Equality in education is essential for saving Israeli society

by Muli Peleg
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NEWARK, New Jersey - What is education?
Education is a process of inculcating a community with content and messages that imbue its members with a sense of identity, belonging and loyalty to the educating source. This is entirely different from learning. Learning is a source of enrichment, knowledge and wisdom.
Education requires an educator, guidance, process and development. It necessitates rules, regulations and methods. Learning is a means to an end, such as a matriculation exam, whereas education is an end in itself: the creation of a thinking, curious, critical and happy human being. Or put simply, learning shapes an attitude to life whereas education attempts to shape life itself.
The concept of education is derived from the Latin verb “educo”, which literally means to “draw forth within” or to channel outward from the inside. This meaning is related to the idea of remaking the pupil and adapting him or her to the national, social, religious and cultural framework in which he/she lives. Hence the method and system of education is of highest value to a country’s leadership.
Every regime, governing elite or leadership, and every father and mother, place education at the top of their priorities. Education is an important tool for delineating the shape, priorities and developmental trends of a community. Therefore, when we speak about a heterogeneous society which is composed of a multitude of identities, aspirations and agendas, all different from each other and sometimes even clashing with one another, education becomes a battleground. Every group within that society strives to subjugate the others to its beliefs and educational values because it believes that they are the most worthy and because none of the groups wish to lose the educational principles in which they are so well-versed. Education, therefore, is a critical tool for creating hegemony or a set of priorities in which the dictating party has the upper hand.
In Israel, education is one of several arenas that is rife with conflict between Jews and Arabs, conflict that takes place against the regional tensions and hostility between Israel and its neighbours. The Jewish-Arab conflict has turned education into an area of conflict, not just between two legitimate groups in the same country, but between two opposing and contradictory ways of life.
The importance of this arena becomes clearer once we analyse the components of education—that is, the building blocks on which it is founded: language, narrative and symbols.
Language is the means for immediate communication among the various groups that make up the nation and is therefore of critical importance to its unity. The narrative, or the explanation of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going, provides the justification (and sometimes an excuse) for policy and support for it; and symbols support communication and narrative on a figurative and emotional level. Education acts as a vehicle for transferring these components from the elites to the public or from the leaders to the followers and entrenches them in the experience of the nation.
In many countries, the education system has succeeded on many levels to include and unite the various communities that have gathered under its umbrella into one national-cultural unit. In Israel, on the other hand, this conflict has become inevitably polarised with the Israeli declaration of independence and the entrenchment of Hebrew narratives and symbolism in Israeli education without consideration for the educational needs of the Arabs. This attitude was, and is still, rooted in an arrogance and a steadfast position according to which education in Israel must be Hebrew and Jewish.
This hegemony is a recipe for social collapse. It is not possible to impose an identity or enforce a sense of belonging through any means and certainly not through the educational system. Language, with its writers, myths and descriptions; narrative with its heroes, explanations and morals; and symbolism with its images and festivals, cannot be taken away from a people. Once a collective feels that it is being suppressed in the area of education, it will rebel. And indeed, the situation in Israel is reaching breaking point.
One way to pre-empt this breakdown is to forge a joint educational administration based on real equality and not, as the case is today, where the Arab is a secondary partner who receives dictates from his or her superior. The equal partnership will be expressed in the planning of lesson content, setting priorities, choosing textbooks and jointly setting criteria for excellence and success.
A necessary motif here is mutuality. It is not enough to have Jewish-Arab collaboration in education one alongside the other. In order to realise and enable a shared future and vision for this country, both sides must cooperate one within the other. That is, Arab students must learn the values, beliefs and perceptions inherent in Hebrew Jewish education and the Jewish children should study those of the Arabs. It is also desirable to offer shared lessons and the experience of learning together in the classroom. An experience of, and familiarity with, the dilemmas, aspirations and fears of the other are the best and most solid guarantees of a real education.

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* Muli Peleg is a Schusterman visiting Professor for Israeli Affairs in the Bildner Center for Jewish Studies at Rutgers University New Jersey. He is a senior lecturer at Tel Hai College where he established the program for Conflict Management and Resolution. He also teaches at the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and is a research fellow at the Stanford Center for International Conflict Resolution and Negotiation (SCICN). This article is part of a special series on nationalism in the Israeli educational system and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 08 October 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
 
 
 
 
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OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES
Memories of a graduate of the Israeli mainstream school system
The Israeli education system and the question of shared citizenship
Toward an equal Arab-Palestinian education in Israel
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Other articles in this series

Memories of a graduate of the Israeli mainstream school system by Michal Haramati
The Israeli education system and the question of shared citizenship by Khaled Abu Asbah
Toward an equal Arab-Palestinian education in Israel by Yousef Jabareen
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a teacher by Itzik Hoffman
Educating for tolerant thinking within a conflict zone by Catherine Rottenberg and Neve Gordon
An empty land? by Yonathan Mizrachi
Liberating the Palestinian and Zionist narratives in Israeli schools by Ayman Agbaria