Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Go for the Lifeboats

Go for the Lifeboats

The obvious solution to the problems with Israeli education

By now, everybody knows the Israeli education system is in bad shape. Only about 35% of high school students are eligible for a Bagrut certificate when they are done, and even if the pass, it doesn’t really guarantee that they actually know anything. Violence is on the rise. And you can’t really even expect the school year to start on time – if the teachers won’t go on strike, the parents will.

If this weren’t enough confusion, the political powers also quarrel about the content of education. There’s not enough religion, says Ovadia Iosef. There’s too much religion, says Tomi Lapid. There’s not enough national values, mutters Livnat. There’s too much nationalism and militarism, grumbles Sarid.

And everybody is of course right. The education system is not simply faltering – it also fails to impart any form of values which would actually spur the children on to a productive life as citizens of a Jewish nation. With a complete lack of correct steering at the ministerial helm, adequate budgets, and qualified teachers, the educational system is acting like the proverbial transatlantic liner.

Anybody with half a brain who inspects the varied solutions suggested by the politicians, activists, and experts, will tell you the changes will take years to take hold – and will not likely bear effect on the current generation of high-school pupils. And yet, what is the alternative?

The 1953 State Education Act recognises three types of education which you can give your child and comply with the compulsory education statutes. Those are state schools, state religious schools, and private institutions ‘as recognised by the Ministry of Education’.

De-facto, under Ben-Gurion, this meant one thing – that the state established a near-monopoly on education, in the same manner the Altalena incident established a state monopoly on armed force. To this day, there’s only a small and very limited amount of private schools in Israel, and homeschooling is almost unheard of.

The state monopoly on education has had the same result as all state monopolies – you can’t really receive education of any quality, and when you can, it’s an education almost entirely controlled by the political powers. This may seem attractive to a degree – the political party of the day gets to use the education system to impose it’s values on everybody else – but when you consider the fact that you have no guarantee that it’s your values that get imposed, the bet starts to get really dodgy – and with the demographic situation as it is today, there’s not even a guarantee that in a few decades those will still be Jewish values.

So what do we do? The answer is frighteningly obvious – but it is a threat to the existing balance of power in the country. Histadrut members and Ben-Gurion fans – please skip this page.

When your transatlantic liner was just smacked with an iceberg, the correct choice is not to change the oil in the engines, or to repaint the deck pink. The correct choice is to get the women and children into the lifeboats and swim for it.

Similarly, when the national education system has a 35% success rate at turning out something even remotely resembling educated children, the choice is not to campaign for reforms that will be likely not to benefit your child currently in school – even if they actually work. The choice is to take your child out into the private education system.

The method works. The writer of this article has received his high-school diploma in “Tabeetha” – a private institution dating back to 1871. They charge a monthly payment absolutely anyone can afford (640 shekels per month for a 9th grade student), and they are as good as you would expect a school dating back to the 19th century to be. Of course, there’s one problem.

There’s precious few places.

The system of regulations imposed by the Ben-Gurionian Ministry of Education means that there’s a very small amount of private schools in Israel – certainly not enough to pose a viable alternative to the average parent.

There is, thus, an imperative to deregulate private education.

Yes, I actually said this. We must make sure that there’s as many private schools in the country as the traffic will bear. Not only we must allow it to happen – by issuing much more licenses and ‘recognition’ than the Ministry of education currently does, to anybody that can guarantee that the children will not get sexually harassed and the classes actually start on September 1st (yes, I do know that the government schools cannot pass that test. But we do need to give the state some advantage) – but we must also encourage this. In the very same manner we support poor families by funding their children’s education in a public school, we must issue vouchers to those who wish to take their children into private education – to ensure that it will never be seen as the haven for the children of the rich alone.

This, however, is not enough. What this article is really about is another reform, so radical that some will even consider it revolutionary. To put it simply, we must make it legal – not simply ‘theoretically legal if you comply with 500 pages of regulations’, but practically legal and achievable for the average person – for private individuals to educate their children at home, instead of sending them to a school, public or private.

