Most high schools in the country teach less than the recommended seven to nine hours of history per week, and the history that is taught focuses too much on the details of the Holocaust and not enough on the War of Independence, according to one of Israel's most prominent historians.
Hanna Yablonka, who teaches history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said that in the year she has headed the Education Ministry's advisory committee on history studies, has come to realize that Israeli schools are ill-equipped to educate their students about the past. Though the ministry has determined that 10th- to 12th-graders should be taught between seven and nine hours of history a week, most schools teach only six hours per week, she said.
"It should be clear to all," said Yablonka. "Under these conditions, the curriculum cannot be taught."
"Every event from the War of Independence onward is taught superficially, and lacks any historical context," she said. "There aren't enough teaching hours dedicated to history, and the teachers are unable to complete the curriculum. The result is that at best they run through the material and check it off before the matriculation exams. Even worse, there is no organized thinking about the goals of studying [history]."
Education Ministry officials also said not enough time was devoted to history classes.
They said that during discussions held recently, Michael Yaron, the ministry official responsible for history education, said the number of classroom hours does not allow for in-depth study and called for schools to spend nine hours a week teaching history.
Yablonka, whose research focuses on the Holocaust and Israeli culture, said she would like to stir public debate over the teaching of the Holocaust, which is considered mandatory and takes up much of the class time in high schools.
"Why is the War of Independence, an event which established the State of Israel, not mandatory?" she asked. "I know that there will be debate on the matter, but at least the issue will be addressed. The 'technical' study of the Holocaust, how Jews were murdered, the stages of the final solution, etc., is the least important aspect, from an educational point of view. Apart from the 'pornography of evil,' there is no educational value to the technical details of the Holocaust."
Yablonka charged that Israelis raise children from kindergarten to know that "the bad Germans killed Jews, and the result is that generations of students do not understand what being normal is."
She also said subjects like the absorption of Holocaust survivors and ethnic differences among Israelis "are mentioned in the curriculum and they may even be taught in a few lessons, but there is no process that genuinely leads to education and knowledge."
In the year she has headed the advisory committee, Yablonka said, "I met many wonderful and committed teachers of history. They are thirsty for different thinking."
In-depth knowledge about the War of Independence isn't the only thing students are missing, said a veteran history teacher from central Israel.
"The problem with teaching history is not only the first years of the establishment of the state," the teacher said. "Subjects like the wars of '67 and '73 are taught on the level of three causes and three results. This is the level required from students."
Another teacher said "we have become 'technicians' of history teaching."
"There is nearly no connection between the goals I have set for myself when I started teaching and actually teaching," the teacher said.
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