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Chaim Y. Botwinick

Ignorance is Not Bliss: An Educational Challenge

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As a  young college student, I can vividly recall  participating in a variety of  public protests and rallies – whether they were in support for Soviet Jewry, the release of IDF prisoners or protests against  the UN vote equating Zionism with racism – they all responded to real life events and concerns.

These gatherings  were always complemented and supported by understanding, knowledge  and real facts. They emanated from the classroom, from those history teachers and scholars who were intellectually honest and knowledgeable; and  from those with no political or hidden agendas or axes to grind. There was no spin, no Tik Tok history lessons no vitriol,.and no coercion, let alone secretive compensation from international entities in order to motivate, encourage or incentivize violence.

As we  know, protests and rallies can be healthy and cathartic. They express and represent an important position or point of view and perspective through freedom of expression – especially over contentious events and/or areas of disagreement. This freedom is a true privilege in a democracy such as the United States which thank GD supports freedom of speech and expression..

All of these actions are important, with the caveat they they are civil, respectful, non-violent and  purposeful. Violence is never ever an option at a rally or a demonstration. It only creates anger, consternation, and even more anger leading to more violent behavior. In addition, many sociologists believe that violence can in fact have the opposite “rebound” effect and eventually alienates and even marginalizes the very point which people are aspiring to demonstrate. Eventually, it becomes a disruptive rally or protest bent on creating fear, violence and destructive behavior.

As the expression goes – its far easier to attract bees with honey then with vinegar. But unfortunately not enough of our youth and those who encourage them to engage in violent behavior believe or trust  in this humane approach. As a result, we see destructive behavior,, hatred and at times true uncontrollable rage.

Since the bloody massacre of October 7th, we have witnessed an explosion of violent anti-semetic and anti-Israel rallies and protests. Many of these are presumably the result of  the Israel-Hamas war, now raging in Gaza. But, what we are in fact now experiencing is an explosion of  misguided and misdirected rage, hate and anger against Jews world wide.This level of disconnect is daunting at best. It is as if a switch went off  on October 7th which  created one of the worst displays of global  anti-semitism and Jew  hatred since the Holocaust.  It is as if this anger, disdain and hatred was fomenting just below the surface  ready to explode. But why now and why in response or in reaction to October 7th. It is truly beyond difficult and perplexing to comprehend or understand .

Most of these recent protests and rallies which we are currently witnessing, are attended by college-age students, immigrants and a sprinkle of insecure “throw back to the 60s” faculty. These faculty participate in order to secure their social, political  faculty popularity and standing among students and other members of faculty and administration. Indeed a very sad and quite pathetic way for academic professionals to seek  prominence on campus or academic credibility.

When analyzing the psycho-social  characteristics of many of these protesters, it it interesting to note that for many, its a one-off  opportunity to develop “street cred” among their peers; for others, it is a very sad and dangerous manifestation of boredom and a deep search for woke purposefulness and relevance, which many students do not receive at home or in their respective communities. It is also a reflection of  a community of  privileged college students who will quickly and blindly latch onto any idea, movement, mantra or perception of oppression against the down trodden. This search for vengeance and unabashed  blind anger against the “oppressor” becomes their entire reason for being – irrespective of the facts or realities on the ground.

All of these activities are exacerbated by the influence and exploitation of media bias, social media videos and  neatly packaged and produced  two- minute anti- Jewish anti Israel Tik Tok feeds regarding the war in Gaza.. All of this takes place as if  the horrors of October 7th never occurred. Maybe, just maybe for many this horror is just too real, painful or graphic to want to remember. Yes, rape, killing, and the butchering of innocent babies, children, women and adults were real…and maybe this reality was too real for our immature self absorbed students and young adults to accept. It therefore creates a psychological mindset which sublimates and denies that it even occurred. The more you deny it and share the denial continuously, the more it becomes a new alternate reality.

When listening carefully to many of these students and academics, we hear the continuous parroting and regurgitation of  Tik-Tok history lessons, created by violent politically motivated  influencers  and social media disruptors.

