In recent years, there has been much public discussion about the fact that schools often seem to operate in artificial bubbles within a much broader reality. Parents, experts and field practitioners have been asking questions about the role of the school system, setting appropriate boundaries for schools, and the ability of schools to prepare their students for the world that awaits them in the 21st century.
These issues take shape through practical questions that arise on a day-to-day basis: how should technology be introduced to the classroom? Should smartphones be allowed at school? Should teachers and students connect with each other on social networks? Where do we draw the line to differentiate between what happens at school and the personal lives of students and teachers?
Each of these concerns is important in and of itself, with significant implications for the way a school operates; and we will discuss many of them in the days to come. Today I would like to discuss a different aspect that often gives rise to the feeling that schools can sometimes act as artificial bubbles disconnected from reality: dealing with sensitive, thought-provoking issues.
Teachers and principals are afraid, and rightly so. Students are sensitive, searching, prone to record and publicize anything that is stated aloud. A teacher can find himself or herself under the scrutiny of the public eye because of an opinion they stated in a seemingly off-the-record setting. But where do we draw the line? Is it educationally sound to ignore serious issues and allow our students to be fed by the press, television and social networks without any guidance or support? Shouldn’t a teacher and educator, as a significant figure in the life of a student throughout the years of school, be part of the process of analysis and thought development when it comes to addressing the most compelling issues in Israeli society?
Political conflicts have been a challenge in this issue since the 1950’s, when a teacher was fired from work due to having expressed political views that were not acceptable at that time, and the issue has continued to come up in multiple cases over the years. The political field crosses many boundaries and ethnicities, and is therefore an obvious hot button. However, there are other conflicts that vary from sector to sector and from school to school, like the recent storm concerning the gay and lesbian community and Rabbi Yigal Levenstein’s controversial remarks at a conference of rabbis and educators. Even supposedly simpler issues such as vegetarianism vs. veganism vs. meat-eating, for instance, or interactions among various ethnicities, can become topics that teachers are not allowed to discuss or state opinions about in the classroom.
We all know that teachers are highly significant figures who help to form and shape the world view of students; as a society, we must find ways to train and enable them to contend with challenging issues in order to help their students think about complex questions and ideas. Ignoring pertinent issues distances our schools even further from the lives of students and from the burning topics they face daily. By not providing students the space to have conversations about them at school, we leave important issues open to the interpretation of students, who are often not mature enough to form nuanced, thought-out opinions and approaches to complex issues.
At AMIT, we recently published a “Network Compass,” jointly written by principals, teachers, parents and students, outlining the framework and values within which we expect our teachers and staff to work and educate. We have started developing tools in order to help teachers grapple with these sensitive issues, dealing with the realities at hand while being mindful of the emotional minefields they can become. In this way, we are trying to build a more open and well-rounded interchange, thus making our schools’ experience more applicable and relevant.