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Borderline Views: The arbitrariness of borders
By DAVID NEWMAN
01/07/2013
The arbitrary decision by the CEA to automatically adhere to an administrative boundary which was clearly out of synch with the realities of the recent war is part of the same pattern of thinking which does not allow for reasoning or adaptation.
 
The arbitrariness of borders was brought home to me this past month. My daughter, and many of her friends, were prevented from registering to retake the psychometric examination in February because they live in a Negev community which lies just a few kilometers outside the area defined as the Security Frontier Zone.

The fact that they, like thousands of others, were prevented from attending the expensive course for which they had registered when the city of Beersheba came to a standstill and all public activities were closed down for the course of the war, or that they too were subject to sirens and missiles as they travelled from their home community to Beersheba and were impacted no differently than the many other people living in this region, was irrelevant to the bureaucrats at the Central Examination Authority (CEA).

The borders of the security zone had been demarcated prior to the war, long before the missiles started flying into settlements and communities well beyond the borders.

Despite requests from the local Municipal authorities who took up the case of the disappointed students, the Examination Authority refused to take this into consideration.

Many of these kids were traumatized by their wartime experiences and were unable to properly focus or concentrate on the highly pressurized psychometric examinations.

Although they have not yet received the examination results, the war could potentially damage their chances to be accepted as students at the country’s universities.

No arbitrary line made their experience any different to those who were on the “right” side (the right side in this case being the wrong side; closer to the Gaza Strip from where the missiles were fired), all of whom were quite justifiably offered the right to immediately re-sit the exam in February under conditions of normality and relative tranquility.

Borders, once demarcated and delimited, automatically include everything (or everyone) within and exclude everything which lies outside. It is a sharp line of separation and distinction. If you are on one side, you are included, but if you are on the other side – which may be only a few meters away, you are excluded.

IN THE light of the advanced missile technology available to Hamas and Hezbollah, reaching ever further inside Israel, it is likely that the demarcation of the security zone will now be reconsidered, modified and expanded. But this does not excuse the absolute lack of consideration or sympathy on the part of the CEA in its refusal to consider the legitimate requests of students who were impacted and traumatized.

True, the experience of residents of these communities was not as bad or as intense as that of the residents of Beersheba, whose experience, in turn, was not as bad as that of residents of Sderot and the region closest to the Gaza Strip. But it is not a good idea for the State of Israel to start differentiating between the trauma of different people based on the arbitrary drawing of a boundary.

Perhaps this is not so surprising given the data which was presented yesterday at a conference held by the Department of Social Work at Ben-Gurion University to examine the effectiveness of the welfare authorities in dealing with trauma-affected populations during the war in the south of the country. It was argued that the authorities have failed to provide adequate care for some of the weaker populations of the region during normal times, and it is therefore not surprising that they were unable to deal with the added trauma of wartime situations.

THIS DISCRIMINATORY policy of the CEA has also raised new questions concerning the overall efficacy of the psychometric examinations, a problem which has been the subject of much discussion in recent years.

Israeli university students are accepted on the basis of their combined psychometric and bagrut (matriculation) results. Over the years, it has become obvious that the psychometric examinations have little relationship to the ability of students to succeed in his/her university studies.

The universities have thus been considering replacing these exams with a new set of acceptance procedures, but the economic and political lobby of those intent on maintaining the existing system has proved too strong for any serious change to be undertaken.

There are major differences of opinion among university administrators concerning the degree to which the psychometric tests are useful tools in determining the suitability of new students and their ability to successfully finish their degree courses at universities.

For some, they are no more than aptitude tests which are based on learning the tricks and the techniques, rather than a real test of intelligence and knowledge. They have also become a test against time as students are taught to answer different types of questions within narrow time frameworks and under intense pressure.

They are definitely not tests which allow a student to think their way through answers, or develop a reasoned argument to questions which require analytical skills beyond binary and absolute answers – yes or no, right or wrong, black or white. For the social sciences and the humanities, we require proof of general intelligence, not just informational skills. We seek students for whom the ability to reason is as important as absolute knowledge.

THE ARBITRARY decision by the CEA to automatically adhere to an administrative boundary which was clearly out of synch with the realities of the recent war is part of the same pattern of thinking which does not allow for reasoning or adaptation. It is anti-intellectual and needs to undergo through revision. Continuing with these aptitude tests in their present form will simply churn out a generation of unthinking robots, who are very good at answering quizzes, but who lack the basic skills of an educated intelligentsia.

Meanwhile, a large group of young Israelis, recently finished with their army service and preparing themselves for the next stage in life, have been significantly affected by the trauma of war, without being offered any recourse or sympathy by the state authorities.

Many of them used their time during the war to volunteer in the communities most affected, assisting in the kindergartens and schools, or generally contributing time which would otherwise have been used for studying, in contributing to the collective good. They surely are deserving of a better response from the CEA.

The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.
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