Teaching the Land of Israel as Civic Education: A Historical Exploration


Source: Journal of Geography, 2017 


Guided by the assumption that geography teaching is connected to nationalism and civic education, this study focused on the manifestation of different citizenship conceptions in the teaching of the land of Israel as implemented in the Israeli educational system. This historical content analysis of Israeli curricula resulted in a division into three periods. Whereas the first two periods reflected specific citizenship conceptions—nationalistic in the former and individualistic in the latter, the third period is characterized by an amalgamation of contradictory conceptions. These findings point to the potential and challenges facing geography education in creating a truly democratic space.

This examination exposes several insights regarding the use of the teaching of a land as a means of civic education. In this manner, these findings demonstrate the process in which national and civic meanings are attached to the landscape as part of the official educational curricula. Despite the fundamental differences between the first and second time periods, in both cases a coherent citizenship goal was identified and a clear civic orientation was applied to the land. A nationalistic goal was adopted in the former period due to the will to recruit students to the tasks of building the new nation state. Due to social, personal, and structural changes, a more individualistic goal dominated the second period. In contrast, due to reasons detailed above, the third time period presents an incoherent and unbalanced educational plan in this regard, one that may be seen as an amalgamation of different conceptions with no clear correlation between them. Thus, the land was no longer presented in a manner that enables the development of a substantive civic meaning.

Based on the discourse in this field, a civic-education process that wishes to adopt a wide point of view, utilizing different subject matters, must hold a coherent understanding of the very mode of citizenship it wishes to promote (Westheimer and Kahne 2004; Cohen 2016), as demonstrated in the first two time periods. This is not to say that such a plan may not include competing conceptions, rather that the existence of multiple perspectives must be acknowledged, discussed, and reflected on, aspects that are absent from the third time period. In the current Israeli reality, in which issues of democratic citizenship are still highly contested, challenged, and debated (Avnon 2006), this cacophony of voices may result in an incoherent and unclear civic-education plan that will more likely contribute to this confusing state, instead of helping resolve it.

Additionally, an identified aspect separating the first and second time periods from the third one is the curricular distinction between aims and means. In the nationalistic and individualistic periods, the teaching of the land was seen as a curricular and pedagogical approach aimed at achieving clear social or political goals. Thus, in both periods a clear separation was maintained between the teaching of the land (Eretz Israel) and the development of ideals regarding the relationship toward the state (Medinat Israel). The third time period offers a shift in this regard, presenting the teaching of the land as the main educational goal, standing on its own merit. This change points to the troubling reality in which the student’s mainly emotional relationship to the land surpasses his/her affiliation to the democratic state and to its ideals.

In other words, so long as the teaching of the land was seen as a pedagogical means in order to achieve external goals, this subject matter was relevant to this process, enabling the construction of civic meaning attached to the landscape. Making such knowledge of the land a goal of its own does not leave space to further explore and construct the land’s civic meanings, dismissing the relations between this topic and the field of civic education. Such a reality undermines the very democratic ideals of discussion and multiple points of view, turning geography lessons into a process of knowledge regurgitation. Overlooking the various meanings that the teaching of a land may encompass as an educational venue may prevent the creation of a true sense of democratic space.

An important aspect missing, of course, from this study is an understanding of ways in which teachers and students perceive such curriculum and apply their own interpretations. Future studies may wish to explore different civic meanings teachers and students apply to a given land, touching on ways in which different cultural and social contexts influence such views. This is highly relevant in a conflict-ridden area such as Israel in which the meanings attached to the land do not only serve nationalistic goals but are also recruited as part of the ongoing conflicts with neighboring countries and national entities. Despite the fact that this study did not touch on this important aspect, due to the will to focus the scope of the study, it highlights the importance of relating to such aspects as part of both the geography and civic-education processes.

Updated: Oct. 25, 2017