Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lazy Thinking

Statism and Lazy Thinking
John Markley

It is a common failing of many advocates of statism, frequently noted by libertarians, that they cannot see past the immediate and obvious results of a measure to less immediately obvious consequences. The great majority of those who supported alcohol prohibition probably never thought about the results of black markets, just as most modern supporters of drug prohibition are oblivious to the effects of pushing narcotics into the criminal sector. They think, "Great, we’ll discourage the use of these harmful substances," without thinking through the unintended effects – gang violence, organized crime, tainted products that kill their users. These results are not hard to foresee, but most people don’t think past step one.

Likewise, most people who thought the modern welfare state was a good idea surely didn’t anticipate the social breakdown and dependency created by the Great Society. They simply thought, "Great, poor people will have more money that they need" and thought no further than that. Again, the destructive effects were not unforeseeable, but for those who never thought past the first step it must have come as a rude shock.

This is not new; libertarians have been commenting on this intellectual failing at least as far back as Frédéric Bastiat. Less commented on by libertarians, but in my opinion equally important, is the way in which many statists fail to think past the first step when considering the results of libertarian proposals. They assume that even with a major change in government policy, everything else will remain static, with disastrous results.

Consider the example mentioned previously, drug laws. In my experience, many prohibitionists, ignorant of the way that prohibition has affected the drug market, are horrified by the idea of legalization because they assume a situation that is otherwise completely static – laws will change, but society will otherwise stay the same. Drug users will still buy the same tainted products from the same violent, unsavory characters.

Now, an examination of another formerly illegal and potentially toxic product, alcohol, makes the problems with this obvious. I don’t buy pints of Guinness on street corners from members of the Crips. The bottle of whiskey I received for Christmas was not distilled in a filthy bathtub and flavored with antifreeze. Shootouts between employees of Jim Beam and Johnnie Walker are fairly rare nowadays.

Why? Because dealers in legal products can have their contracts enforced without shooting at each other, they can be sued if they poison customers with tainted products, and they don’t attract a disproportionate number of violent and dangerous people to their industries. There’s nothing magical about narcotics that would make them different, but many people assume that a legal drug industry would have all the social pathologies of an illegal one, because they fail to think past the obvious.

Education is another good example. A depressingly common response to a proposal to get the government out of education is to point out that there is nowhere near enough capacity in the private school system, as if no entrepreneur would think to try to fill this gap and satisfy the demand. A slightly more sophisticated criticism is that private schools are costly, or often don’t accept students with poor grades or behavioral records, or are usually affiliated with religious groups that many parents are not members of.

Once again, the lazy assumption that society and the economy would remain static in the face of a fairly major change in government appears. If one thinks things through, and considers the example of other areas of the economy, it becomes obvious that a free market in education would quickly result in entrepreneurs offering schools with a broad array of different disciplinary environments, student bodies, religious/philosophical orientations, and price levels, just as any other area of the economy offers a wide array of products if allowed to.

This failure to think past what seems like the obvious effects of a proposed policy is endemic to many areas of politics. The typical responses to many libertarian ideas, from cutting welfare ("The poor will starve to death in the streets!") to ending occupational licensure ("No one will know who’s a competent doctor!") are in large part manifestations of this mental laziness. The assumption of a static society naturally encourages statism. If voluntary society currently isn’t doing something (for instance, certifying the safety of products or businesses) because the government has crowded out such efforts, anyone who doesn’t bother to think past the immediate and obvious will of course be horrified by the prospect of removing the government from that area of society; in his mind, doing so leaves us with nothing at all! Recognizing the ability of a free society to carry out functions currently filled by government requires an investment of mental effort that many people don’t bother with.

Thus, while a great deal of statism arises from collectivist or elitist philosophical premises, a great deal is also the product of sheer sloth. This is a depressing thought, in a way, but it is also a heartening one. Convincing someone who is a committed philosophical collectivist to value liberty is terribly difficult; guiding someone who hasn’t given the issues enough thought through a few extra mental steps to see the power of free societies is child’s play by comparison. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s possible.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Ballot Box Folklore

Ballot Box Folklore: Reflections on a Recent Political Election
by Alvin Lowi, Jr.

It is commonly believed that the ballot box contains a bona fide decision of the people regarding the future course of human events. That is the folklore. What is the truth? Is it really possible for "the people" (whoever they are) to make such a decision? If not, what is all the fuss about?
In truth, the ballot box is merely a receptacle for ritual responses to hypothetical propositions. I say hypothetical because the propositions or their objectives are either beyond the reach and authority of the individual humans casting the ballots or are outright deceptions. For many participants, the practice of voting politically is somewhat analogous to tossing coins down a wishing well or casting bottles containing fanciful messages to whomever into the ocean.

While the intent of the Machiavellian proposition writers may be only thinly disguised, the tokens placed in the ballot box are absolutely opaque as to the issuer and his intent. Nevertheless, people have somehow come to believe the ballot box contents represent a firm decision of the people in the neighborhood when not even a majority of those in the neighborhood have participated. How does it happen that a few can bind all regarding the government of the neighborhood? Who shall control a monopoly of political power over a human population in which only a small minority cast inert tokens of assent? The question exposes a hoax. The ballot box symbolizes an absurdity.

The ballot box is merely the physical instrument of an imaginary entity popularly known as the democratic majority the people. The so-called majority plays a tune on the instrument that is supposed be the voice of "the people." This story belongs in the library of fairy tales. It is to the politically ambitious what the crystal ball is to the circus fortune-teller.
Inasmuch as ballots fail to include all valid alternatives including "none of the above," the so-called decision is invalid. Such a decision is a false alternative, a logical fallacy of the "excluded middle."

The purported decision of the people in the ballot box is also invalid because it is a fraud. It is a fraud because it would delegate powers not possessed by the participants in the ritual. Who among the electors is endowed with the authority to commandeer the lives and properties of his neighbors?

Political elections take place to the mantra of "one man, one vote." This ode to equality overlooks the failure of political elections to achieve even a one-to-one correspondence between ballots cast and counted and people affected. The participants pro and con may not even represent a majority of those affected, let alone a unanimity, which, according to legend, has the legitimate authority to determine who shall rule and under what policies.

