New Section: What Am I Reading?

An Israeli civic teacher has been accused of (and reprimanded for) making hyper-critical and derogatory remarks against the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). This has unleashed a debate over freedom of speech in the classroom and the state of Israeli democracy. Over at the Times Of Israel, Shimon Ohayon, Member of Knesset for the ultra-nationlist Yisrael Beytenu and professor for Bar-Ilan University, writes that politics has no place in the classroom and that “the teacher who dispenses their ideological or political worldview is failing their students and their chosen profession in a number of areas.” He goes on to explain that the job of the teacher is to:
Create intellectual space for the student to choose his or her own path, and arrive at their own conclusions on complex and frequently controversial matters such as politics, the relationship between a citizen and the state and the peace process. Their role should not extend beyond providing students the tools to make informed decisions for themselves.
My take: The problem with this argument is that the educational system in Israel is conservative and political by nature. This is expressed in the official curriculum of the state which seeks to inculcate the young with “proper” knowledge and skills. As Foucault reminds us: “Any system of education is a political way of maintaining or modifying the appropriation of discourse, along wit the knowledge and power which they carry.” Moreover, in a divided society like Israel there is also an inevitable counter curricula that runs against the messages of the state (as in the present case). This creates a situation in which educators teach the official curriculum from above, but educate the counter curriculum from below (Yael Tamir, forthcoming). For example, Arab-Israeli civic educators teach of Israel as a Jewish state, but educate as a democracy; the orthodox teach Israel as a democracy but educate as a Jewish state. The students have no difficulty figuring out which position the teacher values. But the point is that no matter what, there is no escaping politics in the Israeli classroom.



5 responses to “New Section: What Am I Reading?

  1. There is no escaping politics in any classroom. If a teacher is going to speak about anything that matters, she will perforce relate to values and current society and the state of being and that should reflect on politics. The problem – speaking as an experienced teacher – is not whether politics enters the classroom but how it does. A teacher has an influential position. A teacher should be shaping students minds if they are doing their job. It would be an abuse of that trust, however, if the teacher used his influence to create voters for that teacher’s political party. Or if that teacher made students who disagree feel illegitimate for holding a different political opinion. There are political opinions which should be anathema. There are political ideologies which should be exposed as dangerous and immoral – things like White Supremacists. Hopefully the state like in Israel has done a fair job of branding truly extreme ideologies as immoral and parties that hold such opinion cannot run in elections like the Kach Party. But Yisrael Bateinu expresses legitimate right wing opinion – you can disagree but a student who likes that party must have the “intellectual space” in a classroom to voice freely their assent to that party’s ideology without fear of the many subtle and overt ways a teacher could punish such a student. Just as a student voicing ultra-left opinions like that of Meretz should be free to do so without punishment. A teacher’s respectful disagreement, when coupled with a reasoned argument does not constitute punishment. If a classroom is going to educate towards democracy it should respect the range of opinion found in the vibrant democracy of the Israeli Knesset. I know of too many Zionist students in supposedly liberal – ie open and tolerant – US campuses who suffered real abuse for simply supporting Israel. That is the sort of abuse of a teacher’s trust of which I speak.

  2. If Mr Varta feels the way he does, he should renounce his citizenship. He did not serve in the IDF or national service, so he clearly does not want to shoulder the burdens of citizenship. Dogs do not bite the hand that feeds them, but snakes do

  3. Sorry to disappoint Gimpel, I read what you wrote and thought you made a good point (did not really provoke a debate in my mind). Plus, I don’t enjoy online back-and-forth. That is not the point of this blog. Best, Roi

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