The role of schools in the spread of democratic thinking

Yesterday I was listening to an interview with a neuroscientist who touched on the new ways medical schools, including Harvard where she teaches, instruct future doctors. The amount of medical knowledge is so vast, with more information becoming available every day, that no human being can possibly learn and remember it all. That’s why we often see doctors, especially primary care physicians, using medical software to aid in their diagnosis and treatment. The same thing is true in practically every field. And yes, it is also true for students enrolled in high schools and universities. This is at the core of the current educational debate in Hungary.

Hungarian schools haven’t changed much since the nineteenth century. But by now a segment of teachers, especially in the better or so-called elite schools, are painfully aware of the deficiencies of the educational system that was forced upon them in the last four or five years. The earlier years were far from ideal, but the system was a great deal better then than after the new government reforms. These teachers don’t just want to impart the information that is available in textbooks. They would also like to conduct classes that are devoted to the intelligent exchange of ideas. Less rote learning and more critical thinking.

I readily concede that the teachers who are leading the teachers’ revolt are in the minority. The majority of teachers are quite happy to go about their work the same way they have for the last thirty or forty years. Many of them haven’t really kept up with the latest research in their fields, and their knowledge of the subject they teach is scant. Barely more than what is in the textbook. One can’t expect these people to engage in serious debates about issues relating to their subject and hold their own. In the almost thirty years since the change of regime more effort could have been put into educating the educators, but each government had its own ideas and strategy, which resulted in constant–and for the most part useless–change.

Perhaps the greatest deficiency of the school system in the last 25-30 years was its failure to teach young Hungarians about the political system in which they live. No one paid any attention to this vitally important topic. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, the political leaders in the early 1990s were opposed to “bringing politics” into the schools and, unfortunately, they interpreted “politics” rather loosely. In a way it was understandable that they wanted to banish politics from schools, universities, and the workplace because in the one-party system each school and each factory or company had its own party cell. During the negotiations for the change of regime the representatives of MSZMP, the old communist party, were intent on keeping these cells alive and functioning, and it took some hard bargaining to get rid of them. However, by banishing politics from the schools the post-communist politicians created a politically illiterate generation or two.

civicsAs a result of this political illiteracy, in the last couple of years polls have consistently indicated that there is little interest in politics among younger people. But if they were to vote, they would support Jobbik. Only about two weeks ago an international public opinion poll conducted by Millennial Dialogue revealed that 53% of Hungarians between the ages of 15 and 34 would vote for Jobbik.  Moreover, while in Poland, Bulgaria, and Austria about half of this age group is interested in politics, in Hungary it is only 28.6%.

Perhaps Hungarian educators should study the work of John Dewey (1859-1952), the American philosopher and educational reformer, who stressed that a complete democracy is more than extending voting rights. It must also encourage fully informed public opinion. He believed that the main goal of school was to prepare the next generation to engage actively in the democratic process. Admittedly, even in the United States the teaching of “civics” (citizenship) has been greatly neglected. Only a few states require students to pass a citizenship exam that would show familiarity with the basic institutions and ideas of American democracy. The result is widespread ignorance.

I would love to see a study on how much young or even older Hungarians know about the political system in which they live. I’m sure the results would be depressing. Of course, one could rightly point out that introducing another subject into the curriculum would only add to the burden of already overworked students. I wouldn’t recommend a “civics” class per se. But the homeroom teacher already has an hour per week set aside for discussion of a range of topics. Why not the political process? The role of the judiciary? Freedom of speech? Moreover, as a practical matter even younger children could run for elected office, organize parties, devise party programs. These are all excellent ways to teach them about how democracy works and how they fit into this society as active participants. Without a politically educated public you can’t have a functioning democratic society.

Banishing politics from universities also had disastrous results. Before 1990 all universities had a paid KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség) secretary. This post was naturally discontinued, and in its place came organizations that were supposed to represent the interests of the student body. These new organizations were supposedly free of any political affiliation, but in reality they were taken over by students with ties to Jobbik in many universities. So, while other parties were banned from organizing clubs, Jobbik had a monopoly on political activity on campuses in the guise of a non-political student organization. In most American universities parties have a presence. At Yale the largest organization on campus is the Political Union, which was established in 1934 to combat political apathy. Under the umbrella of the Political Union are several parties. One of the most active nowadays seems to be the Independent Party. These parties have by-laws, elect officers, organize meetings, invite speakers, etc. The ban on politics on Hungarian campuses should be lifted for the sake of a healthier, more democratic society of the future. Democracy cannot be built without democrats.

