Contents international patterns in the history of Hungarian educational administration

Traditionalism Versus Modernization in the Hungarian Education

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Traditionalism Versus Modernization in the Hungarian Education

Hungarian education in the Middle Ages was very similar to that of other countries deter­mined by the European model. The network of monastic orders and their schools, however, was slightly weaker than that in the German-Roman Empire. The economical and political role of the towns and the bourgeoisie was weaker too. Surprisingly however, a long period of expansion of education began in the 16th century. What could account for this expansion of education and of religious revolution in a country where the process of embourgeoisment was weaker than in the German territories?

This question can be approached by looking at the international power situation of the time. The country was situated between two powerful empires - the Ottoman and the Hapsburg. The state apparatus and the local nobility escaped persecution when the central part of the country was occupied by the Turkish Empire. As a result, the municipalities and local society began to organize themselves with the passive tolerance of the Turkish government. Protestantism, with its emphasis on “lay-control”, was considered the “most adequate” denomination for these developing territories. Thus, from the mid-16th century to the late 17th century, the western part of the country was controlled by the Hapsburg empire with counter-reformation tendencies in education prevailing. The middle part of the country was occupied by the Turkish empire, with the hegemony of Protestantism. The eastern part - Transylvania - became quasi-independent from the Turkish empire, with strong connections to the Western Protestant powers and Hapsburgs too. In this territory every denomination could follow its activity and could compete for students and believers in the various school-systems.

The Hungarian elite thus started to built two independent educational systems. In the western territories, the Jesuits built up their system, controlling not only public education but the university level also. In the eastern part, the Calvinist church and some local communities developed their own network. The western system conformed to the international Jesuit educational system and was subject to the educational policies of the Hapsburg-empire. The eastern system sent students en-masse to the German and Dutch Protestant universities and adapted to that international network.

In the eighteenth century, after the triumph of European powers over the Turkish empire, the integration of all Hungarian territories became much more important to the Hapsburgs. The existence of varying religious tendencies in the balance of European powers as well as within the empire prevented the Counter Reformation from being as severe as it was in western Hungary in the 17th century or in Spain. Because of this moderate tendency - which prevented the use of judges and the army as tools against the Protestants - the school system became the most important tool of Hapsburg absolutism and of the Protestant autonomists as well.

Both partners were interested in financing these already overfinanced educational systems. In the century of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, denominational competition remained the main motivating factor of the educational system. This fact legitimized control of education by the most traditional groups - the “enemy picture” was so strong that neither the Protestant leaders nor the Catholic elite of the western territories could reduce the power of the conservatives. Consequently, Latin remained the language of instruction in every school and the curricula was dominated by classical writers, theology and church history.

The new aristocracy of the 18th century - landed nobility loyal to the Hapsburgs - became the most ardent supporter of educational modernization. Formal Latin-teaching - as a conservative value - was attacked by the most important Hungarian aristocrat-reformers. The Jesuit Order developed the most internationalized educational system based on the old Ratio Studiorum of 1588. The Piarist Teaching Order, without substantial financial resources, had to follow the existing demands for schooling in the educational market. They built good connections with the Hungarian nobility much more intensively then the Jesuits did and ingrafted many modern values into the Hungarian school system. The Jesuits at first tried to hinder the expansion of Piarists, but, realizing the good influence of competition in the school system, the Pope’s and the Emperor’s court allowed the expansion of the Piarist system.

The Piarist Order tried to form a regional profile for its schools. One of the leaders of the order in 1757 designed a plan to reduce Latin-teaching so as to give preference to History, Geography and the Magyar language. Magyar was the mother language of half the population of Hungary, and of 90% of the nobility, intellectuals, and clergy. The Lutherans, under great repression by the Hapsburgs, tried to import the patterns of the Halle school. They began teaching more practical studies and opened the door to the Magyar language. The Calvinists, repressed by Hapsburg absolutism, but supported by the Hungarian quasi-bourgeoisie, pursued Latin values very intensively. In their schools, non-Latin speaking was strictly prohibited. The enlightened noblemen were very dissatisfied with this prohibition.

