In Israel, Success Is Measured in Combat Service

Israel lags behind in educational rankings, but often views students' military service as a substitute.

I'd like to welcome you to Sparta. Fascistan is here.

Yedioth Aharonoth devoted its first four pages Friday to the result of a poll commissioned by the Israel Defense Forces and the Education Ministry.

"The combat-ready and draft-dodging test," the headline blared. Underneath it were lists of high schools across the country measured by the rate of service in IDF combat units among high school graduates.

Sde Eliyahu's school and the Hispin yeshiva high school are at the top of the heap in a country where combat is tops, my brother. In most other countries around the world, including not-so-enlightened ones, schools compete with one another over educational and intellectual achievements of their graduates as well as their future success in society. In Israel, success is measured by combat service.

While Israel disgracefully lags behind in every international educational ranking, it encourages and takes pride in the military service of its students as a questionable substitute.

Service in the IDF is a necessity. It shares little in common with education. An army is an entity which trains its members to be blindly obedient, while schools must educate by inculcating creative thought.

The job of a school is to impart knowledge, education, and values on its students. On this score, they have registered a shameful failure, one after the other. International tests in recent years have exposed Israel's education system for what it is, given the particularly meager achievements which are only getting worse. The latest TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) results registered by our students placed them 24th in math and 25th in science out of 49 countries that participated in the exam. Israel trails Armenia, Cyprus and Malaysia.

In the Mitzav exams given to elementary and middle school students, the average grade in math was 44 and the mark in Hebrew studies was 68. The PISA exam results left Israel in 39th place in science and 40th place in reading and mathematics, out of a total of 57 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development states which gave their students the test.

Yet one does not need these exams to know that the education level of those who complete school in Israel is abominable - and it is only worsening. In the long term, it is a harbinger of bad news for Israel, far more dangerous than the Iranian nuclear program.

Children do not read books or newspapers. Every random question asked in school elicits ridicule, if not fear, once the answers are given. In addition, violence in schools is on the rise, knives have replaced books and spikes have taken the place of notebooks.

Our substitute for a good school, an educator and provider of knowledge: service in combat units, manning roadblocks, targeted killings, arrests and other routine IDF activity. This is what our schools take pride in.

Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, recently wrote of how proud his graduating class from a school in Queens, New York was of three of its students who went on to win Nobel Prizes, another who became a renowned psychologist and yet another who was a trailblazing women's basketball player.

Recently, a school in the Jezreel Valley claimed credit for a similar "feat": eight of its graduates serve in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit. Now we know that Makif Sulam Zur is a better school than Thelma Yellin in Givatayim or Ironi Alef in Tel Aviv.

Why? Because it received a grade of 84, Thelma Yalin received a paltry score of 46 and Ironi Alef registered a 58 in the national test of combat service.

The fact that the latter two schools produced some of the most creative youngsters in recent years while nobody has heard anything about those who graduated from Makif Sulam Zur, with the exception of the IDF, counts for nothing.

The time has come for schools to be judged by real standards - a contribution to society not measured by IDF service. There are excellent students who have made important contributions to society - in the fields of science, arts, letters and academia - and have not embarked on daring missions.

By now, Israel should have long outgrown its birth pangs. It should have woken up from the days in which IDF service was perhaps the most important indicator. Those days are gone. The IDF operates primarily as an army of occupation. Serving in the army has absolutely no connection to the inculcation of values or higher education.

Principals of schools must refrain from making an effort to burnish the position of their educational institutions on the scale of militarism. They have far more important tasks.

In addition, Tel Aviv, whose schools do not appear at the top of the combat service yardstick, should not feel any guilt. It is providing society's real backbone.

The motivation to perform combat service should be left to the IDF, and the task of educating should be left to the schools. There is no connection between them.