What is absolutely amazing and mind-boggling is the lack of knowledge and understating about why these folks are even protesting. Most know absolutely zero about the history of Palestine and Israel. And many more don’t even know where Gaza is geographically located on the map in the Middle East.

A further illustration of this arrogant and flagrant ignorance is evidenced in a most recent study conducted by Jewish  Federations of North America. 

In their Study, when asked about the phrase “from the river to to the sea” 47%  of  US college students could not name which river or which sea. In the same survey of 250 students, 86% supported the phrase – but after learning some basic facts, 68% changes their stance.

You really can’t make this stuff up. The level of  pure unadulterated ignorance coupled by shear arrogance and wokeism has created a community of college aged automatons with zero ability or capacity or even willingness to think independently or to differentiate between what is morally correct and what is not; or what is good vs. evil.  And all the while, college faculty continue to chant and feed the narrative that genocide against the Jews is the only path forward.

In a recent series of informal street interviews with demonstrating students protesting the war between Israel and Hamas,…..students were randomly interviewed and asked to describe the reasons for their public protesting. The vast majority of those interviewed had absolutely no  accurate historical facts or information regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. They only kept repeating and yelling the chants of the one leading the group on the bullhorn. When  approached, one demonstrator was candid enough to respond to the interviewer by stating that  “its a fun way to meet girls and it sure beats staying home or being stuck in a university dorm”. These were not one-off responses, but rather quite common and disconcerting.

When a female protester in her early 30’s adorned in a kafiya wrapped around her head  and holding an anti-Israel placard  was asked the question ” what took place on October 7th”, she was unable to accurately respond to the question. When the interviewer described some of the atrocities that factually took place, her response was“oh, I didn’t know that….I really need to read up more on that” . REALLY,?? Again you just cant make this stuff up!

It is truly remarkable how our society has created an entire generation of  ignorant, pathetic and helpless youth and young adults who have been so indoctrinated and influenced with inaccurate historical and factual information .

We can always opine regarding the causes for this attitude and ignorance. But one thing is crystal clear, this new narrative supported by liberal new norms, attitudes and the lack of factual and moral clarity have devolved right under our noses. In other words, the genie is indeed out of the bottle and we are now living with the long term painful and daunting consequences.

While we were fixated on woke appropriateness, cancel culture, and Tik-Tok messaging, the beast was growing in size and strength.  The lack of respect for our institutions, parents, family, authority and organized religion and the demise of the centrality of  family life are  now becoming the norm.

Another example is the recent viral post which showed  middle and high public school students in New Jersey running up and down their school hallways chanting and screaming “from the river to the sea”:., while laughing, giggling and hiding their faces from news cameras.

Where where the teachers? the staff? the administration? the principal? Could it be that they were complicit..or maybe just too fearful to engage? Yes, silence is indeed complicity…..especially in academic leadership circles. Case in point….if there are no consequences for these students, or staff  these kinds of behavior and outbursts will grow exponentially and cause irreparable harm and damage.

The list goes on and on. ,,,,,

We have created  a very lost and privileged society and a very lost and confused young generation of self-absorbed, insecure,  children and young adults who are moving our society in the wrong direction.

The narrative regarding who are the “oppressed” and who are the “oppressors” is one that must to be unpacked and one which demands clarity.  Yes, there are those who are indoctrinated, completely biased and single-minded. But then, there are also many who are fence-sitting and who are just waiting to determine which direction the wind is blowing,….not unlike many of our woke-centric politicians who look with desperation as to which direction the group is heading. They then jump to the front of the line, in order to suggest that they are in the forefront or are in fact leading the group.

This smoke and mirrors false leadership narrative is very sad.and quite pathetic. But this is the price we pay as a society for decades of denial, complacency and ignorance……like blind mice.

Strategic Responses:

Over the past decade there have been numerous proposals and responses to many of these concerns, but to no avail..

