Teaching and politics: A grade-eight geography book

The liberal media tends to overestimate the desire of most teachers to move away from traditional teaching methods. We are apt to forget the incredible resistance the teachers put up when Bálint Magyar, minister of education between 1996 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2006, cautiously attempted to reform Hungarian public education. I’m convinced that the majority of teachers are quite satisfied with the way the material is taught and wouldn’t know what to do with all those “newfangled” methods a small group of top-notch teachers in elite schools would like to introduce.

This feeling was reinforced today when I listened to a screaming devotee of Viktor Orbán. She went on and on, singing the praises of the Hungarian prime minister, whom she considers the only far-sighted, modern politician in Europe. All the others are useless liberals who will be swept away by the spirit of a new age of people like Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán. She turned out to be a high school teacher. I have no idea what she teaches, but I shudder to think of the influence she might have on some of her students.

Then there is an incredible illustration in the grade 8 geography textbook. It depicts Germany as a sow, feeding four little piglets that represent countries that are dependent on Germany’s financial help: Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium. A fifth piggy, identified by a Hungarian flag, stands aside, giving the impression that Hungary is not the beneficiary of money that Germany pays into the common purse of the European Union.

I do give the book credit for explaining the structure of the European Union quite well. It also spells out the benefits a Hungarian citizen receives as a result of the country’s being part of the European Union.

One chapter of this textbook is devoted to demographics, within which “migration” is discussed at some length. The book points out that Hungary is “a transit country.” Most migrants stay in Hungary for a very short time and move on to Western Europe. When it comes to emigration, the book doesn’t divulge the extent of the problem, even though it does mention that half of those who leave Hungary are under thirty and “many of them are well-educated professionals.”

Although the authors ask students probing questions about the differences between “refugees” and “immigrants,” there is nothing in the textbook that could possibly guide the students on the matter. I assume that here the political views of the teacher are of some importance, especially since students would rarely have heard the word “refugee.” Viktor Orbán and the members of his government judiciously avoided the term and talked only about “migrants.” There is another question that most likely allows the teacher to interpret current events: “Why are the majority of refugees only traveling across Hungary” instead of settling here?

I was impressed with the chapter on “The present and future of domestic industry.” In it the textbook quite honestly reports on the inadequacies of the educational system and government support for research and development. I especially liked the sub-chapter “The future is information societies—what about us?” It talks about the necessity of investors with sufficient capital to support R&D. Otherwise, “the intellectual capital will go to other countries.” Again, there is plenty of opportunity for teachers to add their own views on these subjects. The same is true of renewable energy, which the authors admit has not been promoted by the government.

These are some of the laudable features of the textbook. When it comes to chapters on Hungary’s neighbors, the treatment is less even-handed. Saying that “Transylvania is the home of Hungarians” is more than misleading, even though in the text the student learns that Hungarians constitute only 19% of Transylvania’s population. Unfortunately, once these students leave school they seem to forget such “details.” I remember a fairly recent sociological study of young people’s knowledge of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. They are woefully ignorant of basic facts about the size of Hungarian minorities both in Slovakia and in Romania.

USA-NATO confetti factory

By the time I more or less finished reading the book I came to the conclusion that the inclusion of “political” cartoons in this textbook was most unfortunate. I would love to know what message a cartoon titled “USA-NATO confetti factory” intends to send. Does the textbook blame the United States for the breakup of Yugoslavia or for the Russian-Ukrainian conflict? I can’t think of anything else.

Who should have Ukraine?

I also find the cartoon on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict unfortunate, especially since the screaming right-wing teacher this morning blamed the United States for Ukraine’s recent problems with Russia. The accompanying text is also puzzling. After explaining that about one-fifth of the population speaks a mixed Russian-Ukrainian language, it adds: “nevertheless, the two ethnic groups are often in conflict within the country. Their antagonisms led to armed conflict for the Crimean peninsula.” Well, that is not how I remember Putin’s recent excursion into Crimea.

All in all, this textbook is a mixed bag. There is an often expressed requirement that teaching be politically neutral, but even the most superficial look at this book reveals that it is packed with information on recent events that are political in nature. I can’t help but think of the famous movie “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” Teachers can have a huge influence on their students, especially when those of the more liberal persuasion are afraid to express any opinion that might brand them as not fully supportive of the current regime. It’s too bad that there is no way of knowing what goes on in Hungarian classrooms in such a politically divided country as Hungary.

January 6, 2017
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webber
Guest

Fidesz is deeply anti-American. They hate the US. It’s very sad that this comes out explicitly in textbooks for children. They clearly want Hungarian kids to hate America too.

petofi
Guest

Fidesz hates whatever and whomever Orbanus The Magnificent tells them to hate.

