"Remember, you are the avant-garde of our young generation," said then minister of education Aharon Yadlin, after reviewing a parade of hundreds of pupils at the Reali School in Haifa. They were standing at attention to honor the fallen and sweating in their khaki uniforms. Yadlin believed in the avant-garde; today's education minister, Gideon Sa'ar, believes in reaction.
The minster reached the conclusion (how?) that "where there are uniforms, their contribution is apparent in an improved school climate, through an emphasis on what is common, on equality, and on school pride." Apparently, if there are schools that instill such pride in their pupils, it's not those where the socioeconomic gaps among the students are wide and uniforms create a kind of fictitious equality. Presumably, Sa'ar was speaking of the schools that belong to an education system whose students are all from well-off families and who bring to school the pride they get at home.
Moreover, the notion that students should stand up when the teacher enters the classroom is also an ancient one. It could be combined with the proposals of one of Sa'ar's predecessors, Limor Livnat, that students not only stand but sing "Hatikva" and salute the flag. Indeed, this will improve the behavior of the students toward their teachers, if only for the time it takes to sing the national anthem. Students who are standing at attention and saluting cannot throw spitballs at the teacher or be impertinent at the same time. Possibly some semblance of change may be achieved, but it is not reasonable to expect that these kinds of enforced manners will really bring about the internal change necessary to make students feel they want to respect their teachers because of their profession and status in the classroom.
From the day that I was admitted to Reali, my teachers never ceased their efforts to foster school pride. To this end, I was instructed to get a light blue dress with a white collar and to sew on the embroidered motto "Walk Humbly." I heard marvelous stories about famous alumni, but what I remembered was the story about a member of the school's second graduating class, my grandfather, who was slapped by the principal and slapped him back, thereby quitting while he was ahead. I learned the words of the prayer "O Lord of the Universe," which we had to sing right after standing to attention when the teacher entered the classroom. At first, I thought the teacher was the lord of the universe, and that this was why we were allowed to address him only in the third person.
All of the boys in their khaki uniforms and the girls in their light blue dresses wore the same badge, but we knew that Dani's father was a shipping magnate, that Romi's father owned a chemicals plant, Esther's father was a beverage importer and Ziyad's father a big building contractor. On the other hand, Ziyad was also an Arab, so he didn't count for much.
I had so much school pride that I used to take a spare outfit in my bag, and as soon as school was over, I got out of uniform and into regular clothes. I was ashamed to attend the school for rich kids from the Carmel neighborhood - where, as I explained to our homeroom teacher, Golan, I was being turned into little more than a well-educated sheep - a remark for which I was a given a week's suspension. If there was school pride there, it was the feeling of "Look at me, I'm a prodigy" of the rich kids.
What about respect for the teachers? Indeed, we did treat them with more respect. Not because we stood up for them, but because that is what we were brought up to do at home. To regard a teacher as someone important, the person who decides what's what in the classroom. And this is really the change that's needed now: to educate parents to regard teachers with respect.
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