Every Child According to Its Pace: School Maturity between Expertise, State Policies, and Parental Eigensinn in Socialist Hungary

Annina Gagyiova
Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 12 Issue 3  (2023):461–492 DOI 10.38145/2023.3.461

It is widely known that socialist states such as Hungary attempted to increase social mobility through a compulsory elementary school system. While the research on socialist education is vast, the relevance of school maturity to an egalitarian education system is still understudied. By the end of the 1950s, lack of preparedness for school among children had captured the attention of Hungarian experts in medicine, psychology, and pedagogy, who were hoping to ensure that first-year students would begin their schooling under roughly the same conditions. In response, in 1965, local initiatives started experimenting with corrective (remedial) classes. The aim of these initiatives was to overcome class differences by offering targeted support and helping children who were less prepared for institutional schooling catch up and transfer into the standard school system later. During the first half of the 1970s, the Hungarian Ministry of Education adopted this pedagogical experiment on a national level. In this article, I put two distinct methodological approaches into dialogue, the sociology of expertise on the one hand and Eigensinn on the other. By doing so, I shed light on the complex interplay of state policies, concepts of expertise, and parental agency. As I show, corrective classes reflected persisting social inequalities, thus children from the lower middle classes and the Roma minority were overrepresented in these classes. Ultimately, I explore how bottom-up initiatives had unintended consequences that were often disadvantageous for the children who were in principle the intended beneficiaries. These initiatives thus worked against rather than for the quest for social equality. In the discussion below, I show how pediatricians, psychologists, pedagogues, and parents shaped the school system, working within, taking advantage of, and thus limiting efforts for social transformation despite asymmetrical power relations.

Keywords: state socialism, socialist education, school maturity, remedial class, equality

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