Guest

I think that this impotent hatred of a liberal democratic America is readily traceable to Orbán’s first term in office, when he realised that only an illiberal Christian Nationalist hard-line would be politically workable for him in the Hungarian context which had strong Christian Nationalist roots, but no liberal democratic traditions to speak of. At that point Orbán’s road began to radically diverge from what America was about, as a consequence of which there came a decade of serious conflict between Fidesz, the State Department and its diplomatic representatives in Budapest. If, however, the Americans did not feel compelled to regularly criticize the direction taken by Fidesz at the behest and on behalf of the liberal democratic government and subsequently of the liberal democratic opposition in Hungary, and instead opted for a policy of benign neglect as per the EU, I believe that the anti-Americanism of Fidesz and its electoral supporters would today be a lot less virulent, if indeed at all in evidence.

Guest
I think it is instructive in this connection to compare political proclivities and comfort zones in Hungary and Austria. The key point is that neither of these dwarf successor states to the Habsburg Empire had any liberal democratic political tradition to speak of. On the other hand, German nationalism had taken strong roots among German-speaking Austrians in the second half of the 19th century, and they would have liked nothing better than to join the Bismarckian German Reich, and to hell with the Habsburg holdings in the East. As to Hungarians, they became nationalists in the modern sense under the influence of the French revolution, and from the Age of Reform would have liked nothing better than independence for the realms of both the Kingdom of Hungary and Transylvania, and to hell with the majority of non-Hungarians that populated them. It was Austria’s great good fortune that it was able to bail out of the Soviet orbit in 1955 under Austrian State Treaty with the Four Occupying Powers, under the terms of which, as “victims” of the Third Reich, they were also able to conveniently escape coming to terms with their own enthusiastic Nazi past within the Third Reich. As… Read more »
Guest

N.B.

The aristocratic liberalism of the Hungarian leadership in the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy could not possibly be construed as the locus of any kind of liberal democratic tradition in Hungary, for the simple reason that neither its nationalities policies, nor its policies of exclusion of the majority of the population from the electoral processes would be in any way compatible with what is understood as liberal democracy in its contemporary sense.

Observer
Guest

ambalint
The aristocratic Hungarian liberalism has to be considered in the context of the Hungarian struggle for independence – the liberalism meant freedom. By Tisza freedomliberalism was not needed.
Ditto in the case of Fidesz – liberalsdemocrats until they got into power, then dictatorship in no time. Says something about the morals in Hun.

Guest

The simplified schematic presented above does not, of course touch on the huge cultural differences between Austrians and Hungarians, best symbolized perhaps by the striking contrast between the native Teutonic cleanliness, tidiness and orderliness of the (mostly) superbly well organized Austrians and the virtual opposites of these qualities on the Hungarian side.

Metternich was supposed to have said that Asia began on the Hungarian border . . . :-)))

Guest

Small correction:

Metternich was supposed to have said that Asia began in the mud on the Hungarian border . . . :-)))

Guest

I wouldn’t call the Austrians “innocent here” here! Remember Jörg Haider who came to power before 2000?
That was long before the financial crisis and the deluge of refugees.

And in West Germany too we regularly had right wing parties gaining some support (max 10 to 15 % of the votes) – which however soon was lost again when these lunatics had to show up in parliament and everybody could see “wes Geistes Kind” they were, xenophobic, homophobic crazies …

But as we can see comparing the situation in West and East Germany e g the almost 50 years of “Socialism” destroyed a lot of political tradition, really destroyed the idea of democracy for many people. They now are caught in the net of populism.

Guest
Excellent point. I was going to include this in my post above as a caveat on the strength of liberal democracy in Austria, but in the end I decided against it, because the post was becoming a bit too unwieldy. The lucky Austrians managed to get away scot free with their role in Nazidom, which was just as enthusiastic (if not more!!!) as everywhere else in the Third Reich. Partly because of this rewriting of history instead of confronting it in all its ugliness, a very significant segment of hard core Nazis and Nazi sympathisers have continued to thrive among the Austrian population to this day. In some ways this is very similar to the case of the Hungarians who also were never called to account regarding their role as enthusiastic Nazi sympathisers and allies of the Third Reich, and these days attempt to prove their victimhood by rewriting history instead of confronting it in all its ugliness. Yet only confronting and digesting can enable these national communities to move past the stinking miasma of their respective histories from the end of WW1 to the end of WW2. So yes, scratch any second or third Austrian or Hungarian, and you… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re: Fidesz.. hating Americans

If so perhaps a prelude for the institutionalizations for a ’10 minutes’ of hate directed to the evil one? (Fidesz will add 8 more minutes to Orwell’s 2 of the vitriol as an ‘improvement’ to their society)

What a waste of activity. Stupidity running rampant considering the great problems enveloping the country.