April 16, 2016
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Guest
This is one of your best articles yet, Éva! Many thanks for it. You have revealed how Orbán has managed to come to power and to hold on to it for so long – namely as a result of a public who are largely political illiterates, and as you have illustrated, this is due to the lack of proper education and the absence of information. I have taught in a few Hungarian schools and can confirm that the notion of critical thinking is largely absent. Though I do not agree with john Dewey that “the main goal of school was to prepare the next generation to engage actively in the democratic process”, I do think that every adult should have informed opinions. In Hungary, information and critical thinking is actively prohibited by the Fidesz government, not just in schools, but through such means for instance as preventing pro-democracy Klubradio from broadcasting anywhere beyond Budapest. Regulating the economy of a country is one of the jobs of a proper government, but this article also illustrates the other fundamental purpose which is, simply, protecting and fostering principles of responsible citizenship, through proper legislation, which is wholly absent in Hungary Orbán does not… Read more »
Guest

Not too much OT:

A very disturbing comment in the NYT about the fall or even death of Liberalism and the rise of Authoritarianism in Russia, Hungary etc …

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/14/opinion/the-death-of-liberalism.html

petofi
Guest

A good essay. Thanks.

petofi
Guest

‘Putin admires Trump’….is the mocking braying of a 10-year old…

webber
Guest

Trump admires Putin would be more accurate, and still not correct.

e-pet
Guest

“At Yale the largest organization on campus is the Political Union, which was established in 1934 to combat political apathy.”

Yale people realized the importance of participation of the people in managing their affairs.

Most leaders are failing their people, but the people remain passive.

The leaders of democractic countries have to keep the people informed of the local and international plots.

Today, after 100s of years, the Russian plotting is remaining our central problem.

If you question, why Hungary is not free,
because almost all regimes sold out.

To the best bidders, to Germany, Soviet Union, Russia…

webber
Guest
There is no death of liberalism at all. Germany, the United Kingdom, all Scandinavian countries, Canada, Japan ….. I could go on and on. Every successful Western economy, and one or two non-Western one, are run under liberal democracies. The model that fits best was presented by Huntington in his Third Wave. He predicted that many – perhaps a majority of – countries that were newly democratized would slip back into dictatorship, but that even so there would be more democratic countries in the end than there were before the rise of democracy (for CEE – that would be before 1989) Huntington pointed out the importance of an international environment that fosters democracy. That ended with the rise of Putin. Putin has been able to fund tin-pot lunatics in weak states that have no historic tradition of democracy and (Hungary). Huntington predicted that such countries would be more prone to falling back into dictatorship than countries with some democratic historical background (such as the Czech Republic, which had a democracy in the inter-war period) Also, Hungary was never a full-fledged market economy – if you judge percentage of GDP taken by the state, which was always above 50% for Hun.,… Read more »
Guest

You don’t get a democracy after 20 years. The population hardly understand their responsibilities after such a short period of time – it’s a generational thing. That is, it takes at least a generation.

A generation to permeate all the agencies that provide the checks and balances.

Try 300 years.

webber
Guest

Sure, it’s one step forward, two steps back – but that one step forward can be important because otherwise it’s just two steps back.

The Czech(oslovak) experience with democracy lasted only from c. 1920 to 1938, but (Huntington’s model predicts) that could help stabilize post-1993 Czech democracy. Just the experience, the knowledge that one’s fellow countrymen did something similar in the past, is important apparently. Perhaps it just makes democracy seem more possible or less foreign.

webber
Guest

300 years – Well, you have to start somewhere! Otherwise, you might as well just go to the garden and eat worms.
In 1707 nobody could have predicted that British democracy would last. Ditto for the US in 1776.

Guest

Hmmm….

Unfortunately Orban’s Commocracy has erased the experience from the body politic. There is no hint of critical mass.

It’s back to the start; do not pass Go; do not collect £200.

