In Hungary today, they want underlings, not good citizens – Tamás Vekerdy

February 10, 2016

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“The current direction we are headed is destined for failure.  The current Hungarian education system follows the structure of the Bolshevik party, where they say that democratic centralization means “Shut up! Keep your mouth shut!” This mentality makes its way into the functioning of the state, into the direction of schools, and we are seeing that this leads to failure. Every expert who was asked about this back in 2010 said that this is what would happen. Chaos, inability to function and financial bankruptcy.”

“Count Klebelsberg did the exact opposite of what today’s KLIK is trying to force. . .. This is a tragedy, especially from the national point of view because a nation like this condemns itself to terrible failures. In Hungary today, they don’t want to educate good citizens, they want underlings, and this is the most significant difference. We don’t need the creative person, or the independent entrepreneur, because they are unpredictable as voters. There is no other goal than to create an easy-to-control faceless mass of people.”

Translation of interview with Hungarian educator, psychologist and writer Tamás Vekerdy entitled “The Educational System is nearing bankruptcy” (Vekerdy Tamás: Az oktatási rendszer csődje közelít) published on conservative online daily mno.hu on February 7th, 2015.

Hungary’s current education system has no intention of raising good citizens, it wants to raise underlings. Its goal is to form faceless masses, says Tamás Vekerdy. Vekerdy, a teacher, psychologist, and writer, has half a century’s experience dealing with Hungarian education. He has been a private tutor and university professor. He took part in organizing the Waldorf education system in Hungary and is still committed to the child-centered education system. His opinion of the current education policies in Hungary is not positive.

MNO: My first experience with educational reforms was in the 1970s when I was an elementary school student. That is when they introduced the subject-class curriculum. Since the regime change, every government has tinkered with the education system. Huge changes have taken place in recent years. Is education really that elastic?

Vekerdy: It is true that many stupid things happened in the name of reforming education in recent years, even in recent decades. I was working at a psychology clinic when the “cabinet system” was introduced, it was horrid. In Hungary, it is customary to introduce practices for which there is no sufficient groundwork prepared. There is, however, a difference between the old, sometimes poorly executed, so-called reforms and the changes that we see today. Back then, they tried to introduce models that were proven to be successful in other countries, or things they hoped would work better for the students or teachers. In recent years, this has proven to no longer be a point of consideration. The current direction we are headed is destined for failure. Years ago, everyone around the world realized that the large centralized systems should be broken down to smaller subdivisions. Overregulated systems are much more costly to operate and lead to professional underperformance. I had a German friend, a founder of schools in West Germany, who once asked me, “Do you know what the worst saying in the world is? Trust, but verify. Do you know who said this?” “No,” I responded. “Lenin.”

MNO: What does the current education system have to do with Lenin?

Vekerdy: The current Hungarian education system follows the structure of the Bolshevik party, where they say that democratic centralization means “Shut up! Keep your mouth shut!” This mentality makes its way into the functioning of the state, into the direction of schools, and we are seeing that this leads to failure. Every expert who was asked about this back in 2010 said that this is what would happen. Chaos, inability to function and financial bankruptcy.

MNO: Is KLIK something that could be justified, or is the entire idea behind it flawed?

Vekerdy: Its full name is the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center (KLIK). The Klebelsberg family was against their family name being used in this system, but the [government] did not take this into consideration. Count Klebelsberg did not say that fewer people should go to university. He said more people should go to university. He did not disband universities. He founded three new universities: Pécs, Szeged and Debrecen. He did not say that fewer people should attend high school. He realized that the kinds of schools that are needed are those which provide an education to everyone, not just students from affluent families who would go on to study at Greek-Latin specialized high schools. This is what eventually became known as the reálgimnázium (real high schools), where students were taught in two modern languages and their high school diploma could get them anywhere. Count Klebelsberg also said that it is not enough for the lower classes to finish only 4 or 6 grades of schooling before going on to serve as some kind of apprentice. Count Klebelsberg did the exact opposite of what today’s KLIK is trying to force.

