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Dilemmas in Formulating the Israeli High School
Analysis of the 1988 - 1998 Curricula
Beit Berl Academic College (Retired)
August 21 2008
Dilemmas in Formulating the Israeli High School
Analysis of the 1988 - 1998 Curricula
Beit Berl Academic College (Retired)
This article deals with conflicts and dilemmas in the teaching of high school
sociology in Israeli schools in the past three decades, from the end of the 1970s until today. During this period, two “new” curricula were introduced: one in 1988 and one in 1998. The background of these curricula has been written about extensively (Naveh 2002). The development of sociology as a high school subject during the 1960s and 1970s took place mainly in the wake of the development of sociology as an academic discipline in the West (see Ram 1993). The undisputed sign of the influence of the teaching of sociology in the universities on its teaching in the high schools during this period was the strengthening of the “academic” approach in the teaching of the subject in the high schools as reflected in the 1988 curriculum.
The 1988 sociology curriculum: An academic emphasis The experience of teaching high school sociology in Israel during the 1960s and 1970s led to the introduction of a new sociology curriculum at the end of the 1980s (1988 Sociology Curriculum). This curriculum was forumuated by a team headed by Dr. Yael Enoch of the Open University, a sociologist with experience in developing study units and head of the Introduction to Sociology program; Dr. Dan Giladi, Head Inspector at the Education Ministry and former high school teacher who established the study of the social sciences in Israeli high schools); a group of senior teachers, most of whom are instructors, teacher trainers, and curriculum developers;
personnel from the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Division; and other academicians. The makeup of this team was intended to ensure the representation of various viewpoints in the curriculum, as well as a certain balance between the rigors of academic-level sociology, the field (high school classrooms), and educational research, in the consolidation of the curriculum.
The 1988 curriculum was taken from an academic-level introductory sociology curriculum commonly used at the time in most of Israel’s universities, particularly inspired by those used at Tel Aviv University and the Open University. It
included the following units:
Unit name No. of lessons (45 min. each) The Essence of Sociology 10 Culture 20 The Social Group
In most schools, the curriculum was taught over two scholastic years in 11th and 12th grades, culminating with matriculation exams in the subject. The choice of this age group was made because the assumption on the part of the teachers at the time was that the subject was appropriate for 17- and 18-year-olds, as they are more socially and mentally mature, more connected to society, and more involved in public issues, and readier to study an
subject usually studied at the university level.
The 180 lessons were usually divided up thusly: The teachers were allotted three hours a week for the 11th graders, during which they taught the intro, culture, group, socialization, and sometimes the family units; and the 12th graders studied three hours a week the units considered more difficult, abstract, and complex, i.e., deviance and control, organizations, and social stratification. This last unit is also considered integrative, and during it, the teacher created intellectual links between various components in the curriculum.
The order in which the units were covered was left up to the individual teacher. The curriculum specifies the recommended number of instruction hours for each unit (see above table). One of the changes introduced into this curriculum, in contrast to past curricula, was that fundamental sociology concepts such as norm, status, and role were covered in various units over the course of learning the material, and not as a unit unto itself, as had been taught in the past. This change indicated a trend that would grow in subsequent curricula, of teaching concepts in a content-based context, and using them in analyzing various phenomena, as opposed to teaching them
separately. In each of the units, the following were presented:
1. The main learning objectives
2. The main ideas
3. The basic concepts covered in the unit
4. Bibliographies / Required reading In some of the units, theories and research methods to be covered in that unit appeared (see Appendix A, “Culture”, a sample chapter from the 1988 Sociology Curriculum). The objectives were not covered fully by the pupil bibliography, so that the teacher had to find an appropriate way to teach these objectives based on required teachers’ reading material specified in each unit. Usually, such required reading material was to be found in Open University textbooks such as The Individual and Society: Introduction to Sociology (1984).
Let me emphasize that as a rule, high school teachers at that time mainly taught lecture style, occasionally accompanied by class discussion of certain subjects for the purpose of clarification and extension of the material. During the period in which the curricula discussed herein were formulated, academic and education philosophies evolved that supported the investigation and discovery approaches, and social involvement programs alongside those that encouraged critical thinking were developed. All these were manifested in Israeli high school sociology curricula, yet there was no single main direction emphasized; what remained was a collection of approaches.
Referring the teacher to academic sources ensured him or her a “platform” of sorts in the classroom from which to present the discipline, as well as an “informational advantage” over the pupils, whose only source of knowledge was the textbooks. I further emphasize that use of alternative teaching tools such as films, games, and simulations were rare at the time overall, although use of newspapers was common enough among sociology teachers.
