There is a pedagogic poem in Tel Aviv; through the curtain of indifference and darkness, a ray of light. In an educational system that provides only grades and sterile surroundings, the encouragement of thinking is prohibited. It's a place where teachers are mute and educators blind in the stupefying brainwash of propaganda, evasion and ignorance in the curricula. But a courageous voice has been heard: The principal of Aleph High School of the Arts, Ram Cohen, called his 11th-graders to a meeting last week and gave them a real civics lesson, a real education in values. Instead of the usual blah-blah, cheap Zionism and cheaper democracy, cliches within hollow and specious cliches, Cohen spoke the truth to his students.
Cohen told his students about the occupation. He told them that you can't brutally crush values the way Israel has been doing for 42 years and say we are educating for democracy. He asked them whether they would be willing to live under an occupation. He told them he does not justify terror but understands what leads to attacks. He called on educators to tell students that the occupation is cursed and called on students to serve in an army that protects security, not an army busy with the occupation.
"Talk to each other, talk to your parents, go out and demonstrate," he told them, doing what any educator should do. But in the Israel of 2010, nationalist and militarist, Cohen's remarks raised a storm. MKs called for his dismissal, he was summoned for "clarifications" in the Education Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality. He was not allowed to give interviews, which is outrageous in and of itself.
Education Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani was also shocked. "A principal who thinks he can preach has no place in the education system," said our "educator" No. 1, comparing Cohen's civics lesson to the incitement preceding the death of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. "I'm not opposed to lessons with the homeroom teacher discussing the occupation as a concept," the director general squirmed. "Let people speak out for and against. Are we looking at what is happening in the West Bank as occupation?"
The true face of the education system as collaborating with the occupation was suddenly revealed. The director general compares murderous incitement to remarks about human values; he still dares question whether the West Bank is under occupation. He still thinks there can be a "for" and "against" to the occupation. An education system that reconciles itself to yeshiva heads who preach nationalism and racism, rabbis who sanctify every stone in a land not ours, teachers who advocate the continuation of settlements that have been invalidated by international law - these are all proper and not considered "political."
Teacher-propagandists who do not tell their students the whole truth about our history, who think democracy means voting on election day, civics means demonstrating for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, Zionism means traveling to Auschwitz and values means taking part in a telethon for the Israel Defense Forces' welfare fund are accepted by the heavy-handed system. An educator who tries to infuse real content into his job is called in for clarifications.
Principal Cohen once talked about how he came to change his positions: From his home in Modi'in, every day he saw a long line of Palestinian laborers heading home on foot after a hard day's work because they are not allowed on the apartheid road. Should he not tell this to his students? Is it not only his right, but also his obligation to do so? Is it not essential for his students to see what is going on around them, not only to go on the March of the Living wrapped in the national flag, but to see the march of our neighbors' lives?
Cohen's high school has changed since the bygone days when I was a student there. Under his leadership it has become a school of thinking children. As opposed to his obeisant colleagues, Cohen has also come out against the militarization of the schools and their classification by the number of combat soldiers they produce for the IDF. In so doing, he has also done his job.
Cohen is a real teacher of a lifetime, "the country's best teacher" as the cheap contest underway now is called, in which his name will certainly not be mentioned. Instead of sending him a letter of appreciation he is excoriated; instead of calling on all educators to follow his path, he is summoned to give explanations. If we had had a few dozen more educators like Cohen in our day, maybe we would not have had a Goldstone report.
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