The Education Ministry is refusing to approve a new eighth-grade history textbook on the grounds that it is too difficult for the average student. The rejection of the textbook, which its authors describe as "thought-provoking," comes as a surprise as ministry representatives have been saying for several years now that they want to encourage students to do more thinking and less regurgitating.
"We wrote a thought-provoking book, and the ministry's response was that there was too much thinking involved," said the textbook's co-authors, Eyal Naveh, a history professor at Tel Aviv University and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, and Naomi Vered, who researches political education at the institute and has taught at a middle school in the north for years.
The ministry said the textbook, called "Ne'orut Umahapehot Ba'olam Ha'etmol" (literally, "Enlightenment and Revolution in the World of Yesterday" ), was too advanced for its targeted age group.
The two ministry officials who reviewed the book found its portrayal of historical facts to be accurate and that it "covers the curriculum 100 percent" - but also concluded that "there are places where the text is written in language that will make it difficult for mediocre and weak students" and that "the overall level of the book does not suit the abilities of the average eighth-grade student."
The reviewers cited words and phrases like "discriminated against" (mufla lera'a ) and "eradicate" (lemager ) as being too hard. "It's advisable to make it easy on the students and not use such high-level words," they wrote.
The reviewers cited the following sentence as being riddled with problems: "She collapsed beneath economic difficulties" (Hi kar'a tahat keshiyim kalkaliyim ).
"The textbook isn't suited for students at middle schools, whose populations are heterogeneous," the ministry said in a statement.
Naveh and Vered subsequently revised the textbook, but the ministry still refused to approve it. "It's the schools that should determine whether our book is too difficult, not the Education Ministry," said Vered.
In a letter sent to the ministry's reviewers, Naveh and Vered said they realized their textbook was written on a relatively high level, but that "this is because we believe it's possible to cultivate a generation that does more in-depth [studying], that is more involved and that speaks better Hebrew."
The former head of the ministry's pedagogic secretariat, Anat Zohar, who served under the previous education minister, Yuli Tamir, developed a policy by which students are gradually taught how to think about what they were learning, as opposed to simply memorizing the material. At least officially, that policy is supposed to still be in place under the current education minister, Gideon Sa'ar.
After a revised middle-school history curriculum was released last year, several publishing houses began working on textbooks. The ministry approves textbooks if the officials reviewing them determine that they cover all the elements of the curriculum, are scientifically valid, adequately represent various segments of the population and don't insult minority groups.
"Last October, in a meeting held with the authors of the new textbooks, Education Ministry officials discussed the need to make history studies more in-depth and include skills involving a high order of thinking," said Naveh. "Every chapter of our book begins with a personal story and expands gradually, such that history is taught from several perspectives. We wanted to turn history into a subject that poses dilemmas and to generate curiosity among students, but the Education Ministry prefers to spoon-feed them."
Had the book been approved for use in Israeli schools, it could have netted its publisher - Reches Educational Projects, which puts out educational material - several million shekels in the first year alone, according to estimates. Reches published a previous collaboration between Naveh and Vered titled "Nationalism in Israel and Among the Nations." Some of their earlier collaborations have won Education Ministry approval in the past.
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