|An Open Letter (#2) to Minister of Education Limor Livnat and Director-General of the Ministry of Education, Ronit Tirosh|
18 Sivan 5761 - June 7, 2001
To the Minister of Education, Limor Livnat
To the Director-General of the Ministry of Education, Ronit Tirosh
Re: Promoting Jewish-Zionist and Democratic Education
In our letter to the Minister dated March 23, 2001, we emphasized that one of the keys for coping successfully with the phenomenon of "Post-Zionism" is to work more energetically to implement the recommendations of the Shenhar and Kremnitzer Commissions. We were pleased to read in Yediot Acharonot on May 14, 2001 that you intend to enhance Jewish and civic studies in the junior-high grades on the basis of the conclusions of these commissions.
A Welcome Plan - But It Is Only "First Aid"
We warmly welcome the steps the Ministry of Education intends to take immediately, under your leadership. In our opinion, however, these are no more than "first aid." Naturally, when there are people "injured in the field" one must employ all means available in the first stage. But what then??
In the history of public education in Israel, several attempts have been made to inculcate Jewish-Zionist education. During the 1960's, for example, under the late Zalman Aran, an attempt was made to introduce a curriculum in Jewish Consciousness, but the program failed to take off. In 1977, the "Tali" (Enhanced Jewish Studies) initiative was launched; today, the "Tali" system includes only 17,000 students, mainly through grade 6.
The Shenhar Commission examined the situation in the field in the 1990s. Its recommendations included:
- Additional class hours in Jewish studies.
- Teachers from the state system should be trained to teach Jewish studies.
1 Published in Newsletter 7 of Chavruta, April 2001.
2 See the discussion in Newsletters 5 (December 2000) and 6 (February 2001) of Chavruta.
- Jewish studies should be taught from an interdisciplinary approach. "Attempts should be encouraged to advance teaching in these subjects (Hebrew language and literature, Jewish history, Bible, Oral Law, Jewish Thought, Land of Israel Studies and Folklore) in an interdisciplinary manner." 3
The Kremnitzer Commission reached similar conclusions regarding education in civics, and particularly regarding the combination between "academic study and experiential education."4 A department was established within the Ministry of Education's Pedagogic Secretariat in order to implement the Shenhar and Kremnitzer reports, and is doing important work. In addition, a number of voluntary organizations are active in the field of Jewish-Zionist and democratic education in the state sector (formal and informal). Many organizations are inspired by the Department to undertake these activities. Yet despite this, the level of commitment to a Jewish-Zionist and democratic perspective among graduates of the education system is too low.
An Alternative Strategy: The Interdisciplinary Education Method
We must consider why the efforts to date have achieved such modest results. The lack of adequate budgets has certainly been one obstacle, and a struggle must be launched to increase the budget of the Ministry of Education.
In addition to budgetary limitations, there are professional and organizational reasons which, in our opinion, have mitigated - and continue to mitigate - against genuine change in terms of inculcating Jewish-Zionist and democratic commitment (not merely "identity") of all shades.
The key point is that the organizational structure within the Ministry of Education must be adapted in order to cope with the challenge of providing Jewish, Zionist and democratic education as an interdisciplinary task. Since interdisciplinary learning greatly enhances the internalization of values, a conceptual revolution is required among those undertaking this work in the education system. As we explained in our first letter to the Minister, the organization of education primarily around disciplines reflects the Central European academic tradition - one that is inappropriate for integrative academic and experiential Jewish, Zionist and democratic education. Integrative education need not come at the expense of in-depth studies in each subject, but the studies must form part of a comprehensive educational framework. It would be preferable to adopt an interdisciplinary professional model, such as confluent education as
developed in the United States. This type of model enables full coordination among the academic subjects, and between these subjects and experiential activity.
3 The Jewish People and the World - Jewish Culture in a Changing World, Ministry of Education, 1994, p. 9.
4 Report of the Kremnitzer Commission, Being Citizens, Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 20.
In Jewish-Zionist and democratic education (as distinct from study), in-depth study of each distinct subject and the allocation of increased hours is an unprofessional approach. A separate professional committee for each discipline, divorced from a comprehensive perspective, is inappropriate in the context of integrative education for a value-based way of life - as distinct from merely preparing students for their matriculation examinations. Moreover, Jewish, Zionist and democratic education requires the experience of action - school-based activities as a community addressing social and environmental issues on the foundation of value-based educational messages. The greatness of Talmud lies in its ability to engender deeds.
A Coordinating Body with Overall Responsibility
In order to implement a long-term interdisciplinary strategy in Jewish, Zionist and democratic education, in the spirit of the Shenhar and Kremnitzer reports, the professional committees in all the Jewish disciplines (as detailed above) should be required to coordinate with each other, and with a coordinating body with overall responsibility. History, civics and English should be added to the list of disciplines to be coordinated with Jewish studies. The coordinating body should also advance informal aspects of education, such as efforts to involve parents in "learning community" processes in the school.
Within this reinforced structure, the coordinating body (which will initiate as well as coordinate) could be supervised by a steering committee or public committee of the type recommended by the Shenhar Committee. Appointments to this public council must take into account the representation of different groups within the state sector. Care must be taken to allay fears that an attempt may be made to impose a particular value-based approach. The late Minister Zevulun Hammer was successful in establishing such a committee when the Shenhar Commission was formed, and we are confident that you are also capable of doing this.
