High school students will now be required to recite poetry from memory, as part of the literature curriculum implemented by the Education Ministry. In the next few weeks, the ministry will formulate a list of about five poems to be learned by rote, with the new requirement to take effect in the coming school year.
At the same time, the ministry has also decided to reduce the number of hours devoted to literature studies in high school. Ministry officials believe that student recitation of poetry will reinforce their commitment to literature, but teachers and university lecturers say this is unlikely.
Prof. Ziva Shamir of Tel Aviv University argues that memorizing poems is a "cheap solution that does not require training of teachers or in-depth study."
A week ago, Dr. Shlomo Hertzig, the ministry's supervisor of literature studies, issued an order stipulating that "literature teachers are asked to teach pupils to recite select literary texts cited in school curricula."
He went on to explain that the list will feature mainly "classic poems," and that "final grades should reward pupils who fulfill this assignment satisfactorily."
Poems likely to be on the list include Yehuda Halevi's "My Heart is in the East," and Chaim Nahman Bialik's "Take Me Under Your Wing."
According to Hertzig, a "professional committee" is behind the initiative. The panel, chaired by Prof. Hamutal Bar-Yosef of Ben-Gurion University (an accomplished poet herself ), is comprised of academics who specialize in literature as well as experienced teachers.
Poetry memorization was part of Israeli educational curriculum in the past, but gradually disappeared. The decision to reinstate memorization stems from the belief that such rote learning will strength pupils' commitments to Bible and literature studies.
For one teacher, however, reciting poetry represents "an anachronistic response from the older generation of educators, who have trouble dealing with the young generation of pupils and what these young people want to learn. There is a feeling among teachers that students don't know anything, and so they have chosen to take the easy route of required memorization... A better approach is to respect the world of young people, and the things they love and want to do, while exposing them to cultural treasures."
According to Shamir, "there is a difference between requiring pupils to recite passages from the Bible, and the difficulties connected to choosing poems pupils will have to memorize. The requirement could be a good one if the five poems are all by Bialik, because rich layers of Hebrew literature can be found in every line. But the selection of poems based on 'party' lines is an invitation for contention."
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