However, as it happens, sorting the ballots according to assent to a proposition determines not a majority but only a plurality of those who turned out and gestured in the affirmative. And that plurality might be just a minuscule fraction of the population to be affected. Such an outcome is a far cry from a perfect tally of the invisible intentions of the people presumed to be expressing their wishes unambiguously regarding governance. It is not even or necessarily an expression of the majority in the ordinary sense of the term, namely 50% of the population plus one. But it is definitely a clique bent on conquest. So speak the vaunted polls in a so-called political democracy.

Rare is the person who questions that a poll speaks for the majority. Rarer yet is the person who doubts a majority can speak, through a poll or anything else.

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that a poll is evidence that majority had spoken. Can such a pronouncement qualify for rectitude?

Most people are conditioned to accept "majority rule" without a second thought. In doing so, they assume the majority is always right. Accordingly, they are resigned to see whatever polling results prevail even if they may have chosen otherwise. This habit of thought persists notwithstanding the observation made by Jonathan Swift over three-hundred years ago that "some people have no better idea of determining right and wrong than by counting noses."
Of course, those people are right in the perverse sense that "might makes right." There is no question that the "majority" can muster superior physical might in the population to suppress minority dissent. Thereby, the presumptive leaders of the "majority" obtain the superficial appearance of being in the right.

In actuality, the majority is usually wrong. It can be right only by accident because its predilections always represent the lowest common denominator of opinion. How else does a majority of diverse individuals come to a uniform consensus?

Who is the majority that he can have an opinion? Opinions like decisions are formed in a human brain or not at all. Since a majority is only a mindless collective mass of humanity, majority decisions are figments of the human imagination. They are only the illusions of the participants in a poll, who are like the participants in a masquerade.

Given prevailing sentiments and illusions, the people’s concern for the integrity of the ballot box is understandable inasmuch as its contents will determine who shall rule over them. The ballot box contents sanction the people (a fictitious entity) to rule the people (the actual population), who are not only the ones who cast votes but also the ones who didn't. This clever sophistry resigns most people to submit to whatever the outcome of the poll as long as such outcomes are believed faithful to the ritual. Never mind the "majority" is spurious and the decision illusory. Blind faith rules. The outcome is considered fair as long as the sacrifice is uniform, universal and high-minded.

What passes for a decision of the people is a proposition that must be formulated by some person with a brain, that is subsequently ratified by a ritual vote count. Curiously, the outcome of this process can be radically altered by one anonymous vote more or less. Whatever raises doubt that the tally is at odds with an actual nose-count casts doubt on the outcome. Such doubt disturbs the faith. It shakes the belief in the legitimacy of the outcome and any succession to rule so ordained. The slightest hint that the vote count was corrupted, miscounted, miscarried or forged can quickly turn the mood of the subjects from doubt to outrage and on to outright rebellion. The reaction to even an abstract notion that the "decision of the majority" was thwarted by some evil conspiracy can produce panic in the streets.

Thus a population of volitional human beings becomes a herd of political animals. Such a hysterical reaction might be expected from an invasion of alien plunderers. Alien invaders may be real or imagined, but plunder is a fait accompli when the rulers take over their peers. Plunder is the result of the election in any case however conducted, and the plunderers will not be aliens. They will be domestic opportunists. Ballot box contents settle the issue as to who shall be anointed to do the deed with legal immunity.

Curiously, at this stage of human history, such plunder is tolerated provided the illusion of majority sanction prevails. Still, it is surprising that a majority of humans in a population would sanction an establishment wherein a few of them receive services without rendering any. This immutable outcome is a far cry from the popular notion of fairness – uniform and universal sacrifice for a good cause.

As if ordinary theft or contamination of ballot box contents is not bad enough, the new electronic voting machines threaten to defeat ordinary prudence and protection of the count. This advancement in the technology of manipulation is a boon to the masterminds of election fraud. Add cyber crime to all the other usurpations with which a political idealist must contend.

But what's the worst that could happen? If you voted, perhaps you would have been in the majority. Now, due to fraud, you are not. So the democratically elected dictator is not of your choice. You chose a different dictator. On the other hand, perhaps you merely deceived yourself in the matter and have been denying reality ever since. If you did not vote, you were at least resigned to your political fate and the looting of your estate regardless of the outcome however affected by whatever ballot scam. Perhaps you did not bother to vote because you realize political democracy is a scam in and of itself, and by abstaining, you weakened the electoral deception foisted upon you and your fellows.

To the extent the people go along with this gag, they have lost enough of their individuality and autonomy to behave as a collective – a herd of political animals – rather than a population of responsible human beings acting on their own recognizance. Collective action versus human action – that is the contest of the ages between legerdemain and reality.

Ballot box fetishes are symptomatic of a collectivistic habit of thinking. Consider the phrase "the majority decides what everybody must abide." Notice the presence of "group-speak," a linguistic tool that relies on the nonsense that a population of individuals can behave like a decision-making entity. Actually, a collective has no brain in which to visualize alternative courses of action and make choices among them, nor a voice with which to articulate such a choice. Such functions are provided by leaders and spokesmen, who are usurpers and opportunists.

It follows from the fantasy of collective deciding that such so-called decisions are somehow owned by all the individuals as a whole without regard for responsibility for consequences in any coherent sense of the term. The vote creates the illusion of a collective entity (a fictitious organism) that is exempt from responsibility. Therein lies its popular appeal. However, appeal is only wishful. It can not create a collective brain, any more than Frank Baum’s "Wizard of Oz" could give "Scarecrow" a brain.

Whereas a group of people qua group has no brain with which to form a conclusion, the individuals comprising the collective do themselves have brains, and they could use them to make decisions, but only for themselves. To attribute collective decisions to the group presumes the individuals taken altogether as a whole are the property of themselves as a whole, and that somehow all of them together as a collective entity are able to conjure up a mental faculty attributable to the whole. This is a conundrum of the following type:

The United States (whoever that is) decided to send some of 'its' people to Iraq to remove its counterpart state from power. The United States ordained that the expenses of this campaign are to be paid by certain of 'its' people for the good of all of 'its' people, especially the elected spokesmen for 'the people' as a whole.

