Three lessons to strengthen Israel education

April 13, 2021

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Four years working closely with a dozen schools across North America have shown me the wonderful benefits and experiences from comprehensive and integrated approaches to Israel education for students, parents and the community at large. The positive results from the Center for Israel Education’s Day School Initiative are replicable. These are three of the most important lessons learned.

Start early and often.
We do not teach calculus in kindergarten, nor do we avoid grade-level benchmarks for fear that students will hate math. We also do not let each educator decide how and when to teach elements of math. Instead, we use a well-defined curriculum to help children acquire difficult foundational concepts and skills bit by bit, year by year.

Similarly, we shouldn’t expect 11th-graders to grapple with Israeli-Palestinian relations, Israel’s parliamentary democracy, its management of a pandemic or the debate over religion in Israel’s Jewish identity without a foundation of age-appropriate Israel education. We need to educate from the earliest grades upward. By developing a knowledge base, a connection and a habit of informed conversation from an early age, we make possible the later discussions that we desire and for which students hunger.

Integrate Israel throughout the curriculum.
As the National Council of Teachers of English noted in 1995, the world is not organized into distinct subject areas, and a curriculum should reflect that complexity. If schools are serious about mission statements citing Israel education as central to Jewish identity, they should treat Israel education as equal to other subjects and incorporate it into everyday general studies. Israel can’t be an afterthought granted a sliver of the time set aside for Judaic studies, with some extra time allotted weeks before a trip to Israel.

When Israel is integrated into science, math, English and social studies, the subject belongs to the entire faculty, and educational silos are toppled. Educator collaboration increases, which improves staff morale and the school climate.

Students perceive Israel as a subject that matters and gain the proven benefits of interdisciplinary instruction, including critical thinking, problem solving and an appreciation for uncertainty.

Involve the community.
Far from sparking controversy, well-integrated Israel education based on original sources generates critical thinking. Biases and polemics cannot take root when sources are used and interpreted.
Bringing communal influencers into the process builds trust and helps deepen the community’s Israel discourse.

Parents become key supporters when their excited children bring home new knowledge and when schools invite them to participate. While only anecdotal, evidence suggests that these schools retain students and boost enrollment.

Read the entire article in eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Apr. 19, 2021