MNO: But it is starting to look like there might be changes…

Vekerdy: I saw on television recently that they asked Rózsa Hoffmann about the controversy surrounding KLIK. She said in that interview that her position had since the beginning been that this would not work because there is no way to direct 4,000 or more institutions from one place. The television show then cut footage from her speaking earlier, when she had said that anyone who criticizes or attacks KLIK does so out of politics because it is clear that KLIK is a success story. The teachers of Miskolc’s Herman Ottó Gimnázium perfectly summarized the problems with KLIK in their open letter which kick-started a movement.

MNO: János Lázár says that teachers are employees of KLIK. “If someone works at a factory, no one cares whether they like or don’t like the factory. This doesn’t necessarily mean that KLIK is perfect, but it is unacceptable that the tail wag the dog…”

Vekerdy: This is a typical response one sees in an authoritarian system. Hungary – just as Gyula Illyés once wrote  – is the land of gentlemen and servants. The lower end level of society is the servant who must bow to the gentleman, who will then trample everyone else underfoot. This is a tragedy, especially from the national point of view. The reason I say from a national point of view is because a nation like this condemns itself to terrible failures.

MNO: Where and what types of reforms do you think the current education system needs?

Vekerdy: Everywhere. They say the preschool should be mandatory so that disenfranchised children get into school early. But that’s too late, I’m sorry… The first three years of a child’s life will determine pretty much everything. What would be better? The “good start children homes”. A number of these were being built starting in 2007, but in 2010 they disbanded all of them. Many people were upset by this, including myself, because this was something that was needed and it had finally begun. The “children homes” were not mandatory, but they were inviting because they were warm, they told stories, there was hot tea, and it was easy to get mothers to come in with their children. Let’s move on: first-graders should be in school for 2-3 hours. They don’t need homework, but if it’s absolutely necessary to assign them something, it should not take them more than 20 minutes to complete. These kids need the opportunity to be physically active! Not physical education! They need to play ball, hide-and-seek, activities that develop them orthopaedically and psychologically. Anyone who introduces daily physical education for these kids without any minimum expectations does not know anything about this. Today, these kids are in not in school for 2-3 hours, they are there for 6-8 hours, or who knows how many hours. They’ve avoided calling it a full day of school. There are such things, but that is very expensive. Here the kids are at school all day. What we have today is exactly what Mátyás Rákosi thought up. Was there daycare before Rákosi’s time? Yes, it was part of a plan to reduce poverty involving less than 0.9 percent of the children. Rákosi said this wasn’t good enough. If there’s no way to take the kids away from their parents for good, we might as take them away from their mothers and put them in schools all day. This way their mothers can be working at the factory all day. The underlying idea here is that everyone be somewhere all day, a place where they can be supervised and controlled. The teacher should be there all day, too. This is dilettantish and inhumane.

MNO: How could this be any better?

Vekerdy: Less is more! This is the principle that the outstanding Finn education system operates on. Less class time, less material, fewer children for one teacher. It works great. A book was actually published about this in Hungary.  Its forward was written by Zoltán Pokorni.

MNO: Hungarian students are performing poorer and poorer in international rankings.  Something should be done.

Vekerdy: Rózsa Hoffmann often said that Hungarian children forgot to read in the past eight years. The first such study which ranked Hungarian students was performed by UNESCO in 1972. In the eight years leading up to the second Orbán government, the reading comprehension of Hungarian students launched Hungary’s ranking from the last five into the top five countries in Europe. A number of changes were introduced – the Poles introduced even more – and the results improved greatly. We, who are well-acquainted with the situation, did not believe it possible to ruin this improvement so much in under five years. We thought this would not be able to quantify this failure in such a short time. But this is the situation. Teachers soon will not have time to teach because they are too busy writing their portfolios.

MNO: What are your thoughts on textbooks?