This type of language is pervasive, and the habit of thought that underlies it goes unexamined at great cost. An apt analogy is the proverbial "knee-jerk reaction" inasmuch as a knee jerk is an automatic biological response to a physical stimulus, not a conscious act of a volitional human being.

It is a consequence of the collectivity mystique that those so-called decisions rendered by government bureaus at the behest of interest groups are somehow "better" than decisions made by individuals. However, bureaus and groups are brainless, and brainless decision-making is a myth.

Collective decision-making is mere political ritual, but it may very well lead to a spasm of ugly and painful consequences. When confronted by such "decisions" and their consequences, the renowned aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman quipped: "a camel is a racehorse designed by a committee." Thus, decisions made by a committee (a collective) are an illusion best. The worst is always yet to come.

Only the decisions of individual human beings can qualify as decisions in reality because only they have the requisite brainpower. Real decisions applicable to bona fide human action (as opposed to mob phenomena) can be made only by someone with a functioning brain that is integral with a functioning human individual. Mob phenomena are something else.

Mythical decisions attributed to a mob inevitably lead to the imposition of force upon all alike. The majority becomes a mob when, in the absence of reason, it must rely on its only claim to rightness – physical might. Thereafter, each member in lock step neglects his own volitional faculties to its ultimate regret. Consequently, all rise and fall together as the case may be.
Is this herd behavior conceivably "better" than individual decision-making that, seemingly chaotic, takes place at will in a market economy where the consequences of myriad decisions are of limited province, localized consequence and definite liability?

The fate of collective decision-making is typified in the outcome of attempted political regulation of the economy. Economists object to government regulation on the grounds that the economy is too complex for anyone to know sufficiently for that purpose, and therefore it is too complex to direct or manipulate from a platform outside the arena of action in a beneficial manner. Economist Daniel Klein illustrates the predicament as follows:

Intellectuals cannot know the local undulations of opportunity, just as intellectuals cannot chart and predict the specific patterns of skating in a roller rink. The skaters carry on, nonetheless, profitably and without difficulty. The regulator who would direct and control their activities is like the perambulator who presumes to accompany the skater.

Like the patterns made spontaneously in the rink by the skater that are too complex for anyone to mimic on foot, economic movements due to purposeful human action are too complex for an external observer to control. The more complex is the system, the more the mischief in the outsiders’ attempts to control.

Imagine a multitude of skaters on an unbounded rink. Such complexity does not confound the individual skater. He need not interpret the whole before making his moves. He is pursuing opportunities particular to his own time and place with knowledge appropriate to his own circumstances and competence. He moves defensively and opportunistically with ease.
In contrast, the central planner and would-be regulator of a market is faced with the whole complexity at once. Although he may be tempted to try, he cannot stop the world in order to get a grip. He bargains to manipulate the whole mishmash at once. His job is hopeless. He has no access to appropriate knowledge.

Whereas the bizarre spectacle of a perambulator imitating a skater might be entertaining, the analogous consequences of government’s attempts at directing anonymous human lives in the economy are not amusing. History provides countless ugly, even tragic examples. Indeed, it provides no exceptions.

The fantasy of collective omniscience is perverse because its only claim to "better" is by virtue of collective omnipotence, i.e. superior brute force. But notice that brute force is irrelevant to human progress except insofar as dynamite is an appropriate tool for clearing boulders from a highway. Since politics is brute force, it has no more relevance to human society than dynamite. Apropos of this is attribute is Murphy’s analogy: "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
Since such government is irrelevant to life in its natural habitat, it should not be surprising that collectivistic attitudes cause misery in the real world.

That the ballot box contains a bona fide expression of the will of the people is a myth as fantastic as any attributed to the ancients in a more innocent age. It is a myth comparable to the genie in the bottle offering the liberator three fantastic wishes. But this myth is a key feature of an outrageous hoax perpetrated on a deluded people by clever opportunists ambitious for power over them.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Palestine: the politics of textbooks and history

I will discuss the differences between Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israeli contemporary (1967-1998) education, principally focusing on the instruction of history. Concurrently it will concentrate on the function of text books in the culmination of creation and sustaining a national identity. Textbooks have revealed state-sponsored ideologies from national identity to ethnic history; they have assisted in disseminating these dogmatic ideologies among the general population. It is especially evident in countries that are embroiled in ongoing conflicts typically defined as “intractable conflicts.” [1] Such conflicts are protracted, violent, and central in the life of the national groups involved; each group perceives them as a zero-sum game.”[2] This is why a shared history is imperative to socially constructing a national identity through education. It communicates an impression of unity through commonality of experience and allows for assimilation of large immigrant populations. For a state like that of Israel which, is primarily made up of immigrants. Although they hail from the same continent: Europe. The difficultly lay in the obvious, how can they create a nation when most of its citizens still maintained the language, mannerism, and culture of their forefathers? Eventually through the institution of education, this goal was eventually achieved. However, there are many more elements concerned in establishing a nation than just using the same language.

Robert Dreeben[3], describes patterns of normative socialization in educational process as “achievement orientation, an attitude of independence, universalism, and specificity all engendered by the hidden curriculum of modern schools.” National education, broadly speaking, has one objective. To be a civics program that seeks to indoctrinate a sense of place, identity and history. The idea of a shared historical vision was especially important to a fledging state like contemporary Israel. Moreover, based on Israeli history, they are taught “how elite-and mass-based interest groups, within particular national setting, seek to embed specific types of social knowledge and worldviews in official school subjects as a way of reproducing an existing social order or strengthening the privileged status of specific social groups.”[4] That statement is particularly genuine for the Arabs living within Israel-proper. They experience first hand the status of being a disenfranchised minority group.