After thinking about these issues and concerns for some time, the recent domestic unrest has forced many of us to think more systemically and systematically about the current state of affairs. and how we as a society were able reach such a low inflection point.

There are three foci which desperately require our attention and due diligence.

They include :Education, Accountability and Consequences.

These three areas of focus, as presented, are somewhat radical in nature (by current standards); maybe even more radical than our communities can accept. But one reality is clear as day…..the current narrative and construct must change, lest we self destruct.

Educational Reform:

  1.  In order to respond to many of the challenges as indicated, it is essential that our educational establishment and system undergo radical educational reform.

2,   The lack of  historical accuracy, moral equivalency, and transparent standards are critical areas of concern which will require deep introspection, examination and assessment.

3.   The question of  why schools are teaching specific subjects is of paramount             concern. The critical role and responsibility of parents to sign off on a school’s curriculum will and must become a requirement for all public schools and school districts;

4.     Core curricular subject areas must be viewed as being “core” to the curriculum  All secondary courses or electives must be subject to parental scrutiny and new school district academic standards and policies;

5.    Schools must provide all students with wholesome, safe and appropriate  learning environments. They must become apolitical teaching and learning environment, with high quality  academic subjects and integrity at their core;

 

Accountability

  1. All schools must meet  new academic and social standards as presented and approved by restructured and/or replaced  US Department of Education and local school districts.
  2.  The US Department of Education (or it’s successor ) will need a comprehensive and extensive overhaul and reform process in order to provide the kind of  changes and support their schools require …….including curricular goals, standards, expectations  and social norms.
  3. All teachers aspiring to teach in an American public school must past a series of academic readiness exams. These exams and standards will hopeful reduce the growing level of mediocrity now consuming and ravaging our institutions, families and communities.
  4.  All teachers in public educational institutions must be evaluated and assessed on an annual basis. This must include, pedagogy, content areas, currucula  and results the of  student academic  performance assessments;
  5. All principals will also be required to take a leadership readiness assessment in order to determine their appropriate fit and.or eligibility as an educational  or instructional leader. Annual leadership  performance assessments will also be applied to these personnel
  6. The complete overhaul of our educational system on the federal, state and city level must be undertaken immediately in order for the aforementioned requirements and expectations to be realized. It must become a national priority.
  7. Those institutions that do not adhere to these new standards will NOT be eligible for federal, state or city financial, material or human resources support; and they will lose their accreditation.

Consequences:

1)  Students, faculty and administrator who do not comply with new educational norms and  standards will be dismissed from the educational system.

2. Hate speech,  threats incitement and racial slurs will result in dismissal from the school; arrests must be made and or deportation of all visiting  immigrant students or faculty who are on temporary or permanent immigrant work visas. They should view their teaching positions  as a privilege, not as an entitlement.

3. Schools that do not adhere to new educational and school standards and requirements will be placed on probation. If there is no improvement within a specific period of time, the school will lose all tax-payer support.

 

Endnote:

It goes without saying that many of the suggestions and recommendations  presented in this blog are somewhat radical and aspirational in nature. But, that does not necessarily suggest that we cannot begin the long overdue national educational reform conversation and debate as soon as possible,

Our public institutions and their impact on our youth and society have failed us miserably and have now reached rock bottom of the abyss.

We must recapture moral clarity from the clutches of those who are bent on destroying democracy, civility and decency and from those who inspire and encourage hatred and racism through ignorance and misguided leadership (or the lack thereof) and violence.

We have two choices.,,,,

We can engage in a new revolution for educational reform which will demand extensive   change, new standards, accountability, moral clarity and consequences……..or, we can opt to continue on a path towards social and educational decline and its eventual demise or destruction of our educational system.

This latter option will only lead to more hatred motivated and encouraged by ignorance and more violent behavior.

This latter option will  also eventually lead us (almost guaranteed) to the creation of an indifferent society built upon violence, self-absorbed  and misguided ignorance.

Friends, are we not better than that?

I guess time will tell.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011