Middle Israel: Don't pity the striking teachers

This is the Jewish state all right, only it's been hijacked by a strange coalition.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
With thousands of idle teenagers daily crowding our shopping centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and video-game parlors instead of going to school, Israelis wonder: What on earth is going on? As they listen to the approaching winter's early winds whistle at night through their children's orphaned labs, gyms and libraries, parents wonder: Is this the Jewish state, the place where 2,000 years ago compulsory education was instituted, probably for the first time anywhere? Well yes, this is the Jewish state all right, only it's been hijacked, hijacked by a strange coalition of cynics, weaklings and bullies, a coalition that must be defeated lest our school system end up by winter '08 where our army landed in summer '06. The cynicism is Ehud Olmert's, with all due respect to his medical condition. The weakling is Education Minister Yuli Tamir, and the bully is Ran Erez, leader of the high school teachers union. OVER THE past 15 years Israelis were handed several visions on education. One was Yitzhak Rabin's. As a socialist, he believed education would be revolutionized if only more money were poured on it. It was a vision as unimaginative as it was unaffordable, one that soon resulted in a financial black hole the size of a $6 billion current-account deficit. Yet a vision it was, one that Rabin espoused genuinely, never tiring of preaching it while displaying a familiarity with details like day-care costs and teachers' salaries - issues which to most other prime ministers were enigmas, at best. Then there was Ariel Sharon's education minister, Limor Livnat, who appointed the Dovrat Committee, a high-powered forum that produced a unique blueprint for an overhaul of the education system. Apolitical, impartial, professional and diverse, this forum's 17 members - including academics, techies, mayors and rabbis - recommended that classrooms be capped at 35 students, that the school day be extended to 4 p.m., that the school week last five days, that the school year be split into two semesters, that education be free from age three, that school principals be empowered to hire, fire and reward teachers according to their performance, and that teaching a core curriculum be prerequisite for state aid. The plan had in it much of what our children sorely needed, and all of what our politicians and unionists traditionally fear, defame and kill. THE DOVRAT PLAN was approved by the Sharon cabinet, and that included Olmert, whose only misgiving was that vocational training not be discontinued. But then Olmert became prime minister and appointed a different education minister - Yuli Tamir. A philosophy professor and co-founder of Peace Now, Tamir just couldn't bring herself to plainly adopt the plan that was identified with her predecessor, a diehard capitalist and outspoken nationalist. True, Tamir had previously backed much of the report, and only decried Sharon's failure to budget it and face up to the ultra-Orthodox who demanded to opt out of it (because a core curriculum issued by Middle Israelis is for them as abominable as one imposed by Czar Nikolai). Once in power, however, Tamir pompously unveiled "an alternative reform," one that would place less emphasis on management and more on pedagogy. In June '06 she met with Olmert, and the press reported that "Tamir's reform plan had been given the green light." Olmert knew he was effectively burying the plan for which he had voted only the previous year, but he was no Rabin; the name of his game always was, and still remains, power, not reform. Tamir, however, was a political novice. She really meant it when she said she would now nurture pre-school education, children's "protective surrounding," teachers' pay and principals' status, and that she, unlike her predecessor, would work "together with the teachers." This is how Dovrat's momentum was lost. TO RAN EREZ, the coarse chairman of the high-school teachers union, the Dovrat Report was a catastrophe. A school principal's empowerment is this man's disempowerment. "The Dovrat Report," he therefore said upon its publication, "is like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact" - a reference to the deal Hitler struck with Stalin before setting the world ablaze. No less. Now Erez knew better than Tamir the real meaning of what she had announced. A gym teacher with a broken Hebrew who hurls profanities in negotiations and who reportedly took a teacher's salary even while he wasn't teaching, this ruffian finally smelled what he couldn't smell back when he faced Sharon: weakness. Now was the time to do his number and get his flock a few more shekels, and at the same time enshrine the system's deformities. To him, Tamir's attitude constituted a green light to manipulate the 44,000 teachers who are trapped in his dictatorship, and lead 600,000 teenagers from the classrooms to the dangerous expanses that begin in boredom and end in delinquency. Sure, he tells his herd to say that they too want better teachers. In fact he has them extort money and murder reform. EVERYONE HAS their issues with the Dovrat plan, including this economic conservative, who rejects its insistence that 90 percent of the education system rely on the national budget, and only 10% on local government; in my view it should be the other way around. Still, this document is a piece of art, and the fact is that its experimental implementation in 34 localities is a success. Alas, Olmert and Tamir have already effectively buried this baby, mainly for the unforgivable crime that it wasn't theirs. Had they been impartial they would have said upon assuming office: "Dovrat is the only game in town. We shall implement it." Sure, this would have entailed war with Erez et al, but it would have won over the public. Now they've both lost the public, and must still fight this hoodlum. Meanwhile, the teachers, like beggars displaying their disfigurements, publicly flaunt their pay slips in the hope that we pity them. But we can't. Why pity teachers who crown as their leader an educational eyesore like Erez? Why pity teachers who fear meritocracy? Why pity teachers who in telling us how low their salaries are, conveniently neglect to mention that their jobs, unlike anyone else's, include three workless months, as well as ample free time during the week they ostensibly spend fully working? This of course is what allows them to do more than one job, and this is what the Dovrat Report sought to rectify by raising teachers' pay in turn for their working five full weekdays in one same school. It all seemed so logical to the committee's chairman, Shlomo Dovrat of ECI Telecom. That, of course, was before he, and the rest of us, understood that in Israeli education people like Dovrat, who excel in inventing technology, building companies and organizing personnel, must still make way for people like Erez, who lie, curse, bully, destroy and loot, while holding hostage our teachers, children and future. www.MiddleIsrael.com