"There's a sucker born every minute." In Israel it is sacrosanct to say: "just don't let it be me." The atmosphere in school today parallels this mantra. Here's an example.
This past summer, I went on a field trip with my seven year old son and some of his friends to a local water park. As I sat on a bench, waiting for the kids to finish showering, I noticed that a wooden handled squeegee had accidentally fallen across the entrance to the locker room. Ten minutes passed and not one person, young or old, picked it up. I was astounded that some thirty or forty people simply stepped over the prostrate object, without a moment's concern that someone might trip and fall. Implanted in the deep recesses of these astute citizens mind most certainly was the thought: "don't let it be me."
On a more recent occasion, my wife and I sat dumbfounded in a restaurant, as a similar scene unfolded. An elderly, deaf woman's (she was signing) jacket had fallen off the back of her chair onto the floor. One waiter after another side-stepped, pirouetted and practically vaulted over the coat: "don't let it be me."
Kids internalize this value overtime which transposes to a level of selfishness unheard of years ago. Adults today couldn't possibly conceive of, for example, a teacher riding the school bus home and having to stand in the aisle for lack of one respectful student relinquishing a seat. Sorry…. it used to happen to me all the time. After the second time, it dawned on me that, I was "the one."
Before my wife and I were able to afford a used second-hand car, I traveled to and from school on the bus (a journey I quickly learned to loathe for want of the foul-mouthed language, unruliness, and sheer bedlam that accompanied these voyages).
In the interest of supervision, I always allowed students to enter the bus first, making sure that everyone boarded on time, without disruption. Pushing and shoving matches were commonplace. Most times there was enough room for all, however some days scheduling prevented sufficient busses and transport overlapped between neighborhoods, kibbutzim and moshavim. When this happened, someone invariably had to stand: "please don't let it be me."
Every time a student acts according to this misguided principle, he or she fails in character. Are students today being actively engaged to wrestle with this and other essential concepts in their classrooms such as integrity and self-discipline? Is the education system properly addressing "values" in their curriculum, to nurture our children to mature into adults, that can positively contribute to the enrichment of society?
And are we challenging our students to raise serious moral questions, such as; Where do I stand? How do I respond? What kind of person am I?
Cheating is rampant in Israeli schools today. Not that this is a new aberration, but students today seem too brazen about it. Most kids that I've caught (and more than a handful over the years) show little to no remorse for their efforts. Some have even openly boasted of their prowess for trying to "get one over" their teacher. You hear it time and again prior to the national Bagrut matriculations exams, students assuaging their fears over lackluster preparation by assuring themselves that, "worse comes to worse, I can cheat to get by."
The notion of students being unfairly imposed upon by their teachers or curriculum is well known to anyone in the business of educating youth today in public education. You hear their responses all the time when you demand effort in studies or work; "I don't have time for this!", "Well what's in it for me?" "If I do this, will I get that?" "Where's the grade?"
When we examine the condition of the Israeli classroom environment today, the possibilities for a value based curriculum to take root seem negligible. Anyone familiar with the task of instilling values in children understands the essential relationship between time and counsel. Progressive cut backs in hours have seriously impeded this process. And as Israeli teachers have been categorized as "the least demanding in the developed world," no new foundation for learning has been developed over the past ten years, in the face of the Bagrut matriculation frenzy.
It is no surprise that following a nationwide strike by the secondary schools teachers organization here, coupled with a recent press release over a significant decrease in achievement scores in core subjects such as literacy, mathematics and English, many educators and parents alike are re-evaluating the need for the Bagrut.
Our policy makers' efforts at making good appearances are no longer fooling the public. The cat is out of the bag with the overall decline in literacy. Perhaps we need to look elsewhere for a vision better suited to the next generation of youth in this country. Why not begin with: "this one time, just let it be me."
On one of my last bus rides home, making a best effort not to fall and embarrass myself, trying to tune out the raucousness and loud-mouthing, I was pleasantly surprised by a gentle tap on my shoulder, When I turned my head, one of my former students had stood up to offer me her seat. This young lady had the integrity to understand that sometimes the courage needed to "be the one" ultimately makes you stand out amongst the rest, and not simply a sucker.
Next column I'll talk about cooperative learning.
I definitely agree that one of the serious problems with education in Israel is cultural. Students, parents and even teachers and school management often display: a culture of not respecting authority, not obeying limits, never be a sucker (friar), looking out only for "number one". Put that together with the low pay for teachers, the unlikelihood of attracting or retaining outstanding teachers, wide income gaps, poor management and a few other factors and you have a good picture of the collapsing educational system in Israel. While I would love to see an additional 50 million dollars thrown at the educational system, a dramatic increase in pay for teachers and classrooms which hold a maximum of 30 students, I also have to point out that none of these factors will prove to be a magic solution when such basic cultural problems are present.
The Israeli dilemma: To be a ben-zona (SOB) or a friar (sucker/patsy).. Not too hard to figure out which option is chosen, is it ?