Hungary has longstanding traditions in talent support. One of the outstanding examples of this was the "Fasori" highschool, where two Nobel Laureates, Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, as well as John von Neumann the mathematician, and Edward Teller the famous physicist were raised. Laszlo Ratz was the founder of this legacy.
László Rátz (1863-1930)
László Rátz was a legendary teacher of “Budapest /Fasor/ Lutheran Gymnasium” (a famous grammar school in the capital of Hungary). Excellent mathematicians, physicians and chemists, including physicist Jenő Wigner and mathematician János Neumann were taught by him.
He was born on 9 April 1863 in Sopron. His father was Ágost Rátz, an ironmonger, his mother was Emma Töpler. László graduated from the Lutheran Grammar School of Sopron. Then he attended the Science University of Budapest from 1883 to 1887. Also he studied philosophy at Berlin University between 4 October 1887 and 7 August 1888 and science at Strasbourg University from 31 October 1888. He worked as a teacher in the Main Practising Secondary School of Budapest Science University from September 1889. He took his university degree in mathematics and physics on 28 November 1890. He was employed as a substitute teacher from 1 September 1890 and a regular teacher from 1 September 1892 to 1925 at Budapest Lutheran Gymnasium. Later on he was appointed director of the secondary school from 1909 to 1914. László Rátz participated in the making of the mathematics curriculum of 1924 as well as the relevant instructions. While an active teacher, he was also the teacher-chairperson of Song and Music Association. After retirement he became the executive president of ‘Former Students Association’. His scientific career is significant for two reasons: on the one hand, he was a pioneer in completing the reform of teaching mathematics in secondary schools (1905-1914), and, on the other hand, he was the editor of the Journal of Secondary School Mathematics from 1896 to 1914 after Dániel Arany. He died on 30 September 1930 in Grünwald Sanatorium in Budapest. An embossed marble tablet commemorates him on the wall of Budapest Lutheran Gymnasium; János Bólyai Mathematics Society organizes László Rátz Congress for secondary school mathematics teachers every year and has issued the László Rátz coin since 2000.
The reformer of teaching mathematics
The reform committee of mathematics declared at the Meran general assembly of nature examiners in Germany in 1905 that sciences also represent cultural values, not only practical benefits: therefore, they are worth being considered equal to linguistics as means of education. In Hungary the reform was conducted by Prof. Manó Beke. He, together with Gusztáv Rados and László Rátz, represented Hungary in the international reform committee from 1909. László Rátz participated in congresses organized in Cambridge and Paris. He was granted an important French award (Officer d'Académie) in 1910. In 1906 the Mathematics Reform Committee was established in Hungary, the chairperson of which was Manó Beke, its secretary was Sándor Mikola and the members included László Rátz as well. This committee performed admittedly the most productive work among the European committees. László Rátz and Sándor Mikola, as they found the changes necessary, had worked out the workable methods and curriculum of mathematics teaching. They declared that certain elements that are obtained indirectly belong to mathematics as well and they have to be confirmed in the student. The learning of mathematics has to be completed by immediate experience and lots of measuring. They also emphasized the need for mental calculation and the practice of estimating. According to their theory the students have to be encouraged to tend to know reality. They considered inevitable for the teachers to intend to form clear ideas. Finally, their brave initiatives were successful: in November 1909 Rátz and Mikola were officially permitted to teach mathematics in the Lutheran Gymnasium as they found it desirable in accordance with the reform endeavours.
The discerner and cultivator of talents
Teachers who are capable of working with their students that are even more talented than themselves have special and unique human personalities. They willingly help them as they are more experienced in life and have obtained greater knowledge. László Rátz was one of the teachers with such features; it was him who recognized the talents with the help of his excellent knowledge and subtle senses and treated them as his colleagues or co-workers. He invited them for a discussion in a café in the company of some secondary school and university teachers. It was a very significant event at that time because teachers were respected not only by the students but the whole society. He recognized the talent of his most famous students (János Neumann, Jenő Wigner) early and supported their progress. For instance, when he was unable to impart more of his knowledge to János Neumann, he asked Mihály Fekete, a university teacher, to teach him. Additionally, he invited Wigner to his home and handed over some books of ‘extraordinary interest’ to read, and they discussed the content at the next occasion.
(Source: László Kovács)