Israeli school
An Israeli school. Photo by Moti Milrod
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The first reports of the hearing the ORT school system held to consider dismissing teacher Adam Verete were published Sunday morning. The Education Ministry had known of the matter since the end of last week. Yet so far, both the ministry and its minister, Shay Piron, have kept mum about the issue.

This decision is regrettable. The education minister cannot and must not stand aside when a teacher is being punished for trying to engage in education. Over the last few days, many teachers have demanded that Piron back Verete and all the other educators for whom the minister is responsible and in whose name he speaks. That is a justified demand, but so far, it has been ignored.

The appointment of Piron, who has been both a teacher and a principal, as education minister raised educators’ hopes. They rejoiced that the system would now be headed by someone who knows its problems from up close, including the difficulty of engaging in education as opposed to rote learning of the curriculum. The changes that Piron announced just recently, under the headline “a transition to substantive learning,” are supposed to give schools and teachers more educational discretion. And yet, at the very first test of “substantive learning,” Piron chose to sentence himself and his ministry’s staffers to silence and leave the public debate to the ORT network, which is proud of having made enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces a top educational criterion.

The flaws in ORT’s conduct are well-known: The network acted hastily, on the basis of a complaint submitted by a single student, and rushed to abandon Verete, who has received enviable backing from his other students. Yet this behavior, ugly and upsetting though it is, pales in comparison to the lack of support from the Education Ministry. The consequences that message are far more destructive.

Teachers who try to discuss controversial issues with their students have been under attack in recent years. Under Piron’s predecessor, Gideon Sa’ar, the Education Ministry itself led the campaign to silence and intimidate those whose views deviated from the permitted line.

Piron cannot speak in praise of involved teachers and curious students – and sometimes, perhaps even critical ones – while simultaneously keeping mum when a teacher who acted on his recommendations has been put in the dock. He must stop this deterioration and give the requisite backing both to Verete and to other teachers through a clear, forceful public statement in favor of education that dares to raise questions. This is the education minister’s moment of truth. He must not fail the test.