Education Minister Bennett Fires ‘Leftist’ Curriculum Chief

Internal shuffle is standard with new ministers, but Nir Michaeli’s job was always on line because of his political views.

Yarden Skop
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Education Minister Naftali Bennett, May 19, 2015.Credit: Emil Salman
Yarden Skop

Education Minister Naftali Bennett has fired the ministry official in charge of curriculum, Dr. Nir Michaeli, head of Pedagogical Secretariat. The head of the secretariat is often replaced when a new education minister is appointed, but in this case Michaeli did not want to leave so soon after having assumed the post. However, his job was always on the line since he is known to have leftist political opinions.

The head of the Pedagogical Secretariat sets out the educational policies of the ministry, based on the worldview of the incumbent minister.

Michaeli’s firing is part of Bennett’s reshuffling of the ministry’s top echelons, following his earlier appointment of a new head of the professional committee overseeing civics studies, one more compatible with his own views. Michaeli was appointed by previous minister Shay Piron only nine months ago. During his brief tenure, Michaeli advanced the significant changes presented by Piron and was not involved in any policies that could be construed as biased towards the left.

The Education Ministry issued a statement saying, “Education Minister Naftali Bennett and the head of the Pedagogic Secretariat Dr. Nir Michaeli held a conversation, following which it was decided to terminate Dr. Michaeli’s appointment. The minister thanked him for his successful term and wished him luck on his future path.” The statement noted that one of Bennett’s goals is to “incorporate a comprehensive program for instilling values into the curriculum.” Michaeli refused to comment about the statement.

Against false objectivity in political education

The last book of articles Michaeli edited deals with political education in the school system, and is called “Yes in Our School” [a play on the Hebrew phrase “Not in our school,” used to express strong disapproval]. In the introduction he writes about appropriate political education, which is not neutral or technocratic but is not doctrinaire either.

“Such political education," he writes, "does not make do with functional civic education, generalized and sterile, taking great care not to serve as a narrow propaganda tool. It is characterized by attempts to increase the dealing with conflicting political issues, while laying out a wide range of approaches, with an invitation to critically analyze all of them. This is done with the educator transparently presenting his own views, in a fair way that is open to criticism by his pupils.”

He writes that the education system currently pursues a “pseudo-neutrality, leading to the erection of a curtain of ignorance, of supposed objectivity. Under the cover of this ignorance there is in fact a forceful political education, which is taken as knowledge, as truth, as nature. This screen of political ignorance doesn’t allow pupils to distinguish between knowledge and opinion, and it blocks their becoming familiar with other viewpoints, limiting their opportunities to develop well-grounded independent positions, based on conscious, value-based decisions.

"This reality is enhanced by denying educators and teachers the chance to provide political education in the manner noted above. This denial is achieved partly by employing external ‘contractors’ who talk about values, excluding teachers from this process. The teachers are left only with trying to improve the pupils’ and school’s scoring on local, national and international aptitude tests, in the common but unfounded belief that dealing with political issues as part of their duties is legally prohibited.”