Back to the future

Today is the first day of school for most Israeli kids, as the summer break officially ends. Here, it’s front page news. From Israel HaYom:


The middle headline and text is:

Good luck!

After the threat of a strike was lifted last night, 2,194,931 pupils will this morning start the academic year 5776. 157,477 will enter school gates for the first time, and 118,721 will be finishing twelfth grade. The bell ringing is for them.

And the story is continued on pages 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9…

Kids and the future are a central part of Israeli society and the culture. And long may that continue.

[The Israel HaYom English language website is here, but is normally a day behind the Hebrew print version of the paper. The Jerusalem Post has a bit more, here.]


Education as a tool of oppression

And by oppression, I mean oppression of the Palestinian people by the Palestinian leadership.

Try this for size:

“I was born in Jerusalem in an Arab culture that, to put it mildly, ignores the Holocaust and avoids discussing it. As a young girl, I had to overcome social and educational restrictions to learn more about these closed chapters of history. Not only were books on the subject unavailable, but we were told that our responsibility as Palestinians was to memorize only what teachers told us, so as to reinforce our collective memory of loss and grievance and support our national identity and quest for a homeland.

However degrading and unfair our situation in Palestine is today—and yes, it is degrading and unfair—it pales in comparison to the dehumanizing evil perpetrated by the Nazis.

So people were educated in a narrow focus to support their national identity. Memorize only what teachers teach. Do not ask questions. No books. It’s like 1984 without the liberty…

The quote, not so incidentally, comes from a participant in a Palestinian trip to Poland and the camps in March of this year. Read it all, here, and weep for those poor people. Cursed they are. Cursed by their leaders, and the international community – calling Catherine Ashton – that tolerates, excuses and ignores, Holocaust denial, threats of terrorist activity, and Jew hatred.

Read it and weep for what these people could be, were they to have peace.

The educators’ plight

I first saw this cracking Michael Gove quote at Guy Fawkes’ blog:

“One set of history teaching resources targeted at year 11s – 15 and 16 year olds – suggests spending classroom time depicting the rise of Hitler as a ‘Mr Men’ story.


I may be unfamiliar with all of Roger Hargreaves’ work but I am not sure he ever got round to producing Mr Anti-Semitic Dictator, Mr Junker General or Mr Dutch Communist Scapegoat.”


Gove’s continuation is worth quoting:

“But I am familiar with the superb historical account Richard J Evans gives of the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich and I cannot believe he could possibly be happy with reducing the history of Germany’s darkest years to a falling out between Mr Tickle and Mr Topsy-Turvy.”

Oh dear.

These pieces come from this speech by the UK Education Minister. He was skewering teachers’ approach to providing pupils with ‘relevant’ material.

Gove makes a number of good points, but having had my attention drawn by the humor, I want to note one aspect about his approach that I think is wrong: the emphasis in literature and drama that says pupils must learn pre-20th century material. For example, Shakespeare. Why?

I had to study the Blasted Bard at school. I hated it.

My kids had to study it, too. Guess what; they hated it too.

Shakespeare and the like is difficult, and hard work. But so is some modern stuff; age is no guarantee of quality. But Shakespeare and the like are burdened with archaic language that does nobody any real good.

I hate the theatre as a medium, probably because of having the Blasted Bard forced down me at school. I’m sure I am not alone. And it’s not that I don’t want it taught at all; I just do not think it’s a good starting place.

If you want to teach kids, inspire them. Inspire them with something they can relate to. (No, not flipping Mr Men.) So in drama, for example, kids can learn modern works to get a solid grounding in the medium. Then, and only then, having a decent foundation to work with, their teachers can think about the Bard. (If they must.)

I suppose there is a balancing act, but while Gove is right to talk about quality being important, quality does not begin and end with everything that is pre 20th century.