Sometimes it’s a good thing that it’s a small world, other times, not so good. First for the recent good examples. On Monday we went on an architectural and art tour of Tel Aviv University. It’s the largest university in Israel, with almost 30,000 students and it was the first week of classes for the fall semester. (They don’t start until all the fall Jewish holidays are over, but they end much later in June.) I felt right at home with eager young people wandering around the campus and lots of vendors for banks, credit cards, student organizations, food and flea market items everywhere. Students all over the world have the same look, except here they’re a bit older because they serve in the army before university, so they’re 22-24 when they start studying. The campus is beautiful and has lots of outdoor sculptures and a few interesting buildings in addition to the ugly concrete ones (called Brutalism style) built in the 70’s-90’s. Here are some of Chuck’s photos, including one of the beautiful Cymbalista synagogue on campus in the first picture.
The walking tour group chatted before we began and we quickly discovered that the South African/Canadian woman with us is a cousin of my sister and brother-in-law’s best friends in Canada. Amazing. After the tour, we went to a coffee shop on campus for a bite to eat, and there was Yoav Levine, the grandson of our dear friends Lee and Mira who made aliyah many years ago! He spotted us and said, “What are you doing here? This is my university!” What were the chances with 30,000 students? He is studying physics and electrical engineering at age 24.
Now for the not so great small world examples. There was an editorial in the Jerusalem Post last week about standardized test scores and teacher education quality that could have been taken from any US newspaper editorial. Here’s an excerpt.
Finally, all the best school systems make sure every child – whether a weak or a strong student – benefits from the excellent instruction provided by outstanding teachers. These were the uncontested findings of a study titled “How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top” carried out by McKinsey & Company, the international consulting firm, between May 2006 and March 2007. And the findings, which state the obvious – one cannot give what one does not have – remain true to this day. The question is how do we attract outstanding men and women to a profession that has suffered for so long from a justly deserved bad reputation? Implementing more far-reaching reforms will inevitably clash with the interests of our nation’s strong teachers’ union and the myriad teachers’ training programs that produce thousands of tuition-paying graduates every year who often make mediocre educators, if they manage to find a job. But with election season upon us, voters should take advantage of the opportunity to demand of politicians clear programs for action aimed at improving our education system.The future of the Jewish state depends on producing the next generation of men and women capable of competing in a global economy that has become increasingly more demanding.
When in doubt about how to fix the complex problems of public schooling, blame teachers, unions, and teacher preparation programs wherever you are in the world! Would that it were that simple, here and in the U.S. Even more depressing were the reports of the significant achievement gap between Jewish and Arab Israelis- another small world theme regarding oppressed minority groups, be they African American or Israeli Arab. The recent Israeli national achievement test results are out, and the achievement gap is getting worse rather than better. Israeli Arabs may have a higher standard of living than Arabs in nearby countries, but it’s lower than the standard of living of Israeli Jews.
I was reminded even more of how imperfect and even disturbing Israeli society can be when I read in yesterday’s paper about a survey showing that large percentages of Jewish Israelis want separate societies for Jews and Arabs and would not want to live near Arabs or send their children to school with them. It sickens me even further that the more religious the population segment, the more pronounced these racist views are. How can one reconcile these views with the notion that all human beings, not just Jews, are created in God’s image? We have a long way to go towards social justice here as we do in the U.S. It is indeed a small world.