In general, modernization - the escape from the hegemony of Middle Age Latin with its roots in antiquity and pragmatism - was based on forces which lay outside the traditional controllers of the schools. This was typical in the Protestant and in the Catholic territories.

These forces were ready for modernization and for taking part in a kind of competition. The most well-known ideologists and experts of enlightened absolutism were interested in a modern education as well. They emphasized that the state needed useful, employable citizens. The abandonment of the Jesuit Order in 1773, which had controlled 50 per cent of Hungarian schools, removed the most important representative of the conservative lobby in the educational arena. The new general law of Hungarian Education, Ratio Educationis of 1777, by order of the Queen, excluded Latin from the agrarian type of basic school and ordered this school to be compulsory for all children. The second grade was a three year long school which concentrated on the teaching of Latin.

Ratio Educationis introduced an expansion of the German language as well. The Ratio realized that Hungary was a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country with its seven nations. It propagated German as the source of modern literature and sciences. German was a neutral language in denominational terms: the language of German Protestantism and Hapsburg Catholicism.

The Protestants - realizing the plan of the court - were forced to reform also. The Transylva­nian educational committee made some efforts against the Ratio, and the “Calvinist Rome” - Debrecen - accepted a reform plan which had been refused before. The steps of the court generalized an inner conflict within the Protestant church between the modern lay noblemen and the leaders of the church. The modern wing suggested accepting the Ratio, but the clergy-leaders of the Church declared that every element of teaching must be autonomous, so that Protestant theology would be a determining factor in any subject. The social tasks of absolutism were made clear in the Norma Regia of Transylvania. It declared that it was necessary to prefer children of noblemen over peasants in the secondary schools. They argued that since the secondary schools were, and according to the plan should be, composed mainly of Latin grammatics (and Greek studies in Transylvania, where Greek Christianity was also strong), it was not necessary for the peasants to waste their time on Latin.

The real turning point in the role of Latin was created by the language order of the enlightened emperor Joseph II in 1784. The use of Latin as an official language, the order told, proved that the Hungarian nation was not on the level of high-culture. According to the official argument, the European countries had given up Latin and it was the official language only in Poland, Transylvania, and Hungary. Joseph II had not intended to press the millions of people to change their language; he wanted only to change the official language from Latin to German. Joseph II’s aim was not nationalistic, as the nationalist historians would like to interpret it, but utilitarian. For example, in Northern Italy where the Italian language was useful for modern public life, he did not attempt to change it to German.

The use of German was much more natural than of Magyar. It was the mother tongue of most modern citizens, the town-Bürgerschaft, and the official language of the most modern sector of public administration - the financial administration. The use of German had expanded in education in the previous decades: it was the second language of elementary textbooks, it was a subject in the secondary schools, and it was the language of study in German or Austrian universities. In Hungary and Croatia 338 secondary school teachers were employed in 67 state or Catholic schools, and 90% of them knew some German at least.

Hungarian historians generally state that Protestant groups opposed the German language. Actually, it was not all that simple. Before the Emperor’s order, the most modern group of Protestants endorsed the learning of German, they organized pupil exchanges between one of the German speaking Hungarian areas and Debrecen, the Magyar speaking “Calvinist Rome”. The popularity of a private school known for its good language teachers was radically increased in the “educational market” of the 1780s, when offices opened for the Protestants.

Those Protestant schools which had never followed the reforms of the court, tried to modernize their teaching as well. The most modern leaders pressured the conservatives to divorce elementary education from secondary, and exclude Latin from the elementary level. The Calvinist council of Transylvania in 1786 ordered the exclusion of Latin from the elementary schools. At the university level, the most modern colleges conducted their activities in German. The college for finance experts and engineers began this in the 1770s.[1]

When the Emperor died, however, feudal forces attacked every important state-order he had enacted. The traditional counties pressured the new king to reinforce Latin as the language of teaching in the secondary schools. The newer nationalist groups, though, forced the expansion of Magyar in the non-Magyar speaking Hungarian areas.