Contemporary Israel (ironically like the United States) represents a certain character in personal and collective behaviors. It possesses a distinctive posture in history which provides it with an impression of exceptionalism that many other nation-states do not share nor identify with. Israel also believes deeply it is chosen to fulfill a mission; it is independent, “a city on a hill.” Israel’s undertaking is to provide a homeland to the Jewish people of the world and to defend it from all those who may pose a menace to its continuation. This is the unbending responsibility of every Jewish-Israeli citizen, and is an intensely deep-seated element of their national narrative. This is not true to the Arab-Israeli citizens who have elected to reside within Israel-proper. “In many modern nation-states, national identity is not inclusive of all of the state’s citizens; rather, it is limited (in varying degrees) to the members of the dominant group”[5]This is especially true of the Palestinian minority which is educated in Israel-proper, more than those educated in the occupied territories. The extent that the Israeli government accomplishes this is amalgamated, “[…]by developing systems of control, based on varying degrees of force, depending on the state's claim (or lack thereof) to be "democratic.”[6] This “mission” is manifested further in textbooks of Israeli educated citizens. According to Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University who studied “124 elementary, middle- and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship.”[7] Bar-Tal concluded that “Israeli textbooks present the view that Jews are involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy that refuses to accept and acknowledge the existence and rights of Jews in Israel.”[8]

Some may reason that Israel’s state-controlled education continuously perpetuates the cultural conflict by ceaselessly generating a fresh crop of bellicose citizens every generation. Of course there are many Israelis and Arabs alike that recognize the serious difficulties in the state-controlled education system and have attempted to rectify it by calling for more Palestinian involvement. However, “less than 1 percent of the jobs in the Education Ministry, not counting teachers, are held by Palestinians.”[9] There is no Arab-language curriculum, and since there are no quotas or affirmative action, it is increasingly difficult to meet the needs of the growing Arab-Israeli population. In order to illustrate that point I found several common Israeli middle schools (6th, 7th, 8th grades) and reviewed their curriculum for social sciences/history. There is no mention of Middle Eastern, Oriental, or Palestinian -Israeli relations. From what I observed, the majority of the curriculum is narrowly focused. In the State-run schools …“Jewish studies are given a national cultural interpretation without adherence to religious observance or belief.”[10] That is an obfuscation of several obvious issues that surround Israeli public education. There is no mention of Arab cultural studies, language, or history. Even in the official position they offer next to nothing in specifics on history or civics. They offer descriptions of sports and entertainment, media, culture and art, all emphasizing the Zionist experience. The curriculum is rather inflexible and does not encourage a great deal of interdisciplinary activates. When a student chooses a “path” they are to adhere to that path, whither it be, technology, agricultural, military, Yeshiva studies, some comprehensive occupations. In any of these descriptions there is no mention of historical Arabic studies, or any kind of mandatory language programs. They finish there description saying “… the aim of enhancing pupils' understanding of their society, each year a special topic of national importance is studied in depth. Themes have included democratic values, the Hebrew language, immigration, Jerusalem, peace and industry.” [11] It opens up a lot of public debate on whose history are they learning and is it compatible with there regional neighbors?

The perception of the Jewish people and only follows a linear representation of there history as a Diaspora until the time they “return” to Israel. Despite the changes that have happened since 1948, schools are supposed to be integrated following the 1988 Special Education law and there are many progressive private schools now that advocate cultural understanding. For example, there is a great deal of private Christian schools gaining public attention in Israel and especially past the “Green-Line” in East Jerusalem. There popularity with Palestinians has become a concern of not only the Palestinian authority but the Israeli education ministry. Many Christian evangelical organizations have taken the plight of the Palestinians as an opportunity to entrench themselves into the fabric of Israeli society. They cleverly have partnered themselves with social causes in Israel, like Illegal house demolitions in East Jerusalem.

The Orthodox School in Haifa, and the Evangelical Lutheran School of Beit Sahour, have seen there admissions shoot up in the recent years since there establishment in East Jerusalem. The Lutheran school’s mission statement is called the “Christian approach:”

“As a Christian school the full staff (37 employees) is trying their utmost to keep religious standards high within the school. This is reflected in the way they are teaching their students social intercourses. They approach the students as if the school is a large family and they deal with any conflict in such a family way. Every day starts with morning devotion, where teachers and students gather in the church related to the school. Moslem students attend those services too. They don’t want to push their Moslem pupils to be Christians but they focus on how to be good disciples for God and for the community. Children are taught how to live with each other. Ethics is very important for the school. The staff considers it very important to confirm the faith in the students, regardless of their religion. They are convinced this is teaching them how to behave – in spite of their diversity – as brothers and sisters and how to accept the different images of God. In this regard, the school introduced a new concept; they began teaching the students in grade nine the three monotheistic religions. By doing this, the school tries to contribute, in a humble way, to bring peace in the land where hatred, violence and confrontation prevail.” [12]

These schools although they are Christen seem to have a great deal of respect for the Palestinian wishes for there children to remain incontrovertibly Muslim. The Orthodox School in Haifa, shows that democratic and religious private schools have a future in Israel. Just over half its students are Palestinian Muslims. “Some 95 percent of the students matriculate and over 70 percent of the graduates complete university degrees. The school enforces zero tolerance for violence, particularly for insults based on religion.”[13] What is so exceptional is that compared to “the average national success rate in the matriculation exams is 52.8 percent (the Education Ministry refused to provide detailed national figures). Although the two Christian schools are private schools, they ask about one-tenth of the tuition demanded by their Jewish counterpart, Reali, which charges annual fees of just over NIS 10,000.” [14] The fees for the Christian schools are near half of that (NIS 1,200) and they do not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or citizenship. “Over 50 percent of the students at the Orthodox School are Muslim, while the rest are Christians, Druze and Bedouin from all over Israel.”[15] The norm however, is still that most Palestinian and Israeli children still attend inadequate public schools.

