Living by the Book: The world today, as seen by Hungarian textbook writers

To understand the reasons behind the anti-American, trite clichés found in our nation’s textbooks (specifically, compulsory 7th grade Hungarian literature) one must first understand the education reforms of the past few years.

In 2012, Viktor Orbán said that he considers the nearly complete restructuring of the Hungarian education system one of his greatest accomplishments. In the same interview, he stated that Europe must embrace her historic, Christian tradition, upon which modern society should be built.

Starting in 2013, all public educational institutions (from pre-schools to high schools) would become centrally controlled, taken over by the government from independent district councils.

The new National Curriculum (NAT – Nemzeti Alaptanterv) would update and improve existing Hungarian curriculum, said Rozsa Hoffman (Minister of Education) in 2012. New subjects would include Morality and Religious studies, and something called ‘preparing for family life’. Naturally, textbooks must be rewritten to match the times we live in.



Today, a 7th grade literature book contains the following passage:

Western Worship Today:
For now, it seems that we do not live in a fairer society and the need for rich culture is replaced by consumerism. We eat hamburgers. We visit Disneyland. We watch MTV. We watch the latest catastrophes on CNN. We drink Coca Cola, wear Nike, and when we have returned from plazas and centers, we dumb ourselves down with Microsoft games, because its “cool”. Our opinions of other humans depend on whether their occupation is trendy or not, like a programmer or film director. Logos, stars, hit singles, and brand names control our lives, and we have forgotten, that life is worth more than any object”

If the 7th grader was unable to deduce the extent of American emptiness and stupidity, they are reminded of Hungarian superiority in another passage:

“While logical and meaningful thinking is one of the least important things amongst Americans, for us it is of the highest value. This should inspire pride.”

Or a gem on homosexuality from a morality studies textbook:

“Homosexuality is a sexual relationship between two people of the same sex. These are serious crimes, punishable by death.”

Naturally, no one can deny Ms. Rózsa Hoffmann that times are changing. But it remains undeniable, that the national curriculum now contains the most primitive anti-American clichés. It adds insult to injury, that the writers of a literature textbook were unable to come up with anything except the most banal stereotypes, making their work not only truly un-academic, but absolutely laughable. This forces the question: who has the Hungarian government entrusted with the education of its youth? The answer seems extremely worrisome.

A generation is at stake, one that might grow up to think that homosexuality is punishable by death. And while I do agree that the western world is imperfect, I also believe that it is unacceptable for such materials to be mandatory in schools.

These might seem like small things, overshadowed by Orbán’s more outrageous actions, but undeniably a voting population will be leaving Hungary’s schools, where they will have been permanently shaped, for better or for worse.

Hanna Kereszturi

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