The act of 1792 made the Hungarian language a compulsory subject in secondary schools. The parliament elected a special education committee whose president was one of the creators of Ratio Educationis of 1777, but there were also members of the committee who opposed any feature of Enlightenment. Later, when feudal interests prevailed in Hungary, a professor who was responsible for the prohibition of Kant in Hungary was appointed by the court to present a new system: the second Ratio Educationis of 1806.

The new state-order increased the number of grades in the lower-secondary schools from three to four, aiming at more time for Latin teaching. It excluded Geometry and Geography. In the upper classes of the secondary schools, it excluded Physics, reduced the natural sciences, but increased the amount of lessons in Latin rhetorics. It was a new compromise between Hapsburg absolutism and the refeudalised Hungarian nobility; the new content served as training for the sons of Hungarian noblemen for public office and life.

The universal assembly of Lutherans accepted these tendencies in the spirit of the inter­natio­nal neo-humanism. This denomination was an urban one in Hungary, with a much stronger lay leadership. It represented a much more progressive idea than the Calvinist one, which suggested a very conservative plan for the colleges, reinforcing Latin, prohibiting the use of Magyar in the private conversations of pupils, and excluding World History, Physics and the Kan­tian theology. We could therefore say that the conservative forces gained a majority in the auto­nomous insti­tutions and that conservatism was not imposed solely by the Hapsburgs in the period of absolutism and Napoleonic wars, but that it had wide support in the denomi­nations as well.

The modernist forces were a minority in the state administration and in the parliament. When, after a long pause, the parliament had opened its 1825 session, the educational committee turned back to feudal interests, to the traditional educational system. They made a political compromise with the Hungarian nationalists, suggesting that one subject should be taught not in Latin, but in Magyar in the secondary schools.

The social output of the new educational system created a traditional and anti-modernist middle-class. The sole modern Hungarian higher educational institute was the University of Mining. It was taught by traditional lecturers at the end of the eighteenth century, but in 1808 it had to start a pre-university course for Mathematics and Physics because students coming from the secondary schools were not qualified for university education.

We could say that in the process of refeudalizing Hungarian society, traditional forces used Latin and neo-humanist values as a weapon against modern pragmatic education. Joseph II was verified by the course of events: the traditional controllers of the Hungarian school system and of public administration saved Latin as the symbol of their power and monopolies. The forces support­ing the introduction of the national language were a minority in Hungarian society, and the compromise of the late 1820s showed this. The expansion of the Magyar language was more important for Hungarian politicians than the general modernization of the school-system.

Latin had gradually become an obstacle to the most important Hungarian Protestant tradition of education - studying abroad. The language of introduction in the most popular German universities became German, and the Hungarian students understood only their own traditio­nal Latin. From the 1830s the leaders of the reform movement emphasized the prag­matic orientation of developed foreign nations as a reference and example for Hungary. They characterized the supporters of Latin as creators of a “holy language” to preserve the required social gap between them and the lower social strata.

The Calvinist district ordered in 1833 that the language of instruction must be Magyar. The general assembly of Lutherans ordered it in 1841. However, considering the fact that education remained as conservative as before, the order made a humble influence. The Debrecen college concentrated on Latin grammatics and religious studies. World history and natural sciences were excluded from the curriculum. The Calvinist clergy leaders refused any kind of modernization. Thus, the inner modernization of the educational system led by reformist Hungarian intellectuals remained unsuccessful without substantial political support from outside the educational system.

