The Customer Is Always Right, Or Meaningful learning?

At a time when our Education Minister, Rabbi Shay Piron is trying to bring about change in the schools with his concept of “meaningful learning,” I have to wonder how he reconciles this lofty idea with the last incident concerning  the  suspension of the Israeli teacher  in Ashkelon.

That teacher  was suspended by her principal  after a  student had hacked into her private email, and published  in the class’ Wattsup his findings– intimate photos of that teacher in the nude.

By punishing the victim and not the student who had committed the crime, the principal demonstrated to her staff, the students and the rest of Israel exactly who was the boss .

Apparently in that school simple values, like honesty, respect and the right for privacy were not observed or taught. Instead of accepting responsibility for what was wrong in her school, the principal preferred to pass the buck and punished her teacher for having a  life.

Needless to say, that “meaningful learning” cannot grow in a place where basic human values like trust and respect are stamped on..

It may be that principals, who  fear the parents’ wrath (or a law suit), try to stay out of trouble by turning their back on their teachers. It is also probable that parents love to complain about the poor quality of the teachers, and show their contempt in front of their children. Thus, it is no surprise that this student in Ashkelon thought nothing of invading his teacher’s privacy.

In higher education, the situation is not that different. I have been teaching in a private college in Israeli  for the last 19 years. In recent years I have witnessed a change in the position of the students and the teachers.  The students have turned into our customers and the teachers/lecturers have become their service providers.

One way to guarantee customer satisfaction is by using surveys. While in our college the future of the teachers depend on those surveys–Teachers’ Evaluations, the students are awarded expensive prizes just for filling that short electronic evaluation form.

Here too, meaningful teaching could not exist when the main goal is pleasing the customers.

A recent example could illustrate the weakened position of the teacher. Not long ago several students of mine  cheated in an exam. They did not actually cheat during the exam, so nothing unusual was recorded, but somehow they had obtained a copy of the answer key beforehand and memorized it.

The students did not memorize only the questions with multiple answers, but quoted the answers to the open questions from the answer key. Their misconduct was obvious to all the teachers. However,  when the case was presented to the legal department of the institute, the response was that it was tricky. Since the students were not caught in the act, there was no real proof.

It seems that the principal of the school in  Ashkelon and the legal department of my institute were anxious to maintain industrial peace. As a result, the principal was willing to sacrifice her teacher (and her values), and the legal department was ready to give up justice.

Luckily, the teacher in Ashkelon decided to go back to teaching, in spite of the suspension, and  we, the teachers, went ahead and confronted the cheating students. But still it is sad that so often we are left to fend for ourselves.

There is a lot of hard work before learning becomes truly meaningful. Rabbi Shay Piron, do you remember an older slogan published by the Education Ministry? “A good teacher is a teacher for life.”




About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. I am also an active member of Women Wage Peace and believe that women can succeed where men have failed.