This is not a new idea – it is currently widely practiced in several Western nations, in particular the United States, where about 1.1 million children are homeschooledi. Most of those parents who homeschool their children don’t have specialized training – rather, they teach them from a variety of schoolbooks and material produced purpose. Before this material was available, regular schoolbooks have been used. Today, however, homeschooling in America is an established subculture anyone can join.

It is not as outlandish as it may seem – it works, and in fact it works much better than public schools do – practically every study performed by legitimate scientists within the United States points out that an average homeschooled child performs significantly better than an average ‘client’ of the public school system on the various standardized tests.ii

Then again, the public school system in Israel is vastly inferior to it’s American equivalent – as may be inferred from the Americans’ superior performance on such tests as the OECD international reading comprehension tests (the so-called “Pisa tests”) – or merely from the fact the Americans now invest over $5,000 per student per year, a form of care Israel’s public education system is simply unable to provide.

Much more importantly, our education system is fraught with problems like violence and frequent strikes, which the American education system does not even come close to encountering. Does one really think that a parent – if he’s even minimally dedicated to the education of his child – can do worse than an education system where sexual abuse of children by their classmates is a recurring problem, and where the school year is simply not guaranteed to begin on time?

Some would argue that homeschooling is an “elitist solution”, one available only for the children of the rich. One is tempted to reply that even if it were so, it would be unfair to deny it’s benefits to one part of the population just because others are unable to make use of it. (To return to the liner analogy: there are six places on the lifeboat, and a hundred passengers. Would it be “fair” to burn the lifeboat – or would you rather that six lives be saved “unfairly”?) But happily, this is not even the case. As Dr. Brian Ray points out, the average cost of teaching homeschooled children is approximately $546iii per year in America. Middle-class parents are the most common homeschooling demographic in the United States – and there’s no reason they can’t be that, in Israel.

Well, apart from the big problem – homeschooling is extremely regulated in Israel to this very day – though Ben-Gurion’s compulsory education laws were recently amended to allow it. Still, parents who homeschool their children have to jump through far too many hoops – and society and the media still brand them out as “strange”.

If we truly want to ensure that our children - who will not simply be the doctors, nurses, and politicians, but also the elevator technicians, bus drivers, and construction workers of tomorrow – go to an education system where we have a guarantee we can choose the value system imparted to them – or at least that the school year starts on September 1st – then it is necessary that we take action now.

We must now introduce the same method that worked for Americans, and Canadians, and countless other – we must introduce the free market. Let us deregulate private schools, and let us deregulate homeschooling, and let us make every effort possible to ensure that those solutions are not simply available to the average Israeli, but also perceived as such (even today, poor parents can send their children to the few private schools that exist in Israel – but the myth that the price is unaffordably high prevents many from doing so). We must create a system of vouchers and tax rebates to aid those who care enough to send their children to a private school or teach them themselves.

For years, the Israeli state has – sometimes inadvertedly, sometimes in a calculated fashion – prevented the creation of a free market in education in Eretz-Israel. Instead, a centralized, industrial system has been set up – one where the oppressive majority of pupils are riding that very proverbial transatlantic liner. It is now our duty to ensure there are enough lifeboats.

Boris Karpa is a student at Tel-Aviv University. He is a contributor to The Libertarian Enterprise, Concealed Carry Magazine, Libertyforall.net and several other periodicals

i See US. National Center For Education Statistics report, “Homeschooling in the United States: 2003”, NCES 2004-115

ii “According to the 1998 ACT High School Profile Report, 2,610 graduating homeschoolers took the ACT and scored an average of 22.8 out of a possible 36 points. This score is slightly higher that the 1997 report released on the results of 1,926 homeschool graduates and founding homeschoolers maintained the average of 22.5. This is higher than the national average, which was 21.0 in both 1997 and 1998.” Cited according to “Academic Statistics on Homeschooling”, hosted at http://www.khea.info/

iii Dr. Brian Ray, Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America, National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, OR, 1997. Cited according to Vin Suprynowicz, “Send in the Waco Killers”, Mountain Media, LV, Nevada, 1999


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