Public schools in Israel-proper are organized based along ethnicity-nationality (Jewish, Arab, Druze) and religion. Like most typical schooling they have a four tier system, including: kindergarten, elementary grades (1-6), middle (7-9), and high school (10-12). “School attendance is mandatory from age 6 to 16 and free to age 18. Formal education starts in primary school (grades 1-6) and continues with intermediate school (grades 7-9) and secondary school (grades 10-12).” [16] There are several different kinds of schools under Education Minsterary jurisdiction. The State (Mamlachi) schools, this is where the majority of students attend. State religious and independent religious schools (mamlachti dati and chinuch atazmai) which focus on Jewish studies, Talmud Torah, and the state schools have some secular subject. The religious schools—for the most part—do not have any secular subjects. Last, there are private schools (democratic schools), based on different educational philosophies and sometimes foreign curriculums. There are also Arab schools which focus on Arabic, and Arab religion, history and culture.[17]

The Education Minstery has an official curriculum for each sector (much like our districts) and since the system is still quite segregated, along ethnic lines there is some subject overlap. Much of the curriculums reflect the political and educational considerations embedded in official government policies. There is not a great deal of variation between school sectors and there is an expectation of standardization within each sector.

Both Arab and Israeli schools focus on language studies, but Israeli public elementary schools generally teach only Hebrew and English to students, and scant attention is paid to Arab culture and language. Although classical Arabic is required by law in Jewish-Israeli middle schools, it is rarely enforced. In contrast Arab schools in Israeli-proper are required to teach English, Hebrew, and Arabic. They teach much of the national and cultural elements of all three languages. According to Aaron Benavot and Nura Resh, the official curriculum, prescribed by the state is “the crux of the educational enterprise.” [18] That suggests that

“Organized groups—for example, state officials, political parties, teachers’ associations, university academics, employers, religious groups, and parents—have sought, in different times and places, to insert their political, social and economic agendas in the official curriculum, thereby generating a considerable degree of class and status group conflicts.”[19]

In conjunction with these controls the preferences of textbooks, especially if they are of poor quality, are above all damaging to an equitable learning environment. Ever since Israel established a state run curriculum, approved by the Israeli Ministry of Education, they have deliberated what place teaching of history has in Jewish Students lives. “History education is tool in the hands of the government, the state and its authorities in the junction between past and future.” [20]Although this may not seem particularly significant, in any education system the teaching of history is perceived not just information but a tool for analyzing the human experience, also teaching values as a means for manipulating the collective memory of the nation.

According to the elites, Israeli schools fulfill an “explicit political role, thus the history study program fulfills a significant role in normalizing the students.” [21] Kitzel, goes on to say, “the critical reconstruction of the history of the Zionist education will enlighten the general rules of education by pointing out the general function of the normalizing education in concrete historical manner.” [22] Reconstructing the control over the memory and consciousness with supervision over construction of the Israeli identity in the framework of knowledge images and modern political practice should have a special place here. What seeks to be expressed is the necessity for reconciling the differentiation between the endeavors to shape the collective memories, learning as a judgmental activity and creating the emotional stands on certain narratives that seem to be essential to Israeli education. He also recognizes the need for creating a history education plan that is disconnected from the political forces that now steer its course.

Israel education plans have also wrestled with the problem of Euro-centrism in its teaching of history. “A similar criticism was raised regarding the preference of European history over American, Asian or African history. The primary civilizations occurred not in Europe but in Asia and Africa and they were societies with culture.” [23] The justification for this focus was that students should learn about the society that was responsible for the roots of Zionism, that European connection was also very important because of there emphasis on Jewish accomplishments within European society. “[…]the primary contributions of Asia and Africa are less modern than the European contributions but no less important to a history teacher. For example, ancient China introduced in Confucianism and Taoism the foundations for a civilization which existence was longer than any other civilization.” [24] All modern political accomplishments were descendent from Europe and that many of Israel’s citizens still felt a connection too, due to the fact that the majority of Jews in power were of Ashkenazi-white European decent.

There seems to be a consensus among many researchers that great deals of the early textbooks used in the teaching of history were relatively Euro-centric in many researchers’ viewpoints. “The Europe-centrism is one of the outstanding features in the Israeli history study program thus it infiltrated also the textbooks.” [25] As I mentioned before there was an emphasis of the European perspective by making it the focal precept of the core history curriculum and it was augmented by textbooks. This acted more as a personal achievement of those first generation writers weaving the narrative of Zionism’s beginnings in Europe. “In the battle to create and preserve the Israeli-Jewish collective memory, the textbooks served as an important “battle field”. The final product reflected generally the cultural and ideological consensus among the elite and wide parts of the Israeli society.” [26] However, with the influx of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe some of the writings changed slightly, especially the history of the Pogroms and the accounts of the treatment of Jews by the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. Despite the criticism that many textbook writers have encountered at adopting this approach many have argued that this makes sense. “The study program we have today is still embedded in the mark of the European approach, at the centre there is still Europe. The reasons are obvious: the actual part Europe played in the process of historic development, habit and origin and study course of many of those now representing the historic science in Israel and are teaching history in school.” [27] Second Generation writers became embroiled in manipulation of post World War II histories, it reflected the “hatred and alienation between the different groups. Gundara and Jones, “added that the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism shows “how successful the education service has been in teaching about Europe’s past.” [28]

Here is where the idea of an “intractable conflict” comes into play. That maintaining Israeli cultural dominance was the first priority. The use of schools to indoctrinate those born into the conflict has been most successful. “The use of schools to nurture a certain national ethos may lead to the alienation of minority groups whose narratives are not represented in the school system, because there has always been a contradiction between the “official history” taught in schools and the “unofficial histories” that influence children and are derived from the community, the media, and the cultural heritage.” [29] Majid Al-Haj claims that is an “overburdened” society, it must deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it has its share of internal discord and the widespread complexity of being wedged in an “intractable” conflict. [30] “This situation has strongly affected the education system in Israel. […]The Israeli education system is designed to secure the cultural hegemony of the Jewish majority, to instill national-Zionist values among Jewish students, and to safeguard the Arab minority’s loyalty to the state out of a sense of national inferiority.” [31]

In a way it seems to me that by fostering a system based off of controls to maintaining ethnic superiority, you have created a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure. In every other nation where there has been an ethnic conflict where a minority has been discriminated by the majority systematically and institutionally, it eventually is marked with failure. As I mentioned earlier, the system of education is segregated by ethnic lines. Arabs do not learn, nor attend the same institutions as Jewish-Israelis.

