In Atlanta, Georgia in 2015 Americans were forced to view the true face of their current obsession with putting statistics and test scores in education above sound prudence and good practices. No less than 234 teachers were involved in making a mockery of standardized tests, engaged in a blatant cheating scandal which shocked the entire country. This national embarrassment was a long time coming though and hardly unforeseen. Human nature hasn’t changed since the dawn of reading, writing and arithmetic, and when money and politics are injected into education and promotions or firings depend on how many multiple choice boxes on tests are filled in correctly, what happened in Atlanta is hardly a shock. It could be happening all over the United States at this very moment.
Incessant standardized testing, nevertheless, is an integral part of a revolutionary new set of initiatives running through education. Israel too has been enamored lately of the “new and improved” ideas being peddled by freethinkers and reformers. The way mathematics, reading and writing have been taught since Mesopotamian and Egyptian children were being drilled in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago may have worked splendidly for the last five millennia. Still, many self-appointed educational activists insist that the tried-and-true methods of the ages have run their course, arriving on the scene at just the opportune moment to set things right.
Advocacy groups point out that Israeli standardized test scores have fallen as of late in comparison with other nations’ rankings. They bristled recently when former Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett supposedly cut the hours required in grade school for science and English while increasing the time allotted for Jewish studies. The implication was that a nefarious religious and cultural agenda was being foisted upon Israeli schoolchildren, and destined to potentially harm the inviolate test-taking regimen. However, the new Education Minister, Rafi Peretz, concurs with his predecessor that the threat comes from the other direction and that Israeli education runs the risk of becoming devoid of Jewish culture if anything. “Israeli society is not becoming more religious,” he remarked very recently. “That’s almost fiction. It’s going through the process of becoming more secular.” And fervently secularized education may not be what’s best for any society’s schoolchildren.
Yet nonreligious extremism never seems to worry the iconoclasts even though it can be just as pernicious as any over-zealous religiosity. Oftentimes the virulent expunging of piety, morality and creed from a society’s school system creates more problems than it solves. Certainly, there is hardly a teacher who ever set foot inside a classroom in any country and in any age who wouldn’t have recognized the overwhelmingly constructive effects of imbuing school with the basic foundation of a positive code of principles and virtues, tenets in many ways almost inseparable from religion.
The results of an education system that has spent decades divorcing itself from religion, culture, tradition, ethics and societal mores, if Israelis are truly interested, can be plainly observed by examining the shattered ruins of higher academia in the US and other Western countries. The Teaching Survey of 2017 surveyed over a thousand professors at colleges and universities in the United States and other English-speaking countries and found that an astounding 48% of educators deemed that their students were ill-prepared for university study, the result of “inventive spelling” and “common core mathematics” and any number of failed experiments perpetrated on American students over the last two decades.
Even four more years treading water in US institutions of higher learning may not rectify the previous foundational elementary and high school curriculum of putting politics, pet projects, and avant-garde teaching philosophies above down-to-Earth education. In the USA, for example, with students spending time, effort and money fritting away hours and credits in courses such as Arguing with Judge Judy, Klingon Culture, Alien Sex, Cyberporn and Society, the Philosophy of the Simpsons, and other mind-numbingly insipid courses, it’s hardly a terrible surprise that only 30 percent of recent American college graduates can interpret a food label correctly—the complexities of calories, grams, servings, and ingredients exacting simply too much mental pressure.
Israelis have been in the business of educating their progeny for as long as any people on Earth, and are the last to require teaching tips dreamed up elsewhere, much less from those societies turning out legions of quasi-literate graduates, incompetent in math and science, and whose breadth of history only stretches as far back as last year’s dance moves, phone apps, popular music rhymes, cinematic catch-phrases and fashion statements.
Giving an ear to the Israeli voices pointing down the same educational blind-alley where American students have been led—inculcating a hatred of their nation, a loathing of their own ethos, a dearth of any spiritual anchor, their founding fathers painted as villains and not heroes, and pushing academic excellence, aptitude and responsibility to the side in favor of overt politicization—will take the Jewish state down the same dark, pessimistic, self-defeating path.