Vekerdy: Studies performed on this subject show that the worst textbooks were published by the Apáczai Publishers. Those became the mandatory textbooks, the state bought the company. But they returned to the basic questions. In 2001, when it became clear how bad our students were performing, they still weren’t as bad as they are now. In response, they argued the measurement was bad. The Germans were also shocked by the results and they responded differently. Each German state has its own education ministry and each education minister jumped on a plane to Helsinki to see how it is that the Finns are so outstanding. The first question they asked was how Finn classroom supervision works.  The answer was that there is no supervision. In Finland, a teacher is free to practice his/her profession just as a doctor, lawyer or engineer. It is difficult to become a teacher and there are tens of thousands of applicants for the selection process. The level of instruction is very high and those who become teachers do their work as they see fit because, after all, they are the ones who know how to do it. There is also a basic educational plan in Finland, but the education minister attaches a letter to it for all teachers in which she asks the teachers not to conform to the education plan! She asks them to adjust their lessons to what the situation is, to the times, to each individual child. That is, teachers are asked to differentiate, which is an underlying theme of child education. Here in Hungary, the exact opposite is happening and there are huge differences between schools.

MNO: So what will be the consequence of this?

Vekerdy: For example, the social gap between children will grow every year. In normal countries, this decreases with every year. It is no secret that if this grows it will mean the end of the nation over the longer term. I don’t know what to say so that people understand how serious this is.

MNO: The flaws built into the system lead to inequalities.  Those who are able to perform better can do so because of where they were born, while the rest will not be able to break out of the caste they are born into…

Vekerdy: That is something like the consequence we will see, except that mankind has already found the way to avoid all this entails.

MNO: The gymnasiums (academic high schools) just finished their application period. The tests were very difficult this year…

Vekerdy: Where did those who wrote the tests get the stupid idea that those who are good test takers are the ones who will be successful in life? Albert Einstein, the 20th century’s smartest man, was taken by his uncle from a German school to a Swiss private school because he would have had problems there. Thomas Mann was thrown out of school.  He never even graduated and his teacher said that his future would end in a ditch or on the hangman’s noose. But I can also tell you about Petőfi or Attila József. Yes, there is a global trend that is propagating this nonsense. But the situation in Hungary is about something entirely different.

MNO: About what?

Vekerdy: Allow me to digress from the main discussion. I am very old and I have been hearing for a long time that we are seeing the end of Western democracy. There have been authoritarian states which centralized everything and appeared to be incredibly effective for a time. Let’s consider that Hitler occupied all of Europe, except for England and the neutral states. Stalin invaded one-fifth of the world. All the while, hovering around were those unfortunate crisis-ridden Western democracies with irreconcilable interests. It is precisely these weak, non-centralized democracies that won every single world war, be that cold or hot.

MNO: How do you explain this?

Vekerdy: It is because democracies allow the individual to develop. They say, ‘be who you are!” These individualist states are where educational paradigms allow the citizens to develop truly effective communities. The collectivist states are the ones in which there is cheating, stealing, and robbing of communities — these states are destined to fall far behind. It makes a difference that you are who you are, and that you become what you want to become. In Hungary today, they don’t want to educate good citizens, they want underlings, and this is the most significant difference.

MNO: How much better is it to put the teaching of trades ahead of humanities education?

Vekerdy: Viktor Orbán has an outstanding advisor, the president of the chamber of trade and industry, who long ago said that Hungary does not need so many people with high school diplomas. The authoritarian system needs people who are screws, underlings. All the while the global trend is telling us to learn more, learn for longer. Leaders of the city of London were assessed and it turned out that the majority of them did not study at management or economics universities.  They studied humanities. Humanities gives us outlook, it helps us be flexible. We know well that interdisciplinary studies which operate between two separate fields of study are very effective. We are making it difficult for the majority of people to obtain a real and modern outlook which would otherwise be immensely profitable for society. We don’t need the creative person, or the independent entrepreneur, because they are unpredictable as voters. There is no other goal than to create an easy-to-control faceless mass of people.

Az olyan kollektivista államok, ahol a hangzatos törekvések mögött a „kaparj, kurta, neked is jut” elv rejlik, tehát csalunk, lopunk, miközben eljátsszuk a közösségi embert, törvényszerűen alulmaradnak.