Although the main theme of the curriculum for Jewish schools focuses on national content, the curriculum in Arab schools has been sanitized of any national content. Throughout Israel’s existence, the message internalized by Jewish students is that Israel is a state of, by, and for Jews; there has been no attempt to foster a civic culture in which the Arab citizens are a separate but equal component. At the same time, Arab students are called on to accept this situation and identify with the state, although its nature remains vague. Unlike Jewish students, they are not called on to play an active role in it. In this sense, the deeply divided society has produced a deeply divided curriculum.” [32]

Not only do the textbooks in Jewish-Israeli schools bolster this world view but they emphasis the societal beliefs of …“emphasizing “security” and Jewish heroism, positive self image, and victimization appeared frequently.” [33] Although Arabs were rarely delegitimized, most of the books presented a negative stereotype of them.” [34] There is and still little autonomy in State-run Arab schools when it comes to textbook selection.

To be fair however in the new generation of textbooks, since 1992 many have come out that challenge the old Zionist narratives. In the early nineties, a group of academics stood to change the content of textbooks used in middle and elementary school levels. “The academics who spearheaded the change perceived this content as too closed, based on national myths, and derived from a conservative Zionist historiography, thereby presenting only one narrative and closing the door to any critical perspective on the past.” [35] They contended that Israeli history was part of the greater world history and parallels and multiculturalism should be emphasized over post-modern Zionist perspective that many textbooks still contained. Unfortunately, according to Al-Haj, “mainstream Jewish- Zionist perspective and are not among the “post-Zionist” or “new historians” who constitute a minority in Israeli academia.” [36] This was not completely successful, mainly because of the changes in policy from administration to administration in the Ministry of Education. Many of the “progressive” books were eventually taken off the approved list and banned for use in public schools. For example, “A World of Changes was edited by Danny Jacoby (1999) and published by the Pedagogic Administration of the Ministry of Education and Culture. It was used only for one year, however, before it was removed from the list of approved texts by the minister of education at the recommendation of the Knesset Education Committee.” [37] Eventually the Knesset Committee, released a statement claiming that the “ban was motivated by the argument that the book is not faithful to the classic Zionist narrative overlooks central events in the Zionist history, and consequently does not adequately reinforce the national-Zionist ethos for students.” [38] This was not the only victim of the Knesset Committee. Seven other books were banned from Middle and Elementary History education for the reason stated above. Nevertheless, there has been improvement in the quality of textbooks distributed since the Knesset Commission. The creation of progressive private schools, and continual support from the academic community for changes have not been totally fruitless. Since 1999, “the new history textbooks published as part of the new Education Ministry curriculum attempt to demonstrate a change by treating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a more open, complex perspective than did the curricula followed in Israel during the first 50 years of independence.” [39]

West Bank, Gaza Strip: The Occupied Territories

Educational policies regarding the schooling of Palestinians are of a highly divisive nature. “Legally, since 1948 schooling has taken place within a cumulative mixture of Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Egyptian legal provisions regarding children, their welfare and right to education.” [40] According to Oslo Peace Process, the declaration gave Palestinians (PLO at the time) the responsibility for their education system in the occupied territories in 1993 and on. The difficulty since the territories were occupied by Israel that both Gaza and West Bank were divided in policy and laws resulting from there former countries. “These have deepened geographic and social inequalities of educational opportunities following the Israeli occupation of these territories in 1967. In fact, no compulsory education law was enacted in these areas, nor were there proper policy provisions to safeguard a free and equitable access to educational services.” [41]

In the late nineties, the population levels in both West Bank and Gaza were not particularly overwhelming however, the amount of children between the ages of 0-14 were 47 percent* of the population which put an enormous strain on the already inadequate education system. “According to official Palestinian statistics, over 812,000 pupils were enrolled in grades 1 through 12 in all public and non-public schools combined during the school year 1998- 9*.” [42] This made for inconsistencies in all manners of teachers and subjects. However since then many Palestinian have advocated reform not only in curriculum but distribution and also taking into consideration geo-political changes since 1967.

In order to address these issues and the new set of powers given to them by the Oslo Declarations, they convened “the Second International Conference for Palestinian Studies, devoted to Palestinian education and held in Ramallah and Gaza during December of 1996.” [43] Many different Palestinian academics presented papers for different plans for systematic reform in the occupied territories. The first comprehensive plan was approved. “The First Palestinian Curriculum for General Education: A Comprehensive Plan, edited by Ibrahim Abu Lughod. The recommendation to set up The Palestinian Curriculum Development Center (PCDC) was initially made in August 1990, as part of a UNESCO-organized Symposium on the Palestinian Curriculum for Fundamental Education.” [44] Some important part of the plan emphasized Arabic as the national language, and English as the secondary language. Unlike Israel, (which did not require conversational Arabic) the plan also included studies in Hebrew and French as a functional language in the region. “The second part of the Plan contains evaluation studies of the current curricula in English, Arabic, social studies and citizenship, history, geography, mathematics, science and physical education.” [45] This is especially important for the creation of a national identity in the occupied territories, in Gaza Egyptian civics were being taught and in West Bank, Jordanian. Creating a wholly “Palestinian” civics program was a cornerstone of the intent of the program. “Devising a new and unified Palestinian social science and civic education curriculum is thus perceived as `one of the most important means, if not the most important, to ensure the integration’ of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as `the complementarily between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip should be a major Palestinian aim’.” [46]

In many classrooms, still what and how history and geography are to be taught is up to the individual instructor. Textbooks are generally from either Egypt in Gaza or Jordan in the West Bank. According to New York Times reporter Deborah Sontag, “For decades Palestinians in the West Bank have used Jordanian textbooks and those in Gaza have relied on Egyptian ones, making for a disjointed and ultimately borrowed educational program. As part of the process of building institutions for an emerging Palestinian state, the Palestinian Authority, with money from European countries, is trying to create from scratch a genuine Palestinian curriculum, starting with two grades as a pilot effort.” [47] Even now, almost seven years later, peace negotiations still unresolved and the Palestinians still no closer to a nation, school curriculums are foddered for criticisms from within and without. Many that teach in modern secular schools within the occupied territories are still not able to designate borders for teaching geography. “How, Mrs. Shihadi asked, a Principle at a private school in Ramallah, can the children illustrate Palestine? She wondered if they should make cutouts, like snowflakes, to portray the unconnected parcels of land that now constitute the Palestinian-ruled territories. The textbook writers opted for what they call "the historic map of Palestine," the map of 1948.” [48] Many Israelis that are conservative, are upset by this because they believe it is indoctrinating hostility towards Israel and Jews. “They say it betrays the whole spirit of the peace effort for the Palestinians to generate a new educational curriculum that, for starters, ignores Israel on maps.” [49] Palestinians claim this is unavoidable and that it is impossible to teach the history and geography of two pieces of land separated by decades of history and culture.

