repetitive curriculum badly needed fixing, but Rózsa Hoffmann’s National Basic Curriculum (NAT) didn’t touch it. Nor did the Association of Teachers of History complain about it. After all, fewer history teachers would be needed if the teaching of history didn’t start in grade five. So, they simply complain about the narrowing focus on political history that is especially obvious in the material that would be taught in grades five to eight. What are the history teachers talking about?

History

Political history is the narrative and analysis of political events, ideas, movements, and leaders. It is distinct from other fields of history such as diplomatic history, social history, economic history, and constitutional history. Generally, political history focuses on events related to nation states, so it is not surprising that this government’s educational policy focuses on political history.

There is only one problem with this approach. Children are less than enamored with political history. You know, the usual stuff: dates, battles, a description of political arrangements. Deadly stuff for kids–and, yes, the very same stuff I was taught. The first time I heard a lecture that made me realize that history could actually be fascinating was in my third year at the University of Budapest when due to a change in my major I had to take Hungarian history between 1790 and 1848. I specifically remember two of the lectures. The first described one of Prince Esterházy’s estates where milking cows had just arrived from Switzerland. The other when the young assistant professor who taught the course made us look out the window and then described what we would have seen if we had looked out the same window in 1790. Wow! That was a new world for me.

The history teachers are right: there is a heavy emphasis, especially in the lower grades, on “great historical personalities, kings and saints, in addition to the history of wars and battles.” Here are a few examples: “Ancient Greeks: Gods, heroes, scientists, artists, and the Olympia.” Or “Military leaders, battles, rulers in ancient Rome.” In Hungarian history in connection with the founding of the state pupils are taught about Prince Géza and Saint Stephen, followed immediately by the rulers and saints of the House of Árpád. Heavily emphasized is the Christian state, the crusades, and the lives of saints. I especially enjoyed the following topic: “Reformation and the Catholic renewal.” As far as I know, the proper name for this Catholic renewal is the “counter-reformation,” a process that was not exactly peaceful.

A quick look at the curriculum leads me to believe that more time is spent on the “native” kings than on the “foreign” kings. Thus, after the rulers of the House of Árpád they quickly move on to Louis the Great who was a Hungarian by birth and from there to János Hunyadi and his son Matthias. And one could go on and on.

In grades nine through twelve the students start again with Ancient Greece and Rome. Out of the eleven topics three deal with the twentieth century where Trianon figures prominently. There is one topic called “Consequences of the First World War in Hungary” immediately followed by “Trianon and its Effects. The fate of Hungarians across the borders.” Students will learn something about “Consolidation in Hungary and the foreign policy of revision.” “Persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust” made it into the grade twelve curriculum. The Kádár period gets short shift, and it is hard to tell whether students will learn about the changing nature of the Kádár era because the whole period is lumped under one rubric. Another novelty, I believe, is that there will be mention of the history, situation, and integration of the Roma/Gypsy population. Both in the lower grades and in high school emphasis on the new Basic Law is required.

In brief, I wouldn’t like to learn history in Hungary. I don’t think I would like it any better now than I did in the 1950s.

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steve
Guest

Let us continue to teach the list of historical failures. No lesson from the Horthy era, but happy trashing of the 20th century communists.

Joseph Simon
Guest

Please permit me to say that the teaching of history in any country is most uninstructive. Most works in English dealing with the two world wars, for example, are simplistic and self-serving. You will learn very little about the real causes of those insane bloody conflicts. Historians normally serve the powers that be and in any interpretation of events they will conform to and reinforce those accepted and comfortable truths and prejudices, in other words platitudes. Hungary is no exception. As Napolen said: History is a set of lies agreed upon.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

@Steve: Article 37 of the 1949 Constituion and Article 32A of the 1949 Constituition,have been violated and replaced with dictatorship values.
LOL Hungary!

tigerente
Guest

I’m curious about the tone concerning “persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust” and “history, situation, and integration of the Roma/Gypsy population”, especially if saying that there’s antisemitism today and that Roma communities are harassed may be likened to talking ill of the country. Let’s just remember what happened to the screening of ‘Only the wind’.