Guest
A truly outstanding post that addresses what to my mind is the root cause of of all social and political ills in Hungary. As to education itself, it seems to me that there are two core issues to consider. One is the quality of teacher training and the quality of the teachers it produces. That in turn is partly a function of adequate funding and compensation, partly that of the methodologies and curricula being followed, and partly the quality of people that the profession is able to attract, whether to pre-primary, primary, secondary, tertiary and post-graduate levels of teaching. The second is the quality of understanding of what teaching ought to be about, as well as what it should not be and must not be about. To my mind, the purpose of teaching, or in other words what teaching ought to be about, is teaching young people how to teach themselves, the key competency needed for lifelong learning and thus for successfully coping with the challenges of the 21st century. A teacher should therefore be primarily a coach entrusted with fostering the development of effective learning habits by the students, helping them develop questioning, inquisitive, discriminating and indeed skeptical mind… Read more »
Guest

London Calling!

The UK parliament actively encourages involvement in politics with teacher’s resource packages available to create a mini-parliament in the classroom.

It teaches debating etiquette and respect for other’s points of view – and has even allowed, on occasion, students to use the Westminster debating chamber during parliamentary recesses.

We have a very long history of encouraging involvement but even this can be a low priority in education.

On another related but O/T subject – during my recent visit to Hungary I carried out a small suvey precipitated by my comments that Steindl’s architecture was marred by a massive statue of Andrassy – and which someone on here “quite liked”.

During visits to friends and at every opportunity I asked if anyone could tell me anything about him – ninc.

Several knew there were streets named after him in BP and one person asked ” was he a Count?” (He was.)

Hardly an endorsement for placing such a monstrosity in the grounds of Parliament.

Regards

Charlie

webber
Guest

Charlie – you’ve lost it…
WHAT does this have to do with Fidesz? The statue was there long, long before Fidesz came to power. It was simply taken down to be cleaned, and to fix up the square, and put back in its place.
WHAT does this have to do with Hungarian democracy?
This is about your personal taste in statues… Who cares?

webber
Guest

Here’s an article for you, Charlie about that statue – which has been in that place since 1906. But you find it objectionable…
http://hungarytoday.hu/news/parliament-square-finally-completed-statue-statesman-gyula-andrassy-reinstalled-45878
Well, there have been quite a few changes in Hungarian regimes since 1906, and Hungarians have had lots of chances to remove it since then with changes of regimes, and somehow nobody wanted to.
But you, you want it down… You can’t stand it…

As to you “asking people” who Gyula Andrássy was – I’m guessing your pronunciation is NOT THE BEST (okay, I’m not guessing – you said that yourself).

Schoolkids learn about him in Hungarian schools.

webber
Guest

P.S. The Parliament building you (rightly) admire was completed in 1904. That same year, the statue to Andrássy was commissioned, and two years later it was erected.

Guest

(No need to post newly-researched information about Andrassy, please. I’ve done my own homework.)

See second post.

petofi
Guest
Democratic principle in Hungary? Try this on: I got a fine of 50,000 HUF for parking in a wheelchair spot. I have a permit but it had fallen off its perch and lay on the ground. Anyway, I went to the office of the ticket-giver and tried to present my permit and explain what happened. No go. They wouldn’t even let me in the building. “The ticket will be given to your district police office and they will sent out a letter. Wait for it.” I did. Some weeks later, the letter came. It said, “You may go to court, but it’s highly likely that you would lose and pay a double fine.” That was enough for my wife–she ran off and paid the fine. Now, in a democratic society like Canada’s, the following would happen. I would go to court and present my permit and a bried explanation and the fine would be wiped out. Even in some other case–supposing I didn’t have a permit but had some useful excuse, like illness or needing to take my mother to the hospital….the Canadian judge, appreciating my efforts to appear at court and rely on the judicial system, would either wipe… Read more »
Guest

@charlie
When new sculptures are erected old ones must be removed in order to avoid sculpture-clutter. As a rule nobody knows for who and what old (and some new) sculptures were erected. Therefore this should not be taken into consideration when decisions are made about which sculptures to remove. The decision should be bases exclusively on esthetic value. The really good ones will survive for centuries when their stories are long forgotten. Many sculptures will unfortunately have a longer life time than they deserve.

