Nobody wants to reinvent the proverbial wheel. We make that cliched mistake when we are so focused on solving our problem, that we forget to see if anyone else has resolved a similar difficulty. When we wring our hands over the challenges involved in educating our students to understand and love a complex Israel, we ignore the obvious examples around us. Is anyone inculcating patriotism in their students, while at the same time training them to be curious, articulate critical thinkers? Social studies teachers deal with this every day.
I think it really worked for me. Growing up in the United States, I was taught in school to be a loyal American citizen. Grade after grade, I was taught to love Democracy and Western ideals. Of course, as I grew older these ideals were explored and questioned with increasing sophistication by my teachers. As it was supposed to, the curricula used elements from disciplines as varied as economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology. I was taught to revere Thomas Jefferson, while contextualizing the evil of his slave ownership.
I still remember my 7th grade teacher, Sheila Rabinowitz, coming into class after the murder of John Lennon. Did we understand who he was? How he had impacted the culture, and how would his murder? Then she asked us if we thought his killer could get a fair trial. We discussed the difficulty involved in finding twelve unbiased, qualified jurors. She called a well written newspaper, “a wealth for a quarter”, and an “embarrassment of riches”. I’m a better man, and citizen, because of her example.
Life in the states provided a backdrop of cultural support for my civic passion, but school provided the core. I grew to believe that the US Constitution is one of the great contributions to human civilization. I wasn’t just proud to serve jury duty as an adult, I loved doing it. I lobbied and marched on Washington D.C. in support or protest of policies that aroused my passion. Maybe I’m a bigger sucker than most, but that’s just a question of degree. Social studies worked for us.
It still does. According to the National Council for the Social Studies (The NCSS) in the United States, “Social studies educators teach students the content knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic values necessary for fulfilling the duties of citizenship in a participatory democracy.” An article in The Atlantic from 2013 argued that, “A study from the Carnegie Corporation of New York found that students who receive effective education in social studies are more likely to vote, four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues, and are generally more confident in their ability to communicate ideas with their elected representatives.”
Social studies teachers don’t worry if their students can be patriotic and still think critically about the complexities of their countries. American teachers don’t fear self bias towards America, any more than they eschew complexity. They just teach about their country and what it means to be good citizens.
The problem may be that we have been educating our youth to be practitioners of Judaism. As well we should. But we can’t afford for that to come at the expense of teaching them to be active and involved citizens of the Jewish Nation. Belonging to a nation that has experienced long exile, and still has a majority living in the diaspora, certainly makes the job more complicated. But, in my humble opinion, that is the great work that needs doing. Essentially I am arguing that Israel education cannot remain exclusively within the province of religious education. It must be part of the civics education of any young Jew.
So, I leave you with these questions:
Is it too difficult to teach young members of the Jewish Nation about their Homeland in this way? I can’t see why it would be.
Can it be done in the diaspora? That only depends on how Jewish educators set their priorities.
Let’s do it right. I think Ms. Rabinowitz would like that.