However, Palestinian history textbooks show themselves to be similar to Israeli textbooks to the fact that they are ethnocentric and vague. For example “The creation of Israel is explained tersely as "the Israeli occupation of 1948," this with the assistance of Britain “destroyed most of the Palestinian villages and cities and kicked the Palestinian inhabitants from their lands.” [50] Nevertheless, much like Israel’s reform movement, many Palestinian teachers and schools are calling for more precise and historically accurate textbooks that do not rely on victimization and over emphasis on Israeli atrocities. “In a bid to introduce greater historical detail to the story of Israel's founding, new textbooks said that in 1948 some Palestinians were expelled from their villages and that some fled because they feared Israeli soldiers. But the new books are used only in the mainstream secular school system, which serves about 60 percent of schoolchildren. And since some secular Israeli educators consider them offensive, they are not used throughout the system.” [51] Palestinian educators acknowledge that there is much work to be done in universalizing the quality of education in Gaza and West Bank. Despite the political dismemberment of Palestine and the evictions of its majority, the Palestinians seem to have continued to make progress educationally and ultimately to make important contributions to themselves as people and to the Arab world in general.

“The word “Palestine” was removed (from all state-mandated textbooks in the West Bank), maps were deleted, and anything Israeli censors deemed nationalist was excised.” [52] Again when choosing textbooks after 1994, there was still much controversy on how history and geography would be taught. During Israeli administration of the occupied territories (after 1967), textbooks were severely censored by the Israeli occupation authorities until 1994 when some degree of control was handed over to the Palestinian Authority. As I mentioned earlier the Al-Jarbawi and Abu Lughod’s study, on history, social sciences and a verity of textbooks, was very influential on current education policy. “[they] conducted workshops with teachers to obtain their assessment of texts in use, and analyzed questionnaires that had been sent out to random sample of history and social science teachers.” [53] In these new textbook that they began to introduce in 2000, would eventually phase out old texts used before. A major contrast between the Palestinian and Israeli education goals is Palestinians tried to incorporate five essential principles. This point is where the Israeli idea of education is divergent. The Israeli system tries to above all emphasis a “narrative” and “selective truths,” where the Palestinian system seems far more progressive.

“[…] curriculum should be predicated no on giving students facts as if they were eternal truths that must be memorized, but on encouraging them to become critical thinkers

“Second, students should be encouraged to make independent judgments and intelligent choices, with careful attention to be paid to individual differences within the classroom. Third, the new curriculum should generate a concept of citizenship that emphasizes individual rights and responsibilities and that establishes a linkage between private interests and the public good so as to encourage responsible and intelligent political participation” Forth, democratic values such as justice, personal responsibility, tolerance, empathy, pluralism, cooperation and respect for the opinions of others will be emphasized. Fifth, students should be taught how to read primary texts, debate, link ideas, read maps, interpret statistics, and use the internet as well as how to verify facts, sources, and data critically and scientifically.” [54]

The new textbooks rely much more on a student-centered approach than just memorizing facts (which is something we here in the United States could learn from). It takes a somewhat opposing position from official Israeli attitude, and they depend heavily on textbooks to reinforce and reiterate information. For the most part, revisionists on both sides except the basic Palestinian narrative, but many radical Zionist reject this interpretation as “anti-Israeli.” They continued to lobby very hard against the use of the new textbooks and education goals, eventually they were successful in rallying there greatest ally—the United States—against the new Palestinian educational reforms.

In 1994 this was one of the main concerns of the new deputy minister for education, Na’im Abul Hommos. “The educational system that we inherited was in a sorry state," he explained: "overcrowded classes, lack of teachers and antiquated textbooks dating from pre-1967, teaching Gaza children, for instance, about the greatness of the Egyptian kingdom and its 20 million inhabitance.” [55] The crisis of Palestinian education had moved beyond the borders of Israel and the Occupied Territories and had begun to garner interest internationally. The reason for this started with a report by The Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP), entitled The New Palestinian Authority School Textbooks for Grades One and Six. The study basically said that the book did not encourage multiculturalism with Israel rather it was strictly historical propaganda that served to instill hate and fundamentalism in the children of Palestine. After some years of debate and compromise:

“In 1998 work began on the first textbooks for grades one and six, funded by a donation from Italy administered by the World Bank. The new books reached the schools last September; and all primary and secondary schools are due to receive them at a rate of two grades a year. In the meantime the old Jordanian and Egyptian books are still being used.”[56]

The CMIP which is linked to a group called “Jews for Truth Now” an Israel Lobby group based in the United States, claimed that the new books were still too biased towards Israel. They spoke through the CMIP and the Palestinian Authority pointed out that many of there concerns were addressed in the new additions of the textbooks. Many “biased” and anti-Israeli statements were removed and the revised additions were accepting of the Israeli state. Nevertheless, the CMIP continued to claim that the books did not create a legitimate representation of Israel’s existence. Morena raises some interesting questions,

“The question is whether peace would mean that the Palestinians would have to give up their own approach to history and adopt one that presents the Zionist undertaking as legitimate. Should anyone who talks about the expulsion of the Palestinians - as many Israeli historians do - be suspected of "calling for genocide"? Can we really reproach the textbooks for glorifying Izz al-Din al-Qassam, one of the heroes of the Palestinian struggle in the 1930s, on the grounds that his name has been used by the military wing of Hamas?” [57]

On many occasions it was evident, that is what it seems Israel ultimately seems to want. According to Morena, the CMIP’s patience on the issue eventually had results because the World Bank ended its funding of Palestinian education. “The World Bank officially told the Palestinian ministry of education that the money destined for books for 7, 8, 12 and 14 year-olds, as well as for teacher training for these same years, would be allocated to other activities.”[58] In the defense of the Isreal position, there was a great deal of omission of a more subtle type. For example, The textbook National Education (for the 5-6th) “one of its illustrations showed a Palestinian Christian and Muslim shaking hands. The CMIP deplored the absence of a Jew or Israeli in the illustration, arguing that Islam had historically offered protection to both Jews and Christians.” [59] They contended that it is important to portray a country where many people live, and the textbook just didn’t do that properly.

