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"Apart from pornography of evil, studying the technical details of the Holocaust has no value"

“Apart from for the pornography of evil, there is no educational value in studying the details of the Holocaust.” Professor Hannah Yablonka, senior historian and chairperson of history in the Ministry of Education, believes that too strong an emphasis is being placed on the study of the Holocaust at the expense of other subjects: “Why isn’t the War of Independence, a formative moment in the history of the State of Israel, a separate study unit?”

“The story of the development towns in Israeli is barely taught at school, and it is far from being the only subject that is not studied as it should. All the events that took place since the War of Independence are taught superficially, devoid of any historical context. History hours are insufficient, and the teachers cannot complete the curriculum. The result is that in the best case scenario they cover the material superficially before the matriculation exams. The fact that no systematic thinking is devoted to the objectives of studying the subject is even worse. New headlines appear daily, coming from the Ministry of Education, designed to furnish Minister Gideon Sa’ar with two lines in the paper,” this is what historian Hanna Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who serves as chairman of the history committee in the Ministry of Education, said to Ha’aretz. Senior university lecturers and experienced school teachers and teacher training colleges are members of the history committee. Their task is to instruct and advise the Ministry of Education about their professional decisions in various fields of knowledge taught in the education system. Professor Yablonka, one of Israel’s most prominent contemporary historians, was appointed chairperson of the history committee a year ago. She teaches in the department of Jewish history and Israel studies at Ben-Gurion University, specializing in the study of the Holocaust and Israeli society. In her capacity on the committee she has met with numerous history teachers over recent months. Her discoveries are far from encouraging: while the instructions of the Ministry of Education determine that 10th-12th graders should devote at least seven weekly hours (nine are recommended) to the study of history, she says that in actual fact, “Only six weekly hours are taught in numerous schools over the three years. It should be crystal clear to one and all: the curriculum cannot be taught under these conditions.”

Against the background of the dearth of teaching hours, Professor Yablonka seeks to initiate a public discussion about teaching the Holocaust, which is defined as compulsory, and constitutes a large part of the lessons taught in the upper grades. “Why isn’t the War of Independence, a formative moment in the State of Israel – a compulsory unit? I know this will stir up disagreement, but at least the topic will be discussed. The technical study of the Holocaust, how Jews were murdered, the stages of the final solution, etc., is the least important part from the educational perspective. Apart from the “pornography of the evil” the technical details of the Holocaust have no educational value. It is too late to teach 10th graders that murder is forbidden.” “On the other hand,” she adds, “the stories of the survivors, thousands of years of Jewish history, or how the nascent state invested in building instead of embarking on annihilation and devastation – all these have a great deal of educational value, but no one deals with these subjects, because we are merely victims. From kindergarten we raise children, telling them that the evil Germans killed Jews, and the result is that generations do not understand the meaning of normality.”

It appears that from Professor Yablonka’s standpoint, the Ministry of Education’s latest announcement (published yesterday) according to which the subject of the development towns will be comprehensively incorporated in the history and geography curricula, is another example of the lack of any thinking process related to the objectives of teaching history and they ways to achieve it. She adds, “There is no theoretical discussion about the image of the student, the product of the Ministry of Education. Nothing is done with any preconception or thought. There are numerous plans and announcements, which are nothing other than talk. Talk is cheap. A few days ago I read that 8th graders will be studying Pirkei Avot [Chapters of Fundamental Principles] from the Mishnah. Is that really the most important subject? Is there any discussion of these questions?”

She claims that the results are obvious when one see the level of knowledge of university students. “I meet students who don’t know when the war began or ended, who have no knowledge of the generation of writers that evolved around it, and we still have not said a thing about analyzing the major texts such as the Declaration of Independence. No one dares teach the war in the context of the inception of the decolonization process, because people are afraid it will be interpreted as undermining the justification of Zionism. This is a narrow perception that testifies to the lack of any basic understanding.”

Yablonka’s criticism does not stop here. She says that subjects such as the absorption of the Holocaust survivors, the mass absorption, and the ethnic gap “are mentioned in the curriculum, teachers may even devote several lessons to these issues, but it is not a process that really leads to education and knowledge.” She does not blame the teachers for this state of affairs, “I met many lovely teachers who are committed to their vocation. There is a real thirst for a different kind of thinking.”

The Ministry of Education responded by saying that “we are sorry about the things [Professor Yablonka] said and the way in which they were said. They give no credit to the person who said these things or the subject. Curricula, by their very nature, cannot cover all the topics and all the events. The curriculum includes the formative historical events of the Jewish people.”

(From a report by Or Kashti, published in Ha’aretz, March 22, 2010).

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