Tel Aviv Schools to Teach Democratic Values

Mayor Ron Huldai says move follows erosion of ‘highly important values’ of democracy in Israel in recent years.

High school students in Tel Aviv (illustrative).
Moti Milrod

The Tel Aviv municipality has decided to incorporate democracy lessons into the school curriculum, starting this year. The lessons, which will include civics education, are compulsory and will be in addition to the standard civics subjects.

Mayor Ron Huldai announced the initiative Sunday at a meeting with high school teachers, in the Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa. “In my conversations with youth, I have felt that the highly important values of democracy have been eroded in Israeli debate in recent years,” he said.

“We have to do our utmost to strengthen these values. I have, therefore, decided that the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality will launch a new program to instill the values of democracy in our schools, from the first to the 12th grade.”

Moti Milrod

According to city hall, “the program will use these values as an organizing principle of all educational activity that takes place at school.”

In addition to the weekly civics classes covered by all state schools in Israel, additional compulsory lessons dealing with democracy will be added in Tel Aviv. Democracy studies will also be incorporated into other core subjects.

Municipality officials said these lessons will involve discussions of topical issues, using an open democratic discussion of controversial topics, giving pupils tools to let them formulate well-grounded positions so they can voice their positions even when these don’t conform to the prevailing consensus.

“In addition to theoretical lessons, schools will encourage pupils to actively apply what they learn and to engage in civic activity in their lives outside school,” officials explained.

The new program is being formulated by the municipality’s educational division together with educational experts, in coordination with the person in charge of civics studies at the Education Ministry.

The program will be incorporated into this year’s curriculum, with a pilot conducted in grades nine and 10. Next year, the program will be gradually rolled out to all classes from grades one to 12 in secular, religious and Arab schools. Each school will have three to four guides who will lead these lessons, and guide pupils and staff in how to assimilate these values in class and school conversations. The municipality says that after a test period, it hopes the program could be installed nationally.

Several months ago, during a ceremony in which the Sokolow Prize for journalism was awarded, Mayor Huldai sharply criticized the government, accusing it of “defanging” democracy. He wore a yellow tag around his neck, which stated that he too “was a citizen of a country that receives funds from a foreign state” – protesting the ratification by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation of a law that obliges representatives of nonprofit organizations funded by foreign states to wear a badge when they visit the Knesset. That demand was subsequently removed from the bill.