This has been the state of education since 1998, as the conflict with the region intensified and the many political changes that have taken place since the turn of the century. There has been very little comprehensive research regarding textbook improvements since then. It’s hard to imagine that Hamas’s interests are to provide a secular, quality education to the children in Gaza and West Bank. In Israel the problems remain as well, little has been done. Education reform has been placed on the “backburner” for the time being it seems. It is my prediction that private schools with foreign curriculums are going to become more popular among the Palestinians, mainly because neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority seems to be able to properly provide this simple institution.

[1] Daniel Bar-Tal, “The Rocky Road toward Peace: Beliefs on Conflict in Israeli Textbooks, “Journal of Peace Research (Nov., 1998): 728.

[2] Daniel Bar-Tal, Alona Raviv, Tali Freund, “An Anatomy of Political Beliefs: A study of their centrality, confidence, contents, and epistemic authority.”Journal of Applied Social Psychology(May.,1994): 850

[3] Rebecca Barr and Robert Dreeben. How Schools Work (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1983) 89.

[4] Ibid., 94.

[5] Ismael Abu-Saad, “State-Controlled Education and Identity Formation among the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel” American Behavioral Scientist (April, 2006):1087.

[6] Ibid., 1088-89.

[7] Maureen Meehan, “Israeli Textbooks and Children’s Literature Promote Racism and Hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (September 1999):19-20

[8] Ibid., 20.

[9] Ibid., 20.

[10] “Education and Culture," Jewish Agency for Israel, 26 April 2005 [journal on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 01 December 2006. 1-2

[11] Ibid., 1

[12]“Family and Community Matching” The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, [site on-line]; from; Internet; accessed 01 December 2006. 1-2

[13] Ratner, David “Haifa’s Christian Schools Lead the League” The Haaretz, Oct. 2000, 2005 [Article on-line]; available from ID=2&subContrassID=20&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y; Internet; accessed 01 December 2006. 1-2

[14] Ibid., 1-2.

[15] Ibid., 1-2.

[16] Education, Jewish Agency, 1-2.

[17] Education, Jewish Agency,1-2. *Also this information on school status is available on the Israel Ministry of Education website.

[18] Araon Benavot and Nura Resh “The Social Construction of Local School Curriculum: Patterns of Diversity and Uniformity in Israeli Junior High Schools,” Comparative Education Review (November., 2001): 509

[19] Ibid., 510-511.

[20] Ariel Kizel “Europe-Centrism in Israel’s General History Textbooks: 1948-2004” University of Tel-Aviv Press (May., 2004): 4

[21] Ibid., 6.

[22] Ibid., 10.

[23] E. Pode “The Quite Conflict: The Reflection of Israel-Arab Relations in Israeli Textbooks 1948-2000,” Zmanim (Autumn., 2000): 22

[24] Kizel, Europe-Centrism, 12.

[25] Ibid., 12.

[26] Pode, Quite Conflict, 24.

[27] Z. Ziv “Teaching History in Schools, Goals and Ways,” (Tel-Aviv: Urim; 1957): 35

[28] J. Gundara and C Jones “Ethnic Diversity and Public Policy: The Role of Education,” Ethnic Diversity and Public Policy: A Comparative Enquire, ( London: Macmillan;1998):322

[29] Robert Phillips “: Government Policies, the State and the Teaching of History,” Issues in History Teaching,(UK: Routledge; 1998): 12

[30] Majid Al-Haj “National Ethos, Multicultural Education, and the New History Textbooks in Isreal,”Curriculum Inquiry, (Spring.,2005): 48

[31] Ibid., 49-50.

[32] Ibid., 52.

[33] Pode, Quite Conflict, 28-29.

[34] Bar-Tal, Peace and Textbooks,740.

[35] Al-Haj, National Ethos, 57.

[36] Ibid., 57-58.

[37] Ibid., 66.

[38] Ibid., 66-67.

[39] Ibid., 67.

[40] Andre Elias Mazawi “The Contested Terrains of Education in Arab States: An Appraisal of Major Research Trends,” Comparative Education Review, (August., 1999): 335

[41] Ibid., 335-336.

[42] *Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics: 1999

[43] Mazawi, Education in Arab State, 340.

[44] Ibid., 340-341.

[45] Ibid., 341.

[46] Ibrahim Abu Lughod “Educating a Community in Exile: The Palestinian Experience,” Journal of Palestine Studies,(Spring., 1973):101

[47] Debra Sontag “A is for Arafat, B is for Bethlehem,” New York Times, (September., 2000):A10

[48] Ibid., 10.

[49] Ibid., 10.

[50] Ibid., 11.

[51] Ibid., 11.

[52] Fouad Moughrabi “The Politics of Palestinian Textbooks,” Journal of Palestine Studies, (Autumn., 2001): 3

[53] Ibid., 4.

[54] Ibid., 7.

[55] Elisa Morena “Israel or Palestine: Who Teaches What History? A Textbook Case,” Le Monde Diplomatique July. 2001, [Article on-line]; available from; internet; accessed 02 December 2006. 1-2

[56] Ibid., 1-2.

[57] Ibid., 1-2.

[58] Ibid., 1-2.

[59] Ibid., 1-2.