Critical thinking vs. accepted orthodoxies

14 Aug

by Ilan Bloch

The aim of this post is to trigger reflection on the part of Israel educators (and students/chanichim) on where the line should be drawn between developing critical thinking, and inculcating normative values, amongst students/chanichim. Your comments are most welcome.

It is a truism that education should aim to develop independent, analytical and critical thinking skills amongst students. At the same time, educational institutions seek to inculcate particular values and attitudes, and normative behavior,  in their charges. Even if these are to be considered consensus “apple pie” or “motherhood” values such as ahavat or achdut Yisrael (love of, and unity of, Israel), they, by definition, clash with the development of truly open thinking. (Perhaps an informed student might seek to reject these values as too particularlistic, or seek to limit them to reject loving, for example, a “price tag” Jewish terrorist.)

If, as educators, we attempt to facilitate intellectual and academic growth amongst our chanichim, but only within the context of accepted orthodoxies (whether these be Jewish or Zionist), then of what value are our endeavors? If, on the other hand, we offer a truly post-modernist approach to education, encouraging students to seek their own truth, wherever they may find it, then perhaps this represents an education that is, in fact, value-less.

Are there certain beliefs that a student might express which can be deemed beyond the pale? Can truly open education allow for a student to express her belief in the legitimacy of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin z”l, if such a belief is supported by an erudite explanation of the Halachic intricacies of din moser and din rodef? Can truly open education allow for a student to express his belief that Israel is an apartheid state against which international sanctions should be instituted, if such a belief is held in the context that only sanctions can save Israel – which the student truly loves – from itself? If we disallow such viewpoints (as many of us may wish to do), how can we be said to believe in truly open education? On the other hand, if we allow these viewpoints to be embraced, where should we draw the line? Would we countenance a student supporting Helen Thomas’ infamous quip that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go “home?” Could we tolerate support on the part of a student for the involuntary expulsion of Arabs from the Land of Israel?

Where should one draw the line? Where do you draw the line? Your comments welcome.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.

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3 Responses to “Critical thinking vs. accepted orthodoxies”

  1. Heather Abramson August 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I don’t think we can encourage students to express views that are antithetical to the survival of the State of Israel or which sanction murder. We have enough enemies, who are far less self-critical than we are, to put views aimed at delegitimising Israel as a state. Our enemies, who have made no secret of the desire to destroy Israel and its population, love to pick up on the self-critical words of soul-searching Jews. No state is perfect, no government can be perfect, especially when dealing with such complex issues as Israel has to deal with. However, if we don’t make standing strong together as a core value, then individuals will make themselves feel self-righteous at the expense of the state entity, and thus make us very vulnerable. The extreme anti-Zionsit Haredim do this. The hard left are also doing it. There is no such thing as truly open education, unless it is, as you say, value-less. I believe that in your role of the Director of Teaching Israel you need to draw a line in the sand and say that views that could be construed as treasonous or inciting violence, are not welcome to be shared.

  2. Miriam Glaser August 14, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    I stronly agree with Heather – we, as Jewish educators and educators of Israel (I clearly see these two concepts as intertwined and evolving as an entity) cannot teach a value-less curriculum related to this so complex matter. We cannot rely on our students’ own choices, unless they are informed and well developed by a strong background of knowledge. Even if we teach extensively the love for Israel, our teaching should include the “wrestling” part of the teaching, which includes so many controversial issues (some of them contemporary and many of them dating back in more remote or more recent world history).
    I myself struggle many times in between my unconditional love for Israel and being able to cope and judge as objectively as I can issues that not even the Israeli leaders can deal with and solve…
    I am convinced it is our duty to teach both the hugging and the struggling side of Israel studies, in order for this new generation to stay strong and knowledgeable when they need to defend or justify certain actions that are regarded by the outside world with a negative and biased eye.

  3. ittayf August 21, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    I believe that a view is acceptable if it is held by a member of the Knesset, as the Knesset represent the diversity of views in Israeli society. Therefore, when teaching about Israel to adults, I would not censor any view from my class that would not be censored in the Knesset.
    However, when teaching school age students, I would only introduce texts and ideas into the classroom that are in line with the specific ideology of the school.

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