The cloud of COVID brought with it one silver lining – the shocking revelation of what was being taught in U.S. public schools without the knowledge of many parents. They only came to find out once they overheard what was being said, via Zoom, on their kids’ computers. And once they did, it changed everything.
Up until that point, no one suspected that the usual academic subjects were being condensed to make way for more emerging social topics such as sexual and gender orientation, critical race theory and a host of accompanying themes which were responsible for hijacking normal, conventional education.
Similarly, Israeli schools have also experienced a variety of new agendas, and while parents should be concerned and even proactive in this arena, the government has decided to be the ones to get involved.
Israel’s Cabinet has decided to vote on appointing “far-right Knesset Member, Avi Maoz as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of a 'Jewish identity unit' that will enable him to act as an inspector of the external programming taught in schools.”
This idea was floated some time ago when Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister for the third time, choosing the most religious, extreme right-wing Cabinet ever in the country’s history. It was then that Avi Maoz became his choice to influence many sectors of Israeli society, including education.
Not going over well, due to his very narrow-minded positions and outcry by the public, the idea was scrapped and we were lulled into thinking that Maoz faded into the background, never to re-emerge. Apparently, that was a miscalculation on the part of most of us. Now, backed, once again, by Netanyahu, Maoz will be in charge of the purposely vague definition of “strengthening Jewish character in schools.” Although Maoz promises to furnish parents with a degree of transparency, the information he gains, as a result of his personal monitoring, will be kept and used by him at his sole discretion.
While the stated goal is to make sure that principals and educators do not further sexual and gender content in schools, no one at this point can say with any certainty whether or not Maoz will seek to advance his own religious orientation or values on Israeli school students. After all, the strengthening of Jewish identity can take on any number of life forms if someone has enough imagination. It can demand Shabbat observance or seek to modify dress codes. It can enact whatever is deemed to advance checking the box of Jewish character.
Why is this wrong? Because it is mostly secular parents who send their children to Israeli public schools. The religiously observant, as a whole, opt to send their children to either private or state-run religious schools which already have specific standards and rules which these kids are obligated to observe. Up until now, secular Israeli parents felt secure in the knowledge that their children were being taught the usual and customary core subjects which would prepare them for higher education or other professions which they would begin upon completion of their military service.
But now, parents who are not religious, will have to confront the fact that one individual – who many have identified as extremely biased, intolerant and one-sided – will be in charge of what their children study and how that course of study is presented to them on a daily basis. Surely, any educator who strays from that plan, might expect to be labeled as a renegade and face consequences for trying to teach in a manner that could be unapproved by Maoz, himself.
However, this idea of outsourcing the responsibility for content studies is one that is troubling, because there is an attempt to co-opt the authority that rightly belongs to both the educators and the parents. There is no question that not every teacher or principal is doing a good job. However, parents, students and even other teachers have always been able to assess that very effectively in the past.
When most students in a class are unable to pass a course, it’s clear that something is amiss, as it concerns how the information is being related to the students. Such a teacher must be reviewed for not effectively transferring the materials in a way that is understandable, clear and precise.
Likewise, if one's son or daughter receives a continuously bad report card, the parent must be willing to dig deep to uncover the failures of their child. Is it the teacher? Is it the student? Is it something else? None of this can be determined by a Knesset member who aspires to influence an entire generation in his image.
Children are also a treasure trove of resource information for curious parents who are willing to inquire on a regular basis. Kids are probably the best evaluators of who is a good teacher and who isn’t – what methods work and what doesn’t, as well as displaying enthusiasm or lack of it for their studies.
These kids need to have a listening ear from their caregivers who should want to know if the school is providing an extension of their values, their ethics and morals, as well as the hard work which accompanies success. These things, also, cannot be outsourced to a 66-year-old ultra-religious Knesset member who, himself, studied in a closed yeshiva and served as director of the Housing Ministry and Yisrael BaAliyah, a political entity which dealt with immigration. He brings nothing to the table in terms of educational experience, background or qualification. So why should he be the deciding factor as to how, and in what manner, Israel’s students study?
Labor Party Knesset Member Gilad Kariv apparently feels the same way, as he said: “Who are you trying to kid? You enable the establishment of a monitoring and reporting system for principals and teachers, and all you care about is that your powers are not compromised."
He made a further accusation that a quarter of a billion shekels (about $68 billion USD) – the money to be allotted to this program – will be used for “fundamentalist influence on schools.”
The irony wasn’t missed on Meirav Cohen of the Yesh Atid political party, who claimed that while Maoz would be “overseeing content” in the secular schools, the Haredi school system, which does not necessarily teach core subjects, will go unsupervised and continue to do as they’ve done, in disregard of proper teaching standards. One Israeli mayor already stated that he will refuse sharing information for the purpose of political persecution of educators, while another mayor completely rejected the implementation of this program in his city.
There is no shortage of angry educators, politicians and citizens who believe that this arbitrary move will badly impact students and educators. The question that remains to be answered is how the Israeli public will respond to, yet, another blatant attempt at trying to shove religious politics down their throats?
In the end, the education that might result from this latest development may be a decisive rejection by the very people it is being placed upon. Because interfering in the role of parents, students and educators could be the hardest and most painful lesson for government officials to learn once their report card comes due.
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.