Guest

I think you are confusing sculpture as art – with ‘human representations’ of someone who is immortalised in a statue – sometimes including equestrian representation. Aesthetic considerations should be considered for art sculptures; and permanence for worthies who have done something magnificent for their country.

If art and worthiness are combined – so much the better. Churchill’s sculpture in Parliament Square is one such – Ivor Roberts-Jones being the sculptor.

On the other Henry Moore’s sculptures representing people who left for Australia on the prison ships are pure art.

‘Worthy’ sculptures in England are our history – and very few are removed or moved.

Charlie 1st has been at the top of Whitehall for over 300 years and survived the fire – together with Banqueting Hall where he met his end on the scaffold – which destroyed the rest of Whitehall and Parliament. He has also survived the many traffic changes around Trafalgar Square in that time.

Nothing has been stable around historic sites with Orban who seems to move his statues around as if playing chess.

Let history settle and stop trying to change it.

Guest
London Calling! The UK parliament actively encourages involvement in politics with teacher’s resource packages available to create a mini-parliament in the classroom. It teaches debating etiquette and respect for other’s points of view – and has even allowed, on occasion, students to use the Westminster debating chamber during parliamentary recesses. We have a very long history of encouraging involvement but even this can be a low priority in education. On another related but O/T subject – during my recent visit to Hungary I carried out a small suvey precipitated by my comments that Steindl’s architecture was marred by a massive statue of Andrassy – and which someone on here “quite liked”. During visits to friends and at every opportunity I asked if anyone could tell me anything about him – ninc. (Even one of the civil servants overseeing the placement of the statue didn’t know who he was.) Several knew there were streets named after him in BP and one person asked ” was he a Count?” (He was.) Hardly a ringing endorsement for planting such a monstrosity in Parliament’s grounds. (No need to post newly-researched information about Andrassy, please. I’ve done my own homework.) (And no need to find… Read more »
webber
Guest

What homework have you done, Charlie? It would surely be more illuminating than your own quixotic taste in statues.

Observer
Guest

Good post on a most important subject.

I’ve been preaching for 30 years:
Teaching civics/history/law basics to produce responsible citizens and voters.
More assertive democracy capable of defending its institutions even temporarily at the expense of some freedom.
More economically egalitarian society promoting the respective moral values.

Sorry Fukuyama, history never ends, just as the struggle for a piece of the pie, be it rights, power or wealth. Those who stay or are kep out of it will surely loose, see Hungary.

Guest

Re: ‘history never ends’

Mr. Fukuyama was optimistic wasn’t he??? I noted befor I learned a bit from Kadar and the behavior of systems. I also learned from the ‘West’.

Going from Kadar’s Magyarorszag to Ireland’s Belfast during the ‘Troubles’ showed another side of the story. Compared to Belfast, Kadar had a tranquil domain under wraps. There were no foreign troops patrolling streets nor battles nor bombings. Magyarorszag was like snoozing in the hammock. Things looked good on the outside. But Northern Ireland showed her colors blatantly and with disregard for rights during that dangerous time in the country. Democracies too have their bad days….. and need to be always nurtured to avoid descents into possible anarchy. It is hard work to be ‘free’. And illiberals sure know that.

Istvan
Guest

An excellent essay Eva. But even as a conservative US citizen I do find it intimating that the public education space is being over taken by the private one, particularly here in the USA. We have the massive rise of charter schools, voucher programs, and home schooling in the USA. Your essay a short while ago about the rise in publicly subsidized Catholic education indicates there may be a similar tendency in Hungary. For the record I support Catholic schools, but not publicly supported ones.

The Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) which are a network of schools, both primary and secondary, that serve the dependents of United States military and civilian DoD personnel in three areas of the world; Europe, Pacific, and United States and Caribbean areas are even being threatened by privatization with some libertarians asking that these schools be run by for profit or not for profit vendors at a lower price point per child. The track record of DoDDS schools is amazing (see http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues349.shtml ) minority children in DOD schools perform generally at academic levels equal to those of white students and children enlisted personnel perform close to those of college educated officers.

