The Education Ministry seems to be doing all it can to give teachers the feeling that deep, honest conversations about democracy and equality are not welcome in school.
By Gil Gertel
The director-general of the Education Ministry published an amendment to its “Educational Discourse on Controversial Issues” guidelines last week. The reason? To impose restrictions on guest lecturers who come and speak to students. The amendment does not propose any tools for selecting lectures, instead it creates ambiguity intended to frighten principals and teachers. Two studies published over the last few weeks confirm the trend: fear has spread on all levels, from teachers to heads of local authorities, over dealing with humanistic and democratic education. We have reached a point in which democracy is seen as a “complex and explosive concept.” Israeli society is afflicted with a severe anti-democratic disease.
Exactly one year ago, Education Minister Naftali Bennett banned members of Israeli anti-occupation group, Breaking the Silence, from speaking to students. This, of course, was nothing more than spin. In Israel the education minister does not decide who can or cannot enter schools, certainly not by arbitrary declarations against an organization that he dislikes. Bennett knows this, and thus thoroughly examined the work of educators, who for the past year have tried their best to figure out how to please the honorable minister. These professionals cannot make a decision vis-a-vis government bodies — instead they are to establish criteria to filter out those who must not be allowed to enter school grounds.
The director-general’s guide on educational discourse, in its original version, was intended to push teachers to deal with controversial topics. The directive called to remove the barriers of fear, to guide teachers, and emphasize the importance of such discourse. Here is a positive example from the guide:
The goal of this guide is to encourage teachers to hold discussions on questions of personal identity and civil discourse on controversial topics that raise moral dilemmas.
The education system is interested in educating its students to make value-based judgements, to develop a public and political consciousness, to become active on social and political issues, and to take a stand. Thus it seeks to promote a principled and critical discourse, as well as a range of opinions in the framework of civil education that is common to all sectors of society.
The updated version published last week included a paragraph on the entry of guest lecturers: