Tel Aviv Principal Defends Banning IDF Program From His School

Principal says he received death threats due to decision, cites pedagogical reasons for ban of army program.

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The principal of Tel Aviv's prestigious Gymnasia Herzliya High School attempted to explain on Sunday his decision not to take part in a joint army-Education Ministry program; which angered Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenzi.

"The idea that the army will educate teachers casts major doubt on the work the teachers do, all day all the time. It damages one of the most basic foundations of our profession. I am not against the army, I am against the blurring of boundaries, when officer come to teach teachers how to educate,' the principal, Dr. Zeev Dagani, said.

Dagani said he has received death threats and condemnation ever since he announced that the school would not be taking part in the program, which began last month in some 270 high schools throughout the country. The program brings officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel and colonel to the schools to instruct teachers how to encourage young people to join the army and sign up for combat roles.

Increasing draft rates is one of the goals of the Education Ministry; Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar is overseeing the program.

The Education Ministry said the goal of the program is "educational and values-related dialogue between educators and commanders to raise dilemmas and questions of values and morals with which educators and commanders deal."

Dagani cited pedagogical reasons in his decision not to take part.

Participation in the program is at the discretion of each principal.

On Sunday, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Ashkenazi, an alumnus of Gymnasia Herzliya, said "I am ashamed of the school where I studied."

According to Gymnasia Herzliya figures, 96.2 percent of its male graduates go into the army. It has a Gadna paramilitary course and a specialized Gadna course with increased Arabic studies. Soldiers in uniform conduct a draft-preparation course in the school and senior reserve officers are invited on a regular basis for lectures on various subjects.

Dagani said the responses he has received on his decision show extreme intolerance.

"It would have been much easier for me to have agreed to the program. But the little that is left to us educators is the right to work according to out conscience and our pedagogic understanding. The responses are depressing and very frightening," he said.

Last week, officers from the Paratroops Brigade visited the Gymnasia Realit school in Rishon Lezion. The principal, Shosh Vinter, said the experience was very positive.

"The meeting was an opportunity for the faculty to learn about educational activities in the army and learn how the military complements our educational work," she said.

Numerous Herzliya Gymnasia students signed a letter to Ashkenazi, which stated: "We do not believe that obedience to the military should be required of various systems, particularly the education system, which promotes individualistic thinking."

"We have the right not to follow what everyone else does like a herd," one student, Dana Sandal said.

However, another student, Meron Manzin, said: "They should let the officers come, so the teachers can get us psyched up about going into the army. It's the teachers' job to train us for military life."

The Education Ministry said: "The quota for participation in the program has been filled and no school was obligated to participate. Schools were very willing and satisfied with the program."

The ministry also said Dagani's remarks were "unfortunate" but also noted the school's programs to encourage service in the IDF.



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