Hungary

Sexism and racism – the new Hungarian schoolbooks teach everything you don’t want your child to learn

School prepares you for life, they say. If that’s true, we’re in deep trouble, for after devouring public education, the Hungarian Fidesz-KDNP government swallowed the entire schoolbook market for dessert.

It’s pretty sad that almost no one even bothered to react when children freshly graduated from kindergarten were gifted a book blatantly shoving “the refugee issue” down their throats. The case is a good reason to review what sort of propaganda has been printed under the excuse of experimental schoolbooks in the past couple of years.

Compulsory religion and morality classes (introduced in 2013) provided the government with a great opportunity to flood schools with newly written books overflowing with a worldview familiar from the rhetorics of the Fidesz-KDNP government. Let’s see our first example, a 2010 religion textbook for the seventh grade:

“Intercourse outside of marriage is a sin,” every second-grader can learn if they have the right morality textbook. What’s more, they can delve even deeper into the sea of human depravity: “We also consider unacceptable any sexual relations between homosexuals. The Old Testament has already strictly denounced it. If not illness, but deliberate consideration is the reason of such aberration, then the sin is very grave indeed.”

Maths book cover.

Next up, let’s see what we can learn about the relations between boys and girls.

Since Viktor Orbán himself is often heard saying “that’s a women’s thing” (such as cooking or complaining), it is not surprising at all that everyday sexism lives on and reproduces itself in our schoolbooks. Let’s start with an easy example: a reading textbook for fourth-graders contains the following joke:

“Little Johnny invites his friend over. After playing for a while, the friend asks Johnny:
What’s all that shouting in the other room?
Oh, nothing important, just dad trying to explain my homework to mum.”

So if in fourth grade it’s already obvious that mum is so stupid that even Johnny’s homework needs to be explained with screaming (dad – of course – screams a lot), it is not surprising at all that in the sixth-grade natural sciences textbook it’s evident that “boys and girls differ from each other both in some of their physical, as well as mental abilities.” Of course, there’s an explanation: girls, apparently (yes, it says “apparently”) learn to read more easily, while boys – not apparently – are better at maths (which, scientifically and multiple times, has been proven wrong). The best thing about this is that the same book also tells kids what roles they should take up: “girls feel better in the role of the mother and the wife, and boys in the role of the father and husband.”

Everyday sexism expressed by Viktor Orbán lives on and reproduces itself in our schoolbooks.

This makes it more understandable that the key to the final exams of vocational high schools included the following definition of family: “The family is a community of people, or a relationship between several communities, where the members are connected by kinship, marriage, or adoption. Families are different from other groups because they consist of people of different sexes, and it reproduces itself.” And now that we’ve checked homophobia, let’s not forget the favorite myth of anti-feminist pamphlets, the correlation between women’s unfortunate emancipation and the number of divorces: “The head of the family has traditionally been the man, the husband, the father. With the number of divorces growing, the rate of single parents has increased too, thus women/mothers can be ‘promoted’ to be the head as well.” And let’s not even mention the song encouraging beating your wife in a textbook for 1-4th graders. [The reading textbook included the last verse of a well-known children’s song, which is usually left out – for good reasons, as it describes women working and their husbands beating them as normal and funny family life – Transl.]

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Let’s mention, however, the prominent place anti-abortion opinions were in an ethics textbook: it included a propaganda film as “recommended material,” showing the horrors of abortion from the perspective of the embryo – for which “apart from the parents, more and more people blame society, and the overly liberal attitudes of the media.” Do I understand that abortion is also a sin, then?

Now that we’re clear about the nature and sanctity of the family and male-female relations, let’s turn to another key issue: religion.

We can learn in the first grade already that the national anthem “can also be sung in church, with hands clasped for pra-yer,” as if it is so evident that everyone goes to church and sings the anthem there, that even syllabling can be taught with this example.

“Virtues are positive forces found in everyone, but they have to be nurtured. Virtues include patriotism, religiousness, pride, heroism, and strength.” This is an excerpt not from Orban’s latest speech at the Tusványos youth camp, but from a fifth-grade morality textbook. The practical exercise for the chapter: “Find out what kind of churches there are in your neighbourhood!” Okay, that’s enough about religion…

A child has only one chance to study from the textbooks, and the learned knowledge accompanies him or her through life.

