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Friday, September 12, 2008

Netanyahu's Education Initiative

*** Thanks to Steve, from WebAds, for including me among the bloggers invited to cover Former Prime Minister, and leader of the Opposition, Binyamin Netanyahu's press conference ***

*** Please note: this post is not an endorsement ***

At exactly 10:30 in the morning, right on time, I walked out of the elevators, onto the 14th floor of Beit Jabotinsky, right into Likud headquarters.

It was Sunday, August 31st, the day before school starts.

The press was already there, as were my fellow bloggers. I sat down next to A Mother in Israel, who was next to Rafi G from Life in Israel, who was next to Carl from Israel Matzav. Lurker, who sometimes posts at the Muqata, sat on my other side. We must have been quite a sight! Five religious bloggers, sitting in a row, laptops open, typing intensely. (Someone took a picture of us, but I have yet to see it).

We were surrounded by representatives of the mainstream media, who were predominantly, if not exclusively, secular reporters.

As far as I know, this is the first time in Israel that bloggers were invited to cover a media event. Pretty cool.

Just minutes after my arrival, Netanyahu entered. He approached our group of bloggers and greeted us all individually, shaking hands with all the men. Then he approached the podium.

"Good education guarantees equality in society," Netanyahu pronounced.

He decried the crisis in Israeli education, and announced his plan to revolutionize Israeli education. His plan includes the creation of an "Education Cabinet," which Netanyahu would head, that will give backing to the Minister of Education. To paraphrase: Just as Sharon backed me up when I revolutioned the economy, and pulled Israel out of debt; I intend to create the same dynamic that will allow us to revolutionize Israeli education.

It was a clever opening. All sides recognize Netanyahu's previous success as Finance Minister.

The goal of the Education Cabinet, he continued, will be to restore the level of Israeli students' achievements to international excellence within the next 10 years.

Netanyahu shared some disturbing statistics. The percentage of soldiers who pass basic reading comprehension tests, upon entering the army, has dropped dramatically over the years from 60% in 1985, to 40% in 1997, to 32% in 2002!

Based on the idea that education is the most effective tool for bridging gaps in Israeli society, he hopes to create a sociological revolution. Netanyahu plans to replicate methods of improving education that have been effective in other countries, including investing in ongoing professional and pedagogical enrichment courses. His plan would also raise teachers’ salaries, though he repeatedly emphasized that this alone does not constitute a solution.

Netanyahu also emphasized the need for class discipline, and for a return to Zionist studies, so that Israeli children will know Jewish/Zionist/Israeli history.

He criticized the recent inclusion of the Nakba in the curriculum, pointing out that there is no other country in the world that teaches and legitimizes the ideology of an enemy bent upon the country’s destruction. He promised to remove it immediately.

It all sounded good. But I wonder, will he really do it? Will he really restore our education? Will he have the courage and fortitude to make serious curriculum changes and withstand the barrage of abuse that will rain down from the left-wing media?

I took the opportunity to question Netanyahu about the problem of cheating in the classrooms, which is rampant and a well-known problem. I want to know how he plans on revolutionizing that. I did not receive a satisfactory response.

If Netanyahu has the courage of his convictions, he really could revolutionize the education system. However, he has yet to convince me that he is a man of integrity.

Everything he promised is overshadowed by his betrayal of his previous pre-election platform, regarding Hevron and the rest of Judea and Samaria.

When Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister, he was invited to address the U.S. Congress. He delivered an informative and passionate speech about the State of Israel, which included a section devoted to the centrality and historical significance of Hevron to the Jewish people. His remarks on Hevron were interrupted several times by applause, and he received a rare standing ovation at the end of his speech. He had the backing of the United States Congress. In spite of this, only a few months later, in the Hevron Accords, he gave away 80% of Hebron, betraying his promises and all the people who voted for him. A year later, in the Wye River Accords, he signed away enormous parts of Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu is a phenomenal speaker. But his words no longer impress me.

Let me see his words put into action.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


Anonymous said...

Hmmm,the reading comprehension quote seems potentially misleading. If we absorbed close to a million new immigrants in the 90's, I wonder what percentage of them were in the army? (Russians & Ethiopians) That could account for a very steep jump in illiteracy.

Rafi G. said...

good analysis, though it took plenty of time in coming!!! :-)

I agree with your last part. I hesitate to trust his promises and plans, considering his past, but if there is anyone who can do this, it is Bibi.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Safranit -- if that were so, you would expect the numbers to rise again, but they have not. The statistics are spiraling down. In 2002, only ONE THIRD of the incoming soldiers passes a BASIC reading comprehension test.

That cannot be explained away by immigration trends.

Rafi G -- Better late than never.

Eliyahu S. said...

Hi, RivkA!

You know me well enough to understand that I more than share disdain for that Americanized "Slick Benny". He was a great "talking head" for our country in Washington and New York, but I view him as largely a mouthpiece.

I concede that he did good things for the economy, and I was the first one to heap praises on his domestic policy as PM when he opened up foreign currencies and took on the banking oligarchy.

But I am always leery of that man setting policy, and even more so of his following through on it. Like any political worm, he lacks the backbone God gave the common rat.

Please forgive me if I put in here a plug for Moshe Feiglin and the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) movement. Education reform has long been an important part of Manhigut's platform, and is "week 5" of the first 100 days in office plan.

That Bibi is now coming around to discussing a topical issue that Moshe has been hammering away at for years is no surprise....