Back to school - back to basics

Our children are taught to amass volume as opposed to embracing values.

shalom kita aleph  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
shalom kita aleph
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Two weeks ago, my family and I headed to the Golan for a few days, as do many Israeli families before the beginning of the school year. En route, we stopped for a nature hike in Nahal Kibbutzim, a nature reserve in the Beit She'an Valley. This seemed like a logical thing to do considering it was the middle of August, scorching hot and Nahal Kibbutzim is a walk through a natural stream of water waist-high. This would be the perfect way to cool down and all of us were anxious to begin the hike - until we got into the water. We found ourselves surrounded by a sea of garbage and debris which had piled up both in the water and the surrounding banks. I was disgusted, as were my children who remarked how disappointed they were at what they were seeing. I turned to some people who were already in the water and said, "How can people demonstrate such disregard?" It was a rhetorical question, but they responded with an answer with which I was all too familiar: "This is Israel. Israelis don't care about anyone other than themselves. They have no consideration for others!" I have heard this type of response many times and it does not comfort me. In fact, it is incomprehensible. How can citizens of a country so concerned with its ability to defend itself and so dependant upon its army, an institution which incidentally represents and thrives upon camaraderie and consideration, make such an unintelligible observation? UPON REFLECTION, I have found the answer: it all goes back to school. When someone's mobile phone rings while I am in the middle of a lecture overseas, I classically react by saying, "Nice to see there is an Israeli in the crowd." People laugh hesitantly because while my comment might sound humorous, they know that there is some legitimacy to it. The fact that this is a popular perception is itself symptomatic of a problem. I have attended meetings and teacher conferences in Israeli schools where people answer their mobiles and conduct conversations during both the principal's and teacher's presentations. I have been to school assemblies where teachers stand in the back conducting conversations while the assembly is in session. How can such a teacher expect to command the students' respect? Where does this hypocrisy and lack of courtesy come from? Again, it all goes back to school. Why do Knesset members scream at each other from across the large room while a speaker is trying to make his point? Why don't drivers give way to each other and attempt to at least avoid fatal accidents? Why do so many people insist on cutting lines? Why do people continue to hose their cars down even when they know that there is a serious water shortage? ISRAELI SCHOOLS and Israeli education across the board emphasize the accumulation of data and information as opposed to teaching and developing the procedure of how to dissect and discern text in order to extrapolate the information. At some point every year, my children who attend primary school are instructed by their teachers to memorize Bible verses, an exercise whose educational value I still cannot comprehend; after all, the Bible is the written law whose text should not only be read but more importantly understood. Yet, when I ask my children to dissect a verse and decipher its message, they are incapable of probing the text's deeper meaning. When I ask them what might be difficult to understand in the text (the most fundamental element of learning in my opinion is promoting inquisitiveness), they respond by saying, "It does not say anywhere" or, "My teacher did not ask us to do that" or "Let's just study what we are supposed to know." Schools in Israel do not promote exploration nor do they teach creative expression within a disciplined environment and the effect trickles down. I teach in a hesder yeshiva, a post-high school institution of higher learning, and my students are incapable of introspective analysis. It is difficult for them to express and develop their own opinions. This is because Israeli education is predicated upon quantitative education as opposed to qualitative education. This system (or lack thereof) does not propagate sensitivity to intellectual or behavioral patterns and by default desensitizes a person to his surroundings. Our schools are engrossed with the importance of capacity as opposed to compassion. They program our children to amass volume as opposed to embracing values, and this breeds a society of ego-centricity. Only last week I read that after admitting that with only a few days left to the beginning of the school year there were still many outstanding issues which needed to be resolved, Secondary School Teachers Union head Ran Erez was quoted as saying, "I know we only have a week left before the school year starts, but this is the essence of the Jewish people. We wait until the last minute, with all kinds of problems mounting, and then, when it seems like there's no time left, we're able to get to work and find the proper solutions." Such a statement of ineptitude by someone responsible for education is downright despicable, because waiting "until the last minute to get to work" does not describe the "essence of the Jewish people." The essence of the Jewish people has been and always will be education. The Jewish people I have been taught to know would leave no stone unturned until the foundations of education were sound. The Jewish people I have been taught to know should dynamically probe with intellectual urgency how to improve their surroundings by creating a wholesome and respectful individual. Back to school, should mean back to basics; basics that implant a desire in our students to explore and experience. Once this desire is rooted, our children will value a society of patience, tolerance and human decency. When this happens one less bottle will be disposed of in a stream, one less person will be rudely interrupted and one less person will be made to swerve in his lane after being aggressively cut off. The writer teaches at Hesder Kiryat Gat\Sderot and is an author and lecturer on Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education