Sa'ar's Officers

If it's a lack of patriotism that is bothering Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, then it's best to start with firm foundations, such as proper Hebrew, learning to use common sense, and to bolster it by reading and studying.

Since his appointment, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has been trying to change the way the winds blow in the country's schools, by ending both the weakness that tempts students to act out and the lenience that has lowered educational standards. This approach is like a refreshing splash of cold water in the face of the battered school system.

But now Sa'ar is pushing a new project for high school students: You're finishing school and being drafted into the army, he tells them, so go ahead and take up the challenge of combat service. He aims to foster education that eschews pampering and whining, so he sees nothing wrong with mobilizing uniformed officers to bring that message right into the schools, the very center for the cultivation of the modern, humanist spirit.

Uniforms are a fixture in Israel's landscape, and are also seen in other countries' educational institutions. On American campuses, for example, the authorities allow military recruiters to speak to students and distribute information about signing up in exchange for tuition and a certain degree of prestige. In Israel, where one law makes military service compulsory and other laws exempt large groups within the population, it is not easy to persuade teens. To that end, Sa'ar's forces will deploy in high schools with the objective of instilling into the teachers a sense of duty to spur their students to volunteer for combat units.

The 270 officers assigned to the mission will restore the spirit of the 1950s, when soldier-teachers were recruited and came to the aid of the state by helping to socialize the children of new immigrants by teaching them the language and customs of the natives.

Such spirits of the past are not necessarily a bad thing. The question is when to revive them and why. The flagrant individualism that characterizes Israel indeed calls for strengthening the link between society and individuals. But society can be made more coherent without passing through the army induction center. If it's a lack of patriotism that is bothering Sa'ar, then it's best to start with firm foundations. Teach preschoolers rich, proper Hebrew so they can correct their parents, whose language has been deteriorating for decades. Let schoolchildren learn that knowledge is first of all a matter of learning to use common sense, and to bolster it by reading and studying. And let's replace the most prevalent physical activities - switching channels and surfing the Internet to copy homework assignments - with sports, music and agriculture, which were part of the curriculum before the gods of English and mathematics took on monstrous proportions.

Let high school students be required to help those who need it: They could tutor children who have difficulty in school and whose parents are too busy earning a living to help them and can't afford babysitters, tutors or extracurricular activities. They could help old people carry their groceries home, or schedule medical appointments, or even clean their homes.

Sa'ar would achieve his goal: Action, not whining, would prevail in the schools and Israelis would all be mutually responsible once more. He may even get a bonus. A contribution of this kind could be a fine complement to the combat service he so ardently wishes to promote. It could be applied to those communities whose members are exempted from military service - Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox and religious women. Involving them in community service would delight every taxpayer.

There will always be volunteers for combat units, each person for his own reason: a personal spirit of volunteerism, an ideological attitude, immigrants wanting to be part of society or just our local Rambos. There will be uniforms in Israeli society for many years to come. There will be education only if it is fostered.