Educational Failure in Israel, France and your classroom (and what to do about it)

Educational Failure in Israel, France and your classroom (and what to do about it)

It is my fate to be an avid and addicted reader of the news. This condemns me to having to wade through the tide of daily bulletins which when taken in sum, only serve to reveal humanity’s continuing inability to live in harmony with itself.

Mostly depressing, rarely uplifting. However, for over thirty years now I have managed to ameliorate my feelings about this painful mess by engaging in the cathartic practices of writing, researching and lecturing. And yes, it does work – channelling my energies into trying to make an iota of difference. In which case you might reasonably say to me: “Look Stephen, thirty years is enough for anyone. You’ve made your points. Give it a rest.”

Sorry, but I have to go on a little longer. I just cannot ignore what I am seeing and reading on the news, specifically what I’ve read in the past 24 hours: news from Israel and from France.

There are common lessons to be learned from these two very different news bulletins and I’d like to share them with you.

But first, let me start with the positives: the MeToo Movement, Black Lives Matter, a US Democratic Party that is, just maybe, finally behaving like it wants to be truly representative of the people, and a global generation Z which appears determined not to make the mistakes of its elders.

So, all is not lost and indeed humanity may well be heading towards some glorious upland of harmonious, equitable, non-violent, and sustainable living. But not in my lifetime, and very likely not in yours either.

What, therefore, stands in the way of this utopia?

No, I am not going to say men and their toxic masculinity. I very well could, but then I’d simply be repeating what I wrote at length and in depth in my last book.

What stands in the way of humanity progressing (apart from TM) is simply – education.

Only education can save us.

But first let us look at those two news bulletins, both published on 22nd August, 2020.

  1. 30 men, all in their 20s, queued outside an intoxicated 16 year old’s hotel room in Eilat, waiting for their turn to rape her.”

Once you’ve recovered from the onslaught to your sensibilities which this headline should engender, I’d like you to think more deeply about what is going on here. 30 young men wait patiently to sexually violate and rape a semi-conscious teenage girl. THIRTY males. Not one sick male predator, stalking the city late at night, looking to chance upon an unfortunate female victim, but 30 young Israelis out on the town, ordinary young guys looking for fun. Did they have erections when they entered the hotel room and saw this young girl, prostrate and available before them? As they patiently waited their turn, were they sexually excited by the prospect of raping her? Were they the victims of a rampant male sexual libido that just couldn’t be controlled? Were they counting themselves lucky to be able to act out some pornographic fantasy, for real? How many took the opportunity to video the ‘action’ and post it on social media? Did they feel powerful and potent? Was this planned or spontaneous – e.g. did they leave their homes that night expecting to participate in an horrific gang rape of a minor, or did it ‘just happen’? After they’d ejaculated, did they feel pleasure, release, satisfaction? Did they feel entitled? Did these 30 men relish the feelings of male bonding during their combined act of assault on a helpless female? Did the experience leave them feeling stronger, more masculine? Did any of them have any doubts, even for a second, that this was a crime, not just against a young girl, but against humanity?

Certainly, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declares this to be “a crime against all humanity, not only against a young girl.” And Israeli’s, Jews, know all about crimes against humanity – they’ve suffered from them more than most peoples. So what happened that made these young Israeli men forget their history, slip the leash of civilisation and embark on a crime against humanity?

Clearly, the MeToo Movement has passed these guys by. They’ve either never heard of it (unlikely) or they’ve completely failed to learn from it (most definitely). Indeed, whatever they’ve been taught during their upbringing, respect for women and sexual consent have not been part of the curriculum.

For me, what makes this gang rape especially horrific and revealing, is its apparent normality.

30 young males all acting together, egging each other on, engaging in a combined regression to some deeply cruel masculine essence. These are not monsters, they are ordinary blokes. These 30 Israelis will be sons, brothers, lovers; they will have friends who liked them, work colleagues who respected them, very likely women who loved them. Up until this fateful night they will have appeared to all and sundry as completely normal; balanced, adjusted, trustworthy young men.

Very likely none will have a criminal record for rape, none were declared sexual predators, none were seen as evil. But now Israeli and global society condemns them as evil criminals, branded for life as rapists and sexual predators.

I certainly do not stand in the way of that judgement, but I do ask you to reflect on how easily ‘evil’ emerges in society, and from otherwise normal people.

If 30 Israeli young men can go out at night and engage in gang-rape then 30 young men from most any community can. It is the complete arbitrary character of this crime which we should be fearful of and recognise.

I could say that there is something sick at the heart of Israeli society, and, yes, there is evidence to suggest this is so: Ilana Weizman of women’s rights group HaStickeriot, says that one in five Israeli women is raped during her lifetime with 260 cases reported every single day. Last year, a 19-year-old British woman claimed she was gangraped by 12 Israeli males, aged 15 – 18, at a hotel in Cyprus.

But if you imagine the sickness that generates this problem is confined to a small country in the Middle East, is limited to just 30 evil Israeli men, who purely by chance happened to meet up as a group and embark on an opportunistic gang-rape, then you are living in cloud cuckoo land.

What should keep you awake at night is not the remote possibility of meeting a monster in the dark, but the fact that our society is made up of very ordinary men who can turn into monsters within minutes – given the right conditions.

  1. France: “WWII Memory Wall in massacred French village, defaced by someone scrawling the word ‘LIE’ along with other graffiti denying the holocaust”

On June 10, 1944, the fanatical SS “Das Reich” division brutally murdered all 642 villagers of Oradour-Sur-Glane, central France. The village has been left in ruins ever since the massacre, a lasting symbol of Nazi horror and a memorial to all those murdered by fascists.