The curriculum was to a large extent dictated by the textbooks. Until the introduction of the curriculum in the 1980s, the introductory textbook most commonly used was that of Eisenstadt and Ben-David (1966), which to a large degree presented what was commonly called “the systemic approach” (Ram 1993). The textbooks written in the 1980s and 1990s and in the present century do not present this approach, but instead use a variety of approaches, among them branches of “critical sociology”.
In the 1988 curriculum, two required textbooks were introduced:
Fundamentals of Sociology, New Edition by Prof. Yonatan Shapira and Dr. Uri BenEliezer (1987, Am Oved); and The Individual and the Social Order by Daniela RothHeller and Nissan Naveh (1986, Am Oved). Shapira is a renowned Israeli sociologist;
he served as head of the Sociology Department and Dean of Social Sciences at Tel Aviv University. Fundamentals of Sociology was written at the end of the 1970s and Prof. Shapira updated it later in a new edition together with Dr. Ben-Eliezer.
Fundamentals of Sociology paralleled Prof. Shapira’s Intro to Sociology lectures at Tel Aviv University; it was used by high schools for years, and blazed the trail for teaching philosophy of the subject at the high school level. Its language is academic, and the authors used concepts and theories to elucidate the phenomena discussed therein. Parts thereof that were considered by the curricular committee to be too difficult and abstract, or too complex for the high school level, were omitted from the curriculum.
The second book, The Individual and the Social Order, is a reader, that is, a compilation of articles accompanied by introductions written by two teacherresearchers. Daniela Roth-Heller was at the time a sociology instructor at Tel Aviv University, and Nissan Naveh was a high school teacher and instructional and research assistant in the sociology of education at Tel Aviv University (see Appendix B Table of Contents The Individual and the Social Order: A Sociology Reader Daniela Roth-Heller and Nissan Naveh (eds.) 1986, Am Oved). The Individual and the Social Order was an improved edition of a previous edition of the same reader, updated based on developments in sociology research and comments by teachers who had used it over the years.
The Individual and the Social Order was used by university students―at least at Tel Aviv University―as well as high school pupils. The former benefited from Hebrew translations of “classic” articles, relieving them of the need to read all the material in the bibliography, and the latter benefited from the up-to-date material. The Individual and the Social Order was required reading in high school for years, and to a large extent set the course both for sociology instructional content and its orientation.
The choice of these textbooks created a great similarity between the learning process in Intro to Sociology for first-year university students and high school sociology studies. High school pupils experienced grappling with academic texts from the professional literature, including articles published in professional journals and chapters from both classic and new sociology books. The more widespread the teaching of sociology became in high schools, the greater the difficulty on the part of the pupils with these academic texts, and the need arose among the teachers for applying various techniques to help them. Among these aids were written abstracts of the articles, teachers rewriting the articles in “user-friendly” language, and even commercial teaching aids that had been developed, including learning material processors and compilers (see El’ad and Harel 2006; Roth-Heller and Naveh 1995).
At the beginning of the 1988 curriculum, its general principles are presented:
1. The main and decisive influence of academic sociology - The curriculum indisputably reflects both academic sociological content as taught in universities and the theoretical orientation prevailing in Israeli academia at the time; the vicissitudes of teaching the subject in academia were reflected in the high school curriculum. These fluctuations in turn came through in the direct influence of the professors who were members of the curriculum committee, in the influence of university instructors on former students who became high school teachers, and in textbooks written by academics and used in high schools. The dispute between schools (philosophies) mentioned in the 1988 curriculum’s rationale is between the functionalistic school and the conflict school. Note that the symbolic interactionism school and instances of the exchange school are nearly absent from the curriculum, and other newer sociological approaches―particularly branches of “critical sociology”―are there, yet few and far between.
In the 1988 curriculum, one can discern the influence of the Tel Aviv school of sociology led by Prof. Yonatan Shapira (referred to in the literature as “elitism”, and in the 1970s was the main alternative to Eisenstadt’s systemic approach), two of whose students were the authors of The Individual and the Social Order; in contrast to the minority view presented by the Jerusalem school of sociology led by Prof. Eisenstadt (1989, 1967), which dominated Israeli sociology until the mid-1970s (Ram 1993).
2. The main and important influence of vicissitudes in education research and philosophy in Israel and abroad The 1988 curriculum to a great extent is driven by the study of the discipline. The main considerations in its formulation were discipline-based rather than educationbased; It does not have a clear, underlying educational philosophy. Despite this, its creators managed to transmit several pedagogical messages, among them fostering critical thinking; encouraging an investigative approach, i.e., identifying and researching phenomena, giving legitimacy to societal disputes, encouraging tolerance, and developing independent and analytical thinking. As aforementioned