Government support for educational modernization occurred as a by-product of other political aims. For example, the removal of Latin as the language of instruction from the schools happened only by passing a general act after the 1843/44 second act had ordered Magyar to be the language of letters coming from the King, the text of acts, the conversation of parliament and the juridical bodies. The 1843/44 ninth act then ordered it to become the language of the schools. Another example comes from Kossuth - the new leader of the opposition. In 1841 he supported the teaching of Greek, but later changed his mind, and in 1846 when the national assembly of Lutherans discussed the curriculum, he suggested Greek only as a facultative subject, preferring modern subjects like chemistry. The reason for the change was clear: in the course of the late 1830s the reform-opposition concentrated on the question of laws and symbols, and Kossuth as the leader of the opposition, demanded the ethical patterns of ancient democracy as an ideologically useful framework for his own political activity. But from the early 1840s opposition started to concentrate on the industrialization of Hungary, and the natural sciences became much more important than neo-humanist values.

The king’s order of 1845 was a relatively modern product - more modern than the situation was in the autonomous Protestant territories. It made the 1st and 2nd grade of elementary school compulsory for everybody, and the enrollment of those schools became the compulsory activity of the municipal body, not the church.

The fact that modernization of education was competitional and not ideological can be illustrated by the fact that the Protestant modernists won in their own circles only after the victory of modernist forces in the state-controlled Catholic sphere. Only two years later the more modern group of Protestants took over the orthodoxy in Transylvania, integrating the natural sciences and moving Latin studies to the upper level of secondary schools. The Lutherans created an 8-grade secondary school in 1846 where the reading of classical authors had a literary aim. They opened the curriculum for Hungarian literature and natural sciences. These plans were ready some years earlier but only competition with the king’s order gave enough impetus for the supporters to carry out these plans.

Magyar as the language of instruction became accepted everywhere, but modern studies were not. This new nationalism of the Protestants encouraged the new Slovakian nationalist movement which, however, met with resistance from the government. The Lutherans had ordered Magyar to be the language of instruction in schools having Slovakian pupils in Northern-Hungary, and when Professor Stur, the teacher of Slovakian language asked for help from the Metternich government, the leaders of the Hungarian Lutheran Church removed him.[2]


1. A magyar nevelés története, I. kötet. Tankönyvkiadó, Bp., 1988. [The History of Hungarian Edu­cation]; Fináczy, Ernő: A magyarországi közoktatás története. Bp., 1899. [The History of Hungarian Public Education]; Mészáros, István: Az iskolaügy története Magyarországon. Akadémiai Kiadó, Bp., 1981. [The History of Educational Affairs in Hungary]; Kosáry, Domokos: Művelődés a XVIII. századi Magyarországon. Akadémiai Kiadó, Bp., 1980. [Culture in Eighteenth Century Hungary]; Nagy, Péter Tibor: The Meanings and Functions of Classical Studies in Hungary in the 18th-20th Centuries. Educatio, Bp., 1991.

2. Mészáros, István: A magyar nevelés története, 1790-1849. Tankönyvkiadó, Bp., 1968. [The History of Hungarian Education: 1790-1849]; Kornis, Gyula: A magyar művelődés eszmé­nyei. Bp., 1927. [The Ideals of Hungarian Culture]; Dokumentumok a magyar nevelés történe­téből. Bp., 1966. [Docu­ments from the History of Hungarian Education]; Kosáry, Domokos: Napóleon és Magyar­ország. Magvető Könyvkiadó, Bp., 1977. [Napoleon and Hungary); Fináczy, Ernő: A magyarországi középiskolák. Bp., 1896. [The Hungarian Secondary Schools]; Bajkó, Mihály: Kollégiumi iskola­kultúránk. Tankönyvkiadó, Bp., 1976. [School Culture in Colleges]; Magyarország története, vol. 5-7. Akadémiai Kiadó, Bp., 1978-1989. [The History of Hungary]; Kármán, Mór: Közoktatásügyi Tanulmányok. é.n. [Studies on Public Education]; Szilágyi: A gimnáziumi oktatásügy. Sárospatak, 1861. [Secondary School Affairs]; Kornis, Gyula: A humanizmus és realizmus. = Magyar Művelődés, 1925/79. [Humanism and Realism]

Tendencies of educational policy

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