It’s easy to see how popular these new books are from a report by the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development: less than 22,7% of the surveyed teachers would choose these books for their classrooms. The same report also found some of the main problems with the books: for example, the first-grade natural science or the tenth-grade maths textbooks did not have a logical arch, the sixth-grade literature book did not have clearly defined arguments, and so forth. Although the report only examined books from the 2014-2015 academic year, and there’s been a couple of attempts to rewrite them since then, let’s not forget that a child has only one chance to study from them, and the learned knowledge accompanies him or her through life. This is why forcing badly made, barely coherent books full of mistakes onto them is so indefensibly irresponsible.

Especially since there’s plenty of political bias and cultural racism to go around these days.

If the government can’t help, it should at least try not to harm children in need

Let’s take another simple example from a seventh-grade literature book:

“It can be a true cause for pride that while for Americans sensible, logical thinking is of the lowest priority, for us it is one of the most important values.”

Good news that while Americans are stupid, we are smart, but what’s up with unreasonable West-mania? Unfortunately, that’s an issue as well, at the expense of seventh-graders: “We eat hamburgers, visit Disneyland, watch MTV (Music TV). We follow the latest catastrophes on CNN, drink Coca-Cola, wear Nike…” Let’s stop the list here before our head explodes from the opium of the decadent West.

Seventh-grader’s textbook with anti-West propaganda.

Because we’re much more than this, and deserve even more – come on, we’re talking about the country whose shores used to be washed by four (yes, 4!) seas [The nostalgic saying that Hungary’s shores were washed by three seas refers to the 14th century, when Hungarian king Louis I was also the king of Croatia and Poland – Transl.], at least according to the ninth-grade history book, which according to most experts was so full of mistakes, it should’ve been shredded immediately.

Similarly severe  is the exercise for recognising social classes, where from 4 strongly stereotypical pictures students had to guess “in which towns these citizens voted, and which social class they most likely belong to.” Which class might the meticulously illustrated Roma woman with an infant strapped to her back belong to? And what is the hairy guy with the sunglasses supposed to be?

The example of the exercise for recognizing social classes.

And since we’re already at the trope of the “strong nation,” practically simultaneously with the government’s call to arms against refugees, the appropriate passages made their way into the propaganda-schoolbooks.

A book depicting Hitler sympathetically and idealizing Horthy was in wide circulation last year.

The above cited fifth-grade morality textbook also tells us that “all the accommodated nations have degenerated the country” – which is important because this also lays the ground for the most severe myth of the Trianon Treaty: “our nation continues to be open and hospitable, but the deep wound shed by Trianon has not yet healed.” It could’ve been worse: luckily, a range of problematic books is already out of print – but a book depicting Hitler sympathetically and idealizing Horthy was still in wide circulation last year.

And there are, of course, plenty of cases of “Living History” included in the textbooks. An eighth-grade history book, for instance, included Viktor Orbán three times, but Ferenc Gyurcsány [A former Prime Minister with the Socialist party – Transl.] only once – and he’s unlikely to be amused. For example, the book includes a juicy excerpt on immigration from a 2015 speech Orbán delivered in Brussels. Then, the exercise asks students, “Why do you think former colonizing states should relate differently to the issue of immigration?” The relentless billboard-tsunami has no doubt given some hints to answer this question…

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In the same book, we can also see a photo of Orbán next to Pope John Paul II, and another one of Orbán inaugurating the Esztergom–Štúrovo bridge – both extremely important events of our time. Gyurcsány, on the other hand, wasn’t that lucky and is only remembered for replacing Premier Medgyessy “after being on the winning side of privatization and working in business.”

Which leaves for last the most revealing example of the entire biased, delirious, and full of mistakes textbook-producing mechanism, already bordering on political insinuation:

“The political right’s most important characteristic is conservatism, whereas the political left’s is radicalism.”

Now top this, my friends.

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Originally published on Kettosmerce.blog.hu. Translated by Anna Azarova.

Featured image courtesy of SeeYouFuture on Flickr.com.

Bio

Nóra Diószegi-Horváth
Nóra Diószegi-Horváth is an editor of the Budapest-based independent media platform Kettős Mérce.