Guest

“The evil one”?You mean Soros obviously. Just found this on my favourite debunking site:
http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/oneevilhuman.asp
If it weren’t so crazy it would be funny – Soros is decribed a s kind of Beelzebub and master manipulator – these lunatics must really be terribly afraid of him …
<iObama is a puppet and here is the explanation of the man or demon that pulls his strings. It's not by chance that Obama can manipulate the world. I don't think he knows how to tie his shoe laces.

Zsolt
Guest

The pigture is incorrect in that Belgium is a net contributor to the EU while Hungary is a net beneficiary.

Ferenc
Guest

The flag isn’t the Belgium one either!! Mixed-up colours:comment image
Actually to me it’s not clear at all which country it is supposed to be presenting.

Zsolt
Guest

Yes you’re right! Hadn’t even noticed it. It’s actually the German flag on it’s side. Is that supposed to have some hidden meaning. Most Hungarians would say yes but then they see conspiracies behind even the most common scenes.

Guest

Yeah, it might be factually incorrect, but it is politically correct all right in the Fidesz sense of what Christian Nationalist political correctness is all about, and that is all that counts in the contemporary social and political context of Hungary.

Ferenc
Guest

So the new schoolbooks are meant to teach political correctness (the Fidesz sense), and not important that the facts are wrong….

Ron
Guest

It may be the former East German Flag without the hammer and compass.

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/de-ddr.html#ver

Guest

Yup, that’s my take on it, anyway.

Ron
Guest

I believe they were lazy, copy it over from 2011 and made some minor adjustments to it.

http://www.voxeurop.eu/en/content/article/1194641-myth-german-economic-discipline

Guest

The pathetic provincial stupidity of these cartoons beggars belief. And whilst Eva’s post does give a pass mark on the contents of some of the accompanying text, I do very much wonder just how much context is actually left out in even those bits, how many half-baked half-truths are being propagated, and how many vital facts are coveniently “overlooked.”

I shudder to think what would be found in all the other texts used in the Hungarian education system.

Soon they will be back in the fifties, when primary school arithmetic problems were formulated in terms tractor drivers and lathe operators, and in terms of how many chained dogs of imperialists . . .

Overall, Hungarians seem to be a pretty dumb lot, quite unable to learn from past disasters and totally unable to position themselves for successfully coping with the challenges of the future.

Ron
Guest
My kids are currently in the 6th grade, and they hate school by now. Was not always the case up to and including class 3 they loved going to and be at school. From class 4 (btw they average score is 5, which would be A in the USA and a 10 in the Netherlands). Also they are becoming teenagers, which is also one of the reasons for hating school, no doubt. But to blame “all” the teachers for not explaining or incorrectly explaining is unfair. -First: the the schools can have only a selection of 2 books per topic, these books needs to be acquired via KLIK. -Second: the writers of these books in general are somehow related to Fidesz or KNDP. -Third: the quantity and uselessness of the stuff they need to learn is sooo much it is unbelievable. The teachers have no time to explain, and the kids have no time to digest. -Four: the quality of the teachers is in my opinion not always up to a certain standard. For an example a history teacher gives gym lessons or IT lessons. -Five: Teachers are hired and fired by KLIK. Not following the curriculum result in firing,… Read more »
Zsolt
Guest

What often surprises me when travelling through Europe nowadays is that most people under let’s say 30 speak English to some degree regardless of whether you’re in France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic or wherever and regardless whether you’re a gas station or at a university. Except in Hungary where outside Budapest almost nobody speaks English not even higher educated people. What is it with Hungarians. Tell there overly inflated ego’s them that Hungary is such a marvellous country the rest of the world would be speaking Hungarian instead of English if it weren’t for Hungarian being such a complicated language that only geniuses like Hungarians can learn it.

A pretty dumb lot I have to agree with Ambalint

Guest

OT again:
To add something positive to this rant:

There are at least some young Hungarians who realised that Englsih is a conditio sine qua non for any career today.
My wife’s son and his girlfriend (students at the time, now husband and wife and proud parents) spoke English moderately well when I first met them 10 years ago – and their help was invaluable for my new girlfriend and me – because when we were introduced my knowledge of Hungarian was severely limited (it still is …) and also my girl’s German – now she speaks quite fluently.
So our relation would have had an abrupt end without the two young people’s help in translating!
Btw we were both already over 60 years old when we met and immediately fell in love …

PS:
It seems that our young ones and I both profited from our Englsih conversations – the son’s prof asked him a year later whether he bad been in Britain to study English because he spoke much more fluently than before …

Guest

You should also consider that many of those who speak English have already left the country. On the contrary, I am always surprised to find English-speaking employees in hotels and touristic places in HU.

