This Weary Subject

In any other teaching reality, a consensus of opinion might have been possible: The significance of a subject is not necessarily determined by its external matriculation exam - not in view of the current reality, in which the Ministry of Education is with its own hands setting up a regime of tests, constantly measuring and being measured, an around-the-clock factory that manufactures grades, all in a synthetic effort to pull any improvement, even the slightest one, out of a hat, to be measured against a moribund scale of achievements.

Someday it will be related how the ministry by the skin of its teeth notched the recent improvement in mathematics and sciences, how entire classes scrapped their ordinary curriculum and devoted months on end to an exclusive review of the material on the test, and how teachers and pupils joined forces to flaunt a seemingly better achievement - at any price.

Given the regime of perpetual testing, abolishment of the civics matriculation exam can only devalue the "subject." On the one hand, it is not possible to sum up the entire body of knowledge "on one foot," as they say - that of tests and research studies and surveys - while, on the other hand, reducing the significance of the subset of that body of knowledge known as civics.

Last week, an editorial appeared on this page in which a sound argument was raised: With or without the matriculation exam, study of civics is at a low ebb, pupils are bored, and achievements are minimal. The editorial also charged that the question "of whether pupils will be tested on democracy in the matriculation exam is secondary to the question of how interesting the subject would be or how relevant it would be."

"Civics" will continue to cast its dreariness so long as it is taught from a textbook, no matter how good or bad it is. The subject must be instructed based on our reality and the burning issues it raises.

If civics teachers continue to shy away from current events and politics, and pretend they can teach civics in a sterile study environment, then there is no hope for the subject.

Were I a civics teacher this week, I would be talking with my pupils, for example, about whether it is acceptable to have an entire democratic state without an opposition worthy of its name, when the two largest political parties are crawling and running, running and crawling, becoming of one flesh, naked, without embarrassment; I would talk to them about Arab soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces who risk their lives in defense of the state and return to their villages only to discover that they and their families face a hopeless situation; and I would talk with them about an august academic institution that offers its podium for debate in exchange for monetary avarice.

Civics is the sole subject among those on the high-school curriculum that can be experienced, even lived. At the core of civics is democracy, including its rules, values and merits. It is unacceptable merely to demand democracy in school; there is no choice but to sustain it, as well.

While school is clearly not the quintessential democratic institution - pupils are subject to the authority of principals and teachers - it can and must assume a much more democratic character. If any educational institution, from its lowest grades to its highest, does not actively include its pupils in shaping the form it will take, the study of civics is made entirely superfluous.

A school without a student government that takes part in its administration on a daily basis, without a legislative body of its pupils that determines the tenets of its governance, and mainly - without a judicial branch, a student court, would be better off not even taking the trouble of teaching civics and wasting its energy.

If democracy is really so nice and worthwhile, as pupils are told in their lessons, then why not enable them to enjoy it in their day-to-day lives?

When one message is sent in class, but the opposite message is sent through the overall school environment, the school is found to be sending a twofold message, which by its very nature is corrupting and anti-educational.

Everyone praises the democratic schools that have sprouted in the past few years. If that is so, what do we have to do for all of the schools in Israel to become democratic institutions, and for this weary subject to find new vigor, and find its power of attraction?

Democracy in action - that is the hardest test, but also the most real test. When that test is passed, boredom will dissipate and achievement will soar.