Guest
I am very glad to see those in the teaching profession here very concerned about the way and goings on of how ‘education’ appears to be processed in the country. I would hope it would rub off on those who have the great responsibility of educating the current generation and the new coming up in the wings. Personally I do not believe a viable effective country expecting to come to grips with the challenges in the next decades will be created if Magyarorszag pursues its education course. The world is moving too fast. It is a relentless pace due to technologies. The world of work has changed too where there are new types of jobs which need new kinds of people with new skills to do them. These no doubt will be intellectual skills which will be removed from so-called ‘rote learning’ (one which I experienced!) and rather will have to be focused on critical thinking, analysis, decision-making and creativity. And to that the requisite social skills will be needed to explain, defend , present and criticize. So without these skills I’d think it would put communities and the country in the position of just easily being led by the… Read more »
Guest

Completely O/T.

So the Pope has taken 12 asylum seekers back to Italy with him.

Do you hear that Bishop Palffy and you other evil Hungarian Bishops of the Roman Catholic Unchristian country?

Orban claims to be a good Catholic and son Gaspar has started his Evangelical ‘house worship’ movement.

You Bishops said your Pastoral Father “doesn’t understand”.

He understands well and follows the principles in the bible – of the Good Samaritan, for example.

H for Hippocrites.

H for Hungary

spectator
Guest
And just what/who would you think filling the gap and “helping” the passive young people along the path to find “some” ideology? You’d never guess! Gáspár Orbán, the son of Viktor Orbán. In this video he is actively asking the young people “all over the country” to “organise groups” and attend the gathering of “Felház” — a ‘new’ kind of religious community. “…because God will that the country be his (domain)…because he will change the city, the country and the whole Europe too..!” And this meeting “going to be a historic event”. Oh my..! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM8DYcLzYQc&index=3&list=PLPxMp-dD2yzosvY5GR51ymlQKB2fJlf6j Just like Daddy, — my addition — who told to the nation, that from now on he will concentrate mainly on the European politics. At the main time the younger Orbán means business, just as well his pals. They’re “working” on the project since a few months back, and already managed to enlist quite a number of followers. And the brainwashing goes on full time. About the “…take the weapons and armours(sic!) of Jesus Christ..”, what you can hear about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM8DYcLzYQc&index=3&list=PLPxMp-dD2yzosvY5GR51ymlQKB2fJlf6j Or just the everyday aspects of life, like “ you shouldn’t get drunk of cheap beer and wine, but from God…!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLVTjxqoOnQ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3zwlADu2Ic… Read more »
Member

“Do you hear that Bishop Palffy and you other evil Hungarian Bishops of the Roman Catholic Unchristian country?”

Evil scum.
Even when their spiritual leader takes (belated) action to address the most pressing human rights issue in Europe today these Pharisees pander to the most racist tendencies among their flock.

Pity they were not similarly forthright with the child-abusers amongst their own,.
As I said, scum.
In any normal democracy the Hungarian RC hierarchy would have been shamed out of social discourse.
Instead here the fascist regime turns a blind eye to their crimes in return for them bending over for Der Fuhrer.

Addressing the wider question. The fascists realised a long time ago that they were dealing with simple people and for simple people, a simple message will more than suffice. Fidesz will reduce lecky bills again before the next election, election won. You can argue till the cows come about the more abstract concepts and values of democracy… Viktor says “Trust me” and the imbeciles who make up the Hungarian electorate believe him.

Istvan
Guest

Relating to the Catholic Church in Hungary and teachers. György Udvardy, Bishop of Pécs, Hungary was caught formally by the teachers union PDSU as having issued what amounted to a religious proclamation to Catholic teachers that they not get involved in the two hour warning strike. See http://nol.hu/belfold/pecsen-a-puspok-fenyegette-meg-a-tanarokat-nehogy-lazadni-merjenek-1611661 The Bishop was born and raised in Balassagyarmat a town now completely dominated by Fidesz. Of the 12 member city government 8 are Fidesz and one is Jobbik. Balassagyarmat prior to WWII there was a thriving Jewish community there which was exterminated by the Nazis and the Arrow Cross. The town had one of the most significant orthodox jewish synagogues in eastern Europe built in an arabesque style and had two upper circle for woman and it was able to welcome as many as 4,000 people. It was blown up by the SS in 1944 and here is a link to a photo of the destroyed synagoguecomment image

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