Hungarian Conservative

Why Conservative Education Policy Is the Way to Go

Education, illustration (Pixabay)
The conservative education policy advocated by the Hungarian government has faced substantial criticism from the left recently. Responding to the accusations from the left, János Setényi, Director of the Learning Institute of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) gave a brief interview to Hungarian Conservative.

In recent weeks, a heated debate has unfolded in the Hungarian public arena regarding the state of education in Hungary, particularly focusing on the conservative education policies endorsed by the government. Left-wing progressive media outlets have launched a vigorous critique against both the government and its allies, triggered by a lecture delivered by János Setényi, Director of the Learning Institute at Mathias Corvinus College (MCC).

‘MCC is also worth keeping an eye on: under the banner of conservative education—which is the revival of the Prussian system with small digital reforms—the elite school wants to cement the current tired educational structures with a few nicer ideas instead of actual reforms,’ anti-government magazine and website Magyar Hang remarked. ‘What the representatives of MCC’s Learning Institute or Balázs Orbán are claiming is not in fact a conservative education policy narrative based on proper science, but an extreme right-wing, illiberal, populist narrative disguised as science,’ education researcher Péter Radó told Népszava.

Balázs Orbán, the political director of the Hungarian Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the foundation behind MCC responded to left-wing criticism in an opinion piece on Mandiner. In the article, Orbán explained that two progressive education movements gained ground in Hungary after WWII, but both failed and exacerbated the situation. According to the political director, the reason for this failure is that progressive tendencies tend to pit timeless values against modernity, always favouring the latter. Consequently, the values of a perceived outdated conservative system have been undermined, and this failure is reflected in the

steadily declining educational performance of the Western world.

Balázs Orbán highlighted:

According to the latest PISA 2022 results, OECD countries have witnessed a significant decline in standards in mathematics and reading literacy. However, the study presenting the survey results indicates that the issue extends beyond the impact of COVID on education. Time-series data suggest that the decline in performance has persisted for at least a decade and is linked to deeper underlying problems. A cursory look at the summary tables in the report reveals that scores in countries like Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria have dropped markedly over the past decade. Additionally, it’s noteworthy that the top performers across all areas are predominantly countries in the Far East.’

No Merit-Based Society Without Knowledge-Based Education

János Setényi responded to criticism from the left-wing media in a brief interview with Hungarian Conservative. He clarified that in the statement quoted by the media, he wasn’t lauding the genius of the Prussian education system. Instead, he acknowledged its historical significance, citing its introduction of kindergartens, compulsory schooling, the inclusion of girls in education, the introduction of professionally authored textbooks, structured subjects following disciplines, a grading and examination system—merits that are undeniable. The expert underscored that there are two elements of the knowledge-based education system that render it irreplaceable, and the Hungarian conservative revival aims to reaffirm these factors.

‘First and foremost, this is a matter of intergenerational transaction,’ János Setényi stated. He explained that over centuries, and in some cultures, a refined culture has evolved over millennia containing a crucial core of survival skills, knowledge, and wisdom accumulated by great minds across generations at national, European, or even global levels. Setényi emphasized that individuals lacking this foundation would encounter considerably greater challenges in life compared to those who possess a literacy canon. According to Setényi, this knowledge serves as a societal ‘sorting’ mechanism, akin to a filter. ‘If we neglect its utilization, we’re left with three alternative filters: birth privilege, inherited wealth, and violence,’ the expert stressed. He further added that

merit-based societies cannot be established without education centred around knowledge.

Setényi noted that there have been hysterical reactions in the left-wing media, and attributed them in part to the vehement opposition of some researchers to the values and practices of the current government. He observed that anything perceived to be associated with the government is indiscriminately criticized.

Setényi also highlighted that in the United States and Western Europe right-wing conservatives have adopted a strategy called ‘escapism’. They are withdrawing from the public education system and enrolling their children in schools that prioritize knowledge and values, at least where such opportunities exist. However, the situation differs in Central Europe, where governments rooted in centre-right, Christian democratic values are still engaged in drafting substantive pubic education policies. János Setényi emphasized: ‘In Western Europe, this is no longer a prevailing concern, as there is only a minority who hold such views.’ Drawing parallels with the Counter-Reformation, the expert advised his Western colleagues that, similarly to how the Jesuits once did, efforts should target the elite in advocating for knowledge-based education and against postmodern decline:

‘If prominent figures such as leading individuals, major employers’ associations, and cultural icons are willing to advocate for this direction, then many people in the silent majority might become receptive.’

János Setényi highlighted that the Hungarian example is positive because, despite the numerous progressive reforms of the past thirty years,

the knowledge-based, subject-focused, science-oriented curriculum has been preserved.

However, maintaining this requires significant effort, including ensuring an adequate number of skilled teachers.

To address this need, the Hungarian government has chosen to establish a Teacher Training Faculty at the Ludovika University of Public Service, named after István Nemeskürty. Despite being labelled as an ‘elite teacher training’ institution by the left-wing progressive media, Balázs Orbán clarified in the aforementioned opinion piece: ‘It is not elite training, as our aim is to cultivate as many excellent teachers as possible across the country.’ He highlighted that the government’s actions over the past fourteen years demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that Hungarian education promotes social inclusion. By placing educational institutions under state maintenance, the government aims to prevent the quality of education from being determined solely by the resources of local governments.

‘However, when discussing conservative education policy, we are not advocating for a return to outdated methods. Instead, we envision an education system that prioritizes the transmission of classical European and national culture while granting students the freedom to interpret, reflect, and reformulate. One without the other would be akin to a giant with only one arm,’ the prime minister’s political director concluded in his article.

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The conservative education policy advocated by the Hungarian government has faced substantial criticism from the left recently. Responding to the accusations from the left, János Setényi, Director of the Learning Institute of the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) gave a brief interview to Hungarian Conservative.