High school pupils in dark about national history

Children confuse Ben-Gurion with first president, and even with homemade 1948 mortar.

student lovely 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  (file))
student lovely 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski (file))
Sixty percent of the country's high school pupils don't know the difference between the man who declared Israel's independence and the mortar used to fight for it. Those results, along with other embarrassing indicators as to the poor state of high school pupils' grasp of national history, were included in a recent survey conducted by Prof. David Chen, dean of the Or Yehuda Academic College's School of Education and an adviser to the Education Ministry. The survey, which tested the national history knowledge of 527 students, revealed that only 39% of them knew that David Ben-Gurion was the first prime minister of Israel, and 49% thought Davidka, the name for the homemade mortar used during the War of Independence, was Ben-Gurion's nickname. He was, of course, known colloquially as "The Old Man." Other findings showed that 39% of those surveyed thought Ben-Gurion was the country's first president, and only 34% answered correctly that it was Chaim Weizmann. Again, only 39% of the pupils knew that November 29 was the day in 1947 that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the partition of British Mandated Palestine into two states - one to become an Arab state and the other the Jewish national homeland. As for that homeland's national anthem, nearly 20% of the pupils mistakenly identified Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, as author of "Hatikva." Over 35% thought national poet Haim Nahman Bialik penned the words, while 45% answered the question correctly, naming Naftali Herz Imber as the author. Additionally only 26% knew that Yigal Alon was one of the commanders of the pre-state Palmah paramilitary force, and only 19% knew that Dov Gruner was a member of the Irgun who was executed. The rest of the pupils believed Gruner was either a Palmah member or a minister in the government. "We are obviously unsatisfied with these figures," a response from the Education Ministry read. "And Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar plans to initiate a policy that will strengthen this component among the students." But others said they weren't at all surprised. "I'm not surprised one bit," said Prof. Dan Ben-David, executive director of the Taub Center and a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University. "There was a study that came out recently that showed how countries that did well in math and science also did well in reading comprehension. My guess is, if you would have tacked history on to that list, they would have done well in history, too, because if you know how to teach, you know how to teach." But, he continued, "you can't say it's surprising when we have such low scores coming out in science and math. Because according to those results, we don't know how to teach. These students probably don't know about civics either, or what a democracy is." The low results in history, however, might be easier to fix than low results in math and science, Ben-David said. "History is bursting out of the walls here," he said. "And it's not a large country. It's not like you have to drive from West Virginia to California. You can hop on a bus, and in an hour be at one [end] of the country. "These kids need to know where why we're here," he continued, "because if we're just trying to make another America, they've already got the original, so why stay here? And what's going to keep them here when the going gets tough, because from the looks of it, things are going to get a bit tougher." Ben-David said it wasn't only the pupils who should shoulder the blame. "At the end of the day, it's a statement about us," he said. "It's a statement about what we're giving our kids. And it's a shame."