Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Response to R. Yosef Blau

[The Jerusalem Post saw fit to print this, but cut it down by about half.  They probably did it a service in some ways, but it seems a reasonable use of the blog to put it here in its unabridged form.]

R. Yosef Blau writes persuasively about the mis-education of many Religious-Zionist youth.  He focuses on their being taught a simplistic (and inaccurate) view of our place in the world, our conflict with the Arabs and the religious value of our territorial patrimony.

I think he is quite correct, but I also think that the problem is, in a way, deeper:  It’s not simply that we have given up on teaching nuance, tolerance and a deeper understanding of our sources.  We have given up on teaching, period.  Our community, along with the surrounding culture, has adopted the idea that teaching children to know things and do things – what we once called Education – is neither possible nor necessary.  Not possible, because we have lost our ability to maintain discipline.  Not necessary, because the really important work is in socializing and engaging the children – knowledge can come later, but if we don’t get their emotional commitment now, we never will.

Religious Zionists are sometimes even more extreme in this view than members of other communities, out of concern that their children will either give up religious observance or join the Haredim.
The result is not only widespread ignorance, but a puffing-up of the kids’ sense that their opinions are as valuable as anyone’s and they need no consultation before ditching school to “defend” an outpost, commune with Nature or deface a mosque.

The most telling remark in R. Blau’s piece is that “the message communicated is that demonstrating is more important than learning”.  It’s true, but it should be seen in context:  In today’s education almost anything is more important than learning.

The corrective is not simply to improve teaching – how effective can that be when the whole activity is devalued?  It’s to get our educators (and parents) back to doing their jobs, which do not include heart-to-heart talks, rap sessions, watching movies, going to demonstrations or attending strings of airy “symposia”.  They are addicted to “informal” education, and like all recovering addicts they should avoid their poison completely, lest they slide back.