Paul
Guest
Much as it pains me to say it, JS does have a point. History, as it is taught in UK schools, would be pretty unrecognisable to the French or Spanish. And we get continually frustrated at the strange view of ‘our’ history that comes across the Atlantic from time to time. A couple of comparisons re WWII illustrates this nicely: My wife grew up in the USSR, where WWII was known as The Great Patriotic War, and she was deeply puzzled to discover that the UK won WWII almost single-handedly (with a bit of help from the Americans – who were late as usual). She not only didn’t know that “we stood alone” against the Nazis and had it not been for us, all would have been lost, but she was entirely ignorant of the huge part we played in the survival of the USSR due to our brave Artic convoys. And, one of the details of WWII that never fails to baffle me regarding UK history of WWII, is the emphasis on the horrors of the so-called ‘Blitz’ of London and other UK cities – coupled with the almost complete acceptance of our carpet bombing German cities month after… Read more »
GDF
Guest

A quick search on amazon.com comes up with 27,954 titles for World War II. I wonder how many of those did Joseph Simon read to make this generalized remark: “Most works in English dealing with the two world wars, for example, are simplistic and self-serving.”

GDF
Guest

Correction: After I did a more precise search (World War I History and World War II History in the category of books), the number of titles are 35,431 for World War II and 11,870 for World War I.

GDF
Guest

I wrote:”After I did a more precise search (World War I History and World War II History in the category of books), the number of titles are 35,431 for World War II and 11,870 for World War I.”
Now I went to Excel and did a quick calculation. If one reads one of these books every day, it would take a little longer than 129 years to read them all. Maybe Joseph Simon is 200 years old, but then the problem is that he had to start reading books about events that happened later in life. But it is also possible that he is a speed-reader and reads two or more history books a day.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary

@GDF And the ones written in other languages are fair and balanced. HA!
It’s only natural that each nation trump up it’s own sides contribution to the wins and down play their involvement with the losses. But the natural course is to move to more balanced views as we move further away from events. We now only see the inequities in how WWII has been taught but only because now academia has had the time to “discover” facts and blend views into a more reasonably story that is replacing the multitude of nationalistically charged versions.
The unnecessary fire storming of German cities including Dresden has been given better treatment. The final days of Berlin, the horrors of Stalingrad from both a German and Russian perspective, and so on. It often takes a very long time to get to the “truth” and even longer to make it known.
And news flash just in… after close to 90 years on, we are seeing very balanced treatments of Trianon! But this truth hasn’t quite made it to this part of the world just yet.

Leo
Guest

Joseph Simon seems to know all about the ‘real causes’ of both World Wars. Good for him! I personally prefer to think that there are no ‘real causes’. History is not science, it is just a way in which a culture defines itself. But while there may be no truth, there most certainly are a lot of lies. The first obligation of the historian is therefore to be sceptic. From this point of view I believe Anglo-Saxon historiography has, on average, done a pretty good job.
Paul’s example of the different local views of WW2 is instructive. But while both the British and the Soviet versions were distorted, they were not of equal value. One was prejudiced, the other falsified. In Hungary however, many seem to think that if we cannot tell the truth for certain, we may as well say anything we like. In the end, we all serve the powers that be, don’t we? That, however, is not sceptic, it is cynic. Another aspect of the ´moral drab´ that has taken hold of the country.

Tin Tus
Guest

I am 40, I was a kid in the Kadar era and I can say, that no matter what NAT or any other curriculum says, if you have a good teacher, you can get another or different point of view from all episodes of the history. that is why I think, this kind of criticism does not make sense, because (i think) NAT is only a frame and depend on the teachers’ attitude may change, may be modified. sorry for my pure English, of course it would be much easier to show you my opinion in Hungarian, but other readers probably will not like it 🙂

Joseph Simon
Guest

GDF:
There are some major works on the two world wars that give you a general idea how each participant in those conflicts advances its own national myth. Paul has illustrated this approach very well.
One major cause of WWII: the US was determined to become a global power. Gemany and Japan were in the way. They had to go. Period. All else is self-justification.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

The European Commission is less than satisfied with the Hungarian answers to the infringement proceedings. On two questions (judiciary and data protection) they expect specific changes in the existing laws while in the third (National Bank) they want clarification.
The Hungarian government has one month to make the changes. If the Commission is still not satisfied the case moves on to the European Court of Justice.