Ferenc
Guest

Thanks Eva, for taking your time to go through this schoolbook.
Here are some of the first page I find very peculiar: start of chapter 1 – Our Place in Europe and in the Carpathian Basin (pages 7-8)comment image comment image
Well does this clearly show current Hungary and it’s location, or something else, the former ‘Greater-Hungary’?
Then futher into this chapter on page 21 is shown partitioning of Europe (illustration 4.1):comment image
Division line between Central- and East-/South-East-Europe going straight through Ukrania, Romania and Serbia. Is really the currently correct partitioning? If not, what is it marking then…..
I’ll leave it till here, and for all of you who like to have a look into the book itself, here you can find it: https://player.nkp.hu/play/133709/false/undefined (for download check the paperclip)

Guest
I’ve read and heard it often – Hungary (and the other Visegrad4 countries) want to be accepted as part of Central Europe – while the other Central Europeans consider them as part of the “Balkan state of mind”. Re English: I went to school in Germany in the French Occupied Zone so I learnt French and Latin (others French and then a very limited version of English …) but luckily I realised early that English was necessary and I’ve been telling this to everybody who asked me what was important for a career in science or IT, even in 1970. Seems that Germans followed my advice and of course people in the smaller European countries reacted similarly to the modern world – but Hungarians again are different! They (or at least a large number of them …) still think they’re the greatest … Totally OT and my favourite story: In the early 80s I worked as an IT consultant for a large German financial institution and one day the IT boss told me that he and several of his subordinate managers would be visiting the USA – stopping at IBM laboratories and other IT companies, visiting banks in NYC, Washington,… Read more »
Guest

On the first cartoon.

The percentages written on the blackboard add up to more than hundred. Is it a joke on Fidesz percentages?

Guest

Imho the percentag is supposed to mean – if they mean anything at all:
How many of the people living in the coloured space are Hungarians?
But the whole graphics are idiotically produced anyway!

As soon as my wife hears “Greater Hungary” she looks at me – hey, we’d better leave this discussion!

Not too much OT:
Several of our neighbours use words like Jewish, Schwab, Romanian, Gay, Gypsy etc indiscriminately on anything as swear words like shitty, stupid, …:

Guest

I like the cartoons; they’re so 2017, don’t you think?

Guest

An alternative interpretation of the sow picture.

The Hungarian piglet was the first to fill its belly. Hence it’s mischivous smile.

Andrew
Guest

Interesting. Although my secondary school teaching staff are fairly ‘liberal’, I’m encountering more and of these kinds of statements in the topic work of dual language year nine students. I try to challenge some of these by reference to broader international views and contexts, but have the impression that a lot of these deep-seated prejudices are brought into school from home, rather than stemming from colleagues. I’ve effectively been ‘banned’ from teaching the history-geography-civilisation elements of the curriculum, though qualified to do so in international schools, due, apparently, to my lack of understanding of the special requirements of the Hungarian curriculum. I don’t really mind, as my wife gets given these classes anyway!

Istvan
Guest
As is often the case when a US citizen looks at foreign school textbooks we look at it from our own national perspective. In the USA, even today our social studies textbooks reflect our own forms of nationalism, geography is taught here as a subset of social studies. Diane Ravitch’s book “The Language Police” discussed how much of the US curriculum and textbooks was and is sanitized. She holds a Ph.D. in the history of American education and was an official in the US Department of Education under President Regan and now is very critical of Republican positions on creating a market based education system in the USA. She is well worth reading. The teaching of the history of the Vietnam War for elementary and high school students has been a contentious topic for many years here in the USA. What I consider to be a balanced approach is considered by many liberals and leftist here as pro-imperialist, and by some veterans to be pro- communist. Even inside the US Society for Military History this battle has raged. There is probably no objectivity standard that can be applied to national histories as prepared for children and young adults. Early on… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

OT: Ghaith Pharaon meghalt
http://index.hu/belfold/2017/01/07/vasarnap_eltemetik_ghaith_pharaont/
Curious if any Hungarian official will be present.

Koen Maegherman
Guest

Small detail one cartoon about Germany: the Belgian flag is not correct… should blacK, yellow and red (from left to right)! But as said a details compared to the worrisome examples Eva was so precise to share with us!

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