One day as I watched my children complaining about school, I realized that most kids simply don’t like school. It’s as true today as it was when I was a child many years ago. Thus, although on the one hand there have been tremendous positive achievements in education over the last 100 years, bottom line most kids don’t like school!
The question is why? As I dwelt on this question I came to two understandings, one which applies to general western education and one which specifically applies to Jewish education in Israel.
Regarding the general western education, there’s a clear dichotomy between the values of the society and the subjects that are taught in the classroom. In other words, on a societal level (I’m speaking in generalities here), the main message is to get a good job and make lots of money in order to enjoy life. To “succeed”. This being the case, the kid in the classroom is saying “If that’s the point of life, then why on earth do I need to learn geography or literature? Instead of this junk give me “real tools”. Teach me how to be a smooth talker, teach me how to cheat and lie, teach me how to get ahead”. It’s like a child getting mixed messages from his mother and father. Mom says yes, dad says no, and the child is totally confused!
Regarding Jewish education in Israel, the problem is connected to the above but even deeper. Kids in Israel are also primed to get a good job and to get ahead. In high school they start focusing on their matriculation exams in order to get in to university, itself an important ticket for getting ahead. Like in the whole western world, “success” is important. However, the Jewish understanding of success is totally different. Although having material success is not frowned upon in Judaism, it’s not the goal and it’s not what is considered “success”. Moreover, success in Judaism is not black and white – either you succeed or you fail, either you win or you lose – but rather it’s relative.
According to Judaism everyone was created with something special, something unique, and all of us were brought to this world for a specific reason. The goal of each of us is to tap into our real selves in order to bring to light what ever this special something is. Thus, the Jewish understanding of success is relative and it is based upon how much each one of us succeeds in this undertaking. This in turn is our way of helping to bring God’s light to the world.
This idea of success, however, is not at the top of the value pyramid in Israel. Like in most of the world, ”success”, the western one, is what is important in Israel. So in addition to Israeli children having the same problem as their peers in America (society saying “success” is important while the school teaches geography and history), here the head of the societal value pyramid is not the appropriate one for a Jewish state.
Rather than western success, acquiring wisdom and knowledge should be the chief value in the Israeli education system. Still further, not wisdom and knowledge for the sake of themselves but rather to enable each person to tap into his real self in order to do his part in helping bring God’s light to the world (which is really the collective goal of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel). If such a value system permeated this society then children would be excited about learning in order to do their part in this great national endeavor. God willing one day we’ll get there.