Paul
Guest

“Paul has illustrated this approach very well”
That may be so, but he doesn’t in any way agree with the mad ‘conclusion’ you follow up with!
The US had to be dragged into both theatres of the war – hardly the action of a country “determined to become a global power”.

Member

Joseph Simon:
“One major cause of WWII: the US was determined to become a global power. Gemany and Japan were in the way. They had to go. Period. All else is self-justification.”
Your credibility levels have just fallen through the floor. Why do you live in the US if you hate it so much?

Member

That is, if you do live there…

Guest

London Calling!
David
He’s not sure – he doesn’t know where Canada ends and the USA begins!
Regards
Charlie H

Paul
Guest
“But while both the British and the the Soviet versions were distorted, they were not of equal value. One was prejudiced, the other falsified.” If you study both versions in detail, there isn’t much difference between “prejudiced” and “falsified” – each was both. Having grown up with the UK version of the history of WWII (which most Brits still accept as the truth – we stood alone, etc, etc) and then come across the Russian version as an adult, I was stunned by the difference. The way the war was (and largely still is) seen in the UK, especially amongst the less educated, would baffle any outsider. The Americans are regarded as merely helping us out (a very far cry from reality), and, of course, being late (again!). The French and Italians are thought of as cowards for surrendering “too easily” or not fighting hard enough (as if we wouldn’t have done exactly the same without the protection of the Channel). And the Russians play almost no part in the war at all. There is a similarly myopic view of WWI – no real awareness of anything beyond the Western Front. I’m ashamed to say that even someone as relatively… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “most Hungarians would be astonished to discover that the average Brit isn’t even aware that Hungary was involved in WWI.”
In western textbooks Eastern Europe is very much neglected all through history. That’s why I used to start my lectures calling its topic “terra incognita” of Europe.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

I suggest to listen to a short interview with Fidesz members of parliament on video.There is one fairly young fellow, Zoltán Tessely, who must have a real critical mind. He says: “I believe everything Viktor Orbán says.”
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20120306_adobevallas_soralatet#utm_source=hvg_daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter2012_03_06&utm_content=normal

tigerente
Guest

“most Hungarians would be astonished to discover that the average Brit isn’t even aware that Hungary was involved in WWI.”
Really? I thought it was a given, considering Hungary was right there on the dual monarchy’s name. Do you think they ignore Austria’s role as well and consider only Germany as the enemy of that time? I ask out of curiosity.
And yes, I couldn’t agree more, textbooks about Eastern Europe are harder to come by than those pertaining to Western Europe.

