By Barry Chazan
These are good times for Israel education. It has become a topic of interest, insight, and innovation, enabling the establishment of a professional field of Israel education. A plethora of curricular resources, books, academic studies, in-service programs, and conferences on Israel education have emerged. Most recently, a master’s program in Israel education has been created by The iCenter and the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development with support of the Marcus Foundation.
At the very moment that these good things are happening – and probably unbeknownst to us – revolutions are taking place in think tanks, research institutions, and on campuses around the world. These revolutions are likely to have profound significance, and will lead to major metamorphoses for Israel education and the entire world of education. This cutting edge research focuses on such topics as: the nature of infancy and child development; the integration of cognition and emotion; and the role of ‘tribes’ in human existence. These new studies, in the neurosciences, physical sciences, and evolutionary studies, are revealing dramatic new understandings that will significantly alter how we think about education.
A totally new understanding of the belief that ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ or ‘cognition’ and ‘emotion’ are totally separate domains is being debunked. Contemporary research rejects this classical polarization (which has been programmed in our minds for centuries) and reveals that cognition and emotion are inherently interactive, biological, processes that are hardwired in the human brain. Our passions, loves, and loyalties are not blind; they are rooted in ideas, thinking, and reflection that “make sense to us.” The notion of an emotion without cognition is frivolous, and the idea that cognition happens without emotion is vacuous.
One has to agree that babies are adorable! At the same time, popular thinking assumes they are irrational, egocentric, and amoral. In fact, early childhood research reveals a conception of infants and young children as freethinking, reflective and morally pre-disposed and wired in their brain to examine ideas. The freedom from dealing with basic needs enables infancy to be one of the most creative stages in human development. William Wordsworth said that “the child is father of man,” and Yehuda Amichai wrote, “God has pity on preschool children; a little less on school-age children, and for adults no pity at all.”
‘Tribes’ refer to groupings of individuals, extended family, clans and like-minded people that share common beliefs, customs, attitudes, values, foods, narratives, language, and very often links to a specific land or physical area. ‘Tribalism’ is the theory that such clans and extended families were essential structures that enabled existence in the broader and often threatening worlds in which we lived. Intimate clans with shared customs, behaviors, values, and mutual concern created a linkage and lineage which gave human lives an ancestry, a rootedness, and continuity.
In the contemporary world, tribes and their importance for survival has led to the emergence of the concepts ‘tribal altruism’ and ‘moral tribes.’ Today the most frightening and dangerous enemies of human life are not other tribes with their anthems and ideologies, but rather: plague (Covid-19); famine; poverty; war; climate; and weapons of global destruction. These growing crises recognize no boundaries on a map nor any distinctions between languages, but rather threaten everyone. The ability of particularistic tribes to coalesce so as to enable us together to face the true threats to our existence is the great challenge of today and tomorrow. It is silliness, ignorance, hubris, and suicide to disregard the true enemy.
What do all these words have to do with Israel education?
The subject of Israel education is not Israel but rather the learner. The focus in Israel education is not facts and figures, but rather the development of a relationship between learners and ancient Israel; Israel as a religious value and vision; and Israel as a dynamic contemporary society. All of these iterations are connected to the larger and ultimate issue of our existence as human beings on this planet called Earth.
So, what’s the point? If we really care about ‘Israel education’ we should not neglect “The Conflict,” “The Dilemma of the Western Wall,” or ”Boundaries and Borders.” At the same time, if we really care about education, we have to care about: the nature of the world; threats to the lives of our children and grandchildren; and how to survive meaningfully as human beings.
If we really care about Israel and being Jewish, we must open our eyes, ears, and minds to the ideas and discoveries of contemporary thought and research. Such new understandings will enable us to create better principles, pedagogies, and practices for Israel education, Jewish education, and character education for today and tomorrow.
So dear Israel Educators!
This is your agenda for today
So tomorrow will be better.
Barry Chazan is an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, a consultant at The iCenter for Israel Education, and the author of A Philosophy of Israel Education: A Relational Approach.