One of the criteria for appointments to the Ministry of Education's Pedagogic Secretariat should be a commitment to the task of interdisciplinary education. The chief inspectors for each subject should also be willing to participate in the interdisciplinary work of the coordinating body discussed above.
It is important to stress that we are not advocating the abolition of the committees for each of the disciplines. However, the intention is certainly to make these committees accountable to the interdisciplinary coordinating committee. This, too, is not enough. It must also be
ensured that the district directors are committed to this interdisciplinary policy and willing to invest energy in its implementation. This requires a change in their working routine as currently structured. Dialogue must also take place with the teachers' organizations. In other words, change must be introduced in the senior administrative echelons of the ministry. Establishing a new department that "bypasses" the system and lacks authority misses the point. Ministers and directors-general come and go, but the tenured pedagogic staff remains in the ministry and determines what actually happens.
5 Ibid, p. 31
A further point: efforts to train suitable teachers (such as the Hebrew University's Revivim program to train educators in Jewish studies) will have no effect in and of themselves. The graduates of this program will be forced to "adapt" to a system that works according to basic assumptions that prevent any possibility of integrative work.
The coordinating body with overall responsibility must have the professional ability to integrate Jewish-Zionist and democratic values in all subjects. The school must be promoted as a Jewish-Zionist and democratic justify of education and learning community. Any lesser approach will be unable to counter the trend to post-Zionism that is taking control of society. The post-Zionist historians are only a symptom - they are not the root cause!
By Way of a Beginning: Support Those Who Are Already Providing Support
As a first step in advancing Jewish, Zionist and democratic education, existing bodies already committed to this goal should be strengthened. Within the realm of formal education, we believe that Tali (Reinforced Jewish Learning) should be strengthened. In the field of informal education, we recommend that the Zionist youth movements active in the state sector be strengthened. In both cases, sectors already committed to Jewish, Zionist and democratic education can be used as an impetus for securing further achievements.
In formal education, the idea of integrative Jewish, Zionist and democratic education is already accepted by at least part of the public associated with Tali. This goal is not achieved with equal success in all the Tali schools, but the accumulated experience offers one possible starting point.
As a distinct stream, it must be admitted that Tali raises problems in the context of social integration in the State of Israel. Any supra-regional distinct stream inevitably weakens the regional systems (see Osnat Elnatan's article, "Implementing the Shenhar-Kremnitzer Report from a Social Perspective," Chavruta #7, April 2001). Nevertheless, there is ideological
agreement within Tali on the need for Jewish, Zionist and democratic education. Tali attracts many parents who have reservations regarding the "post-Zionist" trends seen in present-day
Israeli society. Moreover, the interdisciplinary professional approach to implementing education is accepted in Tali. Most of the population involved in Tali are willing to view the school as a justify for education and as a "learning community."
As noted above, we are in favor of "first aid" steps as reported in the press. However, Tali offers a format that might have an impact on the entire system - provided that Tali is allowed to develop. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education's attitude toward Tali has so far been ambivalent. The parents committees in Tali have found that they have to struggle in order to realize their vision.
The Ministry of Education should reconsider its attitude toward the Tali stream (in its different forms), and should examine how it can be revitalized. In particular, encouragement should be given for the continuation of Tali in junior-high and senior-high schools.
The ambivalent attitude of the Ministry of Education is due to cultural and political reasons in three spheres.
Firstly, parents from English-speaking countries were among the leaders of Tali - a cultural background that differs from that of the Ministry of Education officials. It is worth recalling, however, that the personal background of most of the immigrants from the English-speaking countries includes a voluntary decision to make Aliyah to Israel and raise their family here. Their very presence is living proof of their Zionist commitment, as is the presence of the many Israeli families who have joined them. These parents see the school not only as a framework for teaching, but also as a tool for shaping the Jewish, Zionist and democratic perspective of their children.
Secondly, the interdisciplinary educational tradition is much more accepted in the West than in Israel. This has caused (and continues to cause) professional friction with the Ministry of Education officials.
Lastly (and this is the political point), the fact that many parents in Tali identify with egalitarian (non-Orthodox) streams of Judaism facilitated the operation of schools as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic community. Indeed, the Conservative (Masorti) movement established the Tali Foundation in order to support these activities. The Israel Movement for Progressive
Judaism (Reform) has also begun to work within the framework of Tali.
It would be desirable to listen to the testimony of the parent committees, educators and voluntary bodies involved in the Tali endeavor. The Ministry of Education officials responsible for working with Tali should also preferably be made accountable to the coordinating body posited above.
The Shenhar Commission also addressed the subject of informal education. In this field ,we advocate support for youth movements with a declare Zionist commitment. "Declared" means that they are associated with organizations affiliated to the World Zionist Organization. In many fields of informal education, relatively modest amounts of money can provide the means to activate a large number of volunteers. This is particularly true in the case of youth movements. The act of volunteering constitutes a personal example of Zionist commitment - a practical statement against "post-Zionism."
Chavruta - Vision for Israel will be glad to discuss all the above matters in further detail in a discussion with yourselves and/or those involved in this work.
With best wishes for your success, which will be the success of all of us.
Dr. Michael Livni
On behalf of the editorial board, Chavruta
|Editorial board: Chavruta - Vision for Israel, Kibbutz Lotan, D.N. Chevel Eilot, 88855|
Web site: www.chavruta.org.il
Editorial board: Editor - Dr. Michael Livni (Kibbutz Lotan); Osnat Elnatan (Kibbutz Tammuz, Beit Shemesh); Binyamin Maor (Hod Hasharon), Ofek Meir (Haifa).
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