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.
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.
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.