On 22nd August, 2020, someone comes along and, as French PM Jean Castex puts it, “dirties the name of our martyrs”.

Unlike the gang-rape in Israel, we can be sure this act of fascist vandalism in France was pre-meditated. No one just stumbles across Oradour-Sur-Glane by accident and decides, on the spur of the moment, to deface its Memory Wall.

But that is where the differences end.

I won’t speculate on which gender committed the criminal act in Oradour-Sur-Glane, you can speculate for yourself on that one. But this is a crime against humanity just like the gang-rape in Israel. It is monstrous, disgraceful, and casts a shame on all of us, not just the perpetrators.

Defacing a memorial to victims of violence is as callous and brutal as actually carrying out that violence. It is as horrific and inexcusable as rape and assault. All these acts stem from human failure to empathise, to care.

So here is a question.

What is the difference between the Nazis who massacred the 642 villagers of Oradour-Sur-Glane, and the 30 Israelis who gang-raped an apparently intoxicated 16-year-old girl?

In my mind, they are one and the same, and hopefully there are those in Israel who also recognise the same dark and disturbing similarities.

It is 76 years since the Oradour-Sur-Glane massacre, and today there are people who deny it ever happened, the same people who deny the holocaust. You can be sure there will be people in Israel who today, will be trying to blame the victim of the rape. Denial.

Denial works in order to try and avoid responsibility. And so we might ask ourselves, who is responsible for Eliat and Oradour-Sur-Glane?

Yes, we can blame the parents. I don’t doubt there will be parents in Israel waking up to the mind-numbing realisation that their son is a rapist. And no doubt there are families in France with members who harbour fascist inclinations and who are only too eager to deny the holocaust and Nazi terror.

Yes, we can blame the politicians. They have power in society in which case if society is sick then perhaps it is as much a reflection of their inadequacies as it is anything.

But in truth we are all responsible. Both the gang-rape and the vandalism are an indictment of society, not just of individuals.

We have a choice and it is simply this: We accept to live with the rape, violence, racism, all the endemic toxicity lurking just below the civilised surface of society, or we commit to changing it.

And if we commit to changing it, then we must commit to changing education. Why? Because education is our only hope. Without an enlightened education system, we, humanity, are most definitely lost.

Education Saves – if we let it

Humanity has been educating itself for centuries and the outcome so far is a technological wonderland inhabited by humans who remain never more than just a step away from cold-hearted viciousness.

Doesn’t this suggest that our education system is failing us?

The barbarians are not at the gates they are already among us. They are in your family and community. They are among your friends and colleagues. And they’ve all been to school.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this is all happening to someone else. It is happening to all of us. It has always happened to all of us. That 16-year old girl is your daughter, your sister, your friend. The rapist is your son, your brother. The fascist is your neighbour. The 642 massacred villagers were remembered because they were French and died in France. But we too easily forget the countless number of identical villages put to the gun and flame-thrower by Nazis across Eastern Europe during WWII. And then remember every other village massacred by men in and out of uniform since 1944. This is not a new problem.

I have pondered this question of cause and responsibility, and the problem of male violences for many decades and I have only one solution to offer, and that is educate all young people into the importance of emotional intelligence and develop it, especially in males.

Why males? Because it is the male gender that is most brutish, most likely to rape, torture, murder and attempt to deny responsibility for all of it, or worse, justify it.

From kindergarten onwards, right through to postgraduate study, we the educationalists must have one aim in mind above all others, and that is to help our students acquire empathy.

No empathetic human being can queue up patiently waiting to rape a minor.

No empathetic human being can deny the holocaust and the victims of hate.

No empathetic human being can wipe out a community.

No empathetic community can commit genocide.

And no empathetic people can turn away from their responsibility to stop this happening.

We must explain and teach consent, non-violence, emotional control, non-aggressive behaviour. Our classrooms must be sites of social togetherness, mutual respect. Our school climate must be totally inclusive. As educationalists our position is that diversity is a right and that gender and racial entitlement are wrong. We challenge homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual objectification, and we teach history from the perspective of those who have suffered through it, not from the standpoint of the ruler.

If humanity has lost its way it is in the aims and purposes of education. We educationalists have been seduced, coerced, into believing that education is primarily for work and employment. We’ve accepted the ridiculous notion that a good education system has one outcome and that is improvement in a country’s GDP. We have succumbed to the tyranny of targets, performance indicators, measurable outcomes, standardisation, teaching to the test.

Well, I am sure the violated 16-year old girl will be pleased if she finds out that her rapists were educated, many with degrees. I am sure the people of France will sigh with relief if they find their fascist brethren went to decent schools. The nearly 14 million Germans who voted for Hitler in 1932 were all beneficiaries of what was considered at the time, one of the world’s best education systems.

If schools from Israel to France and all points on the compass are still producing men who can too easily turn into monsters, then perhaps it is time to reappraise what we are doing and why we are doing it.

This is a job which only we educationalists can take on. Do not trust or rely on a politician to do it for you. They don’t care. Yes, they’ll be the first to condemn the perpetrators, but the last to actually attempt to make a practical difference.

Black Lives Matter, The MeToo Movement, Stonewall, Anti-Fascism, all these and more are not new, they’ve been around in some form or another throughout my 71 years. But perhaps what is new is that today we are starting to have a different conversation. We are waking up from a long dark history. The consequences of that history won’t be gone from humanity for some time to come, but I believe we educationalists can help move the world along to that bright, equitable and peaceful upland. If so, the journey starts in the classroom, with the children.


This article was originally published as an EDDi Special on 24th August, 2020


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