Living with it in Hungary
Guest
Living with it in Hungary
@ tigerente, WWI, A peace to end all peace has a very informative section on Trianon and the Hungarian delegation. As well as the work that went on to get Romania to pull the tanks back as far as they did. @Joseph Simon… Heh, the US wanted to get rid of Germany and Japan? Wow, now that is a new twist on things. I guess they only wanted the appearance of being dragged in so they could let the USSR and France and Germany and the UK and China and Japan and.. I don’t know who I’ve left out but.. it all makes sense. Lets these guys all beat each other into a pulp and then come in and take over what’s left of the world. Brilliant! No surprise with the infringement and once again the HUF is taking a beating. I’m hoping for a fun Q&A session tomorrow morning. Can’t wait to ask Tamás Fellegi if he had fun having tea and biscuits in Washington. Or more seriously, I’m off to London next week to help secure a round of funding from VC. I’d like to ask him why in the world would I bring any of that back… Read more »
Paul
Guest
Going even more OT (sorry, Éva)… On holiday one year, back in the early 70s, we made friends with a German couple and the next year they came to stay with us. I had been talking to them about British attitudes to the war when we met and mentioned the number of war comics that you could still get then. They were astonished that the war was still such a hot topic in the UK 30 years after its end, and mystified that it should be the subject matter of children’s comics. So when they came to stay, I took them to the local paper shop so they could see the comics for themselves. They ended up buying several to take home (“No one will believe this at home, unless we do”). I think by now such comics have disappeared, but the attitudes behind them are still very current. Many comedians, when struggling to get a laugh, will still fall back on ‘jokes’ about the French ‘surrendering’ or the Italians ‘running away’. And there is even a German comedian on the UK circuit whose act is based largely on the British views of the war and ‘our’ stereotypical conviction that… Read more »
Leo
Guest
Tigerente: “Do you think they ignore Austria’s role as well and consider only Germany as the enemy of that time?” – Yes, to most people near the Atlantic Austria is just a tiny country where you can go skiing (oh, and there are a lot of fascist over there). Paul: ”If you study both versions in detail, there isn’t much difference between “prejudiced” and “falsified” – each was both.” – I can’t agree with that, there are definitely more ‘open’ and ‘closed’ views, and the difference is important. If it was all the same anyway, we wouldn’t need to worry about Hungary. Tintus: “I was a kid in the Kadar era and I can say, that no matter what NAT or any other curriculum says, if you have a good teacher, you can get another or different point of view from all episodes of the history”. At last someone says what I didn’t want to bring up: teachers are all important! I for one was much inspired by a history teacher (“And today we will see yet another example of the foolish ways of intelligent people.”). It is also interesting to hear that a teacher had room for individual views… Read more »
Paul
Guest
tigerente – to the Brits, WWI was a war between the British and the Germans (with some involvement from the Yanks and the French, although people are often unsure as to exactly why these countries were involved). True, many people ‘know’ that the war began with the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand, but most, if asked, would be unable to explain how this led to an Anglo-German war. And Ferdinand was shot in ‘the Balkans’, as far as we’re concerned. To the Brits, this is a vague area of Europe where neighbours hate (and often kill) neighbours for no apparent reason, so the shooting of an Archduke is just ‘one of those things’ you’d expect in such places. Even those who know Ferdinand was something to do with the Austrio-Hungarian Empire would still not make any connection with Hungary. In fact, modern-day Hungary is not connected at all in most people’s minds with The Austrian Empire. Hungary is an ex-Soviet state that has re-joined Europe since ‘the collapse of Communism’. If you asked the average Brit about Hungary before the Communist takeover, I’m afraid they would stare at you in incomprehension. (The same would apply to Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czechoslovakia,… Read more »
Mutt Damon
Guest

@Joseph “One major cause of WWII: the US was determined to become a global power”
Let me guess what’s next. FDR intentionally let the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor … No, history is not lies agreed on Joseph.
But let’s get back to the original topic, that is the quality of the history curriculum in Hungary. Joe is trying again the “it’s OK to rape my sister because there is incest in the UK” argument. Joseph, do you consider this patriotism? To acknowledge and accept every fuckery in Hungary because others do it? Or your patriotism is following the great leader no matter what?

GDF
Guest

Paul:”That may be so, but he doesn’t in any way agree with the mad ‘conclusion’ you follow up with!
The US had to be dragged into both theatres of the war – hardly the action of a country “determined to become a global power”.”
Common now, Paul. I know from very good sources that a group of American banker elders made this decision in a cave (in the Adirondacks). Then they transmitted it to FDR via a so far even now classified ESP channel and presto, the US became what it is.

Penny Sue Oswalt
Guest

You know us americans my age got history lessons, from 1st grade to 12th grade. I am glad to say I got a specific unbiased education on all countries, that the USA participated in. They do not offer it anymore in public schools. You can call all of us americans as fascist?But for the childrens sake, give history to them in chunks each year, not all at once.

tigerente
Guest

Thank you all for your input!
I would suspect the same, Paul. If it holds true in the UK, being Europe, then I don’t think the rest of the world would be more informed about Hungary.

riviera1
Guest

@ Joseph Simon..
Like many rabid anti-Americans, Mr. Simon needs a saliva test.
Americans were dragged, kicking and screaming, into both world wars. Possibly even tricked somewhat by Churchill to join the 2nd. Nonetheless, American participation had zero to do with wanting to be a world power. They became a world power; and just as well they assumed the role or the Soviets would trampled all over Europe, for starters.
So much nonsense is being spread about the US. For instance, they bombed Milosevic because they wanted the Balkans for their products, as if the US could ever supplant the EU. The only market the US has in the Balkans is the fast food market, and only because of McDonalds.
Oh yes, and the yanks went into Iraq for the oil. Yup, it only cost them some 50 trillion dollars but it was worth it.
All the above ‘mis-direction’ is apropos the Hungarian situation because the notion in-country among quite a few of the educated young, is that the western banks are trying to enslave the brave Hungarian population by tying them down to loans–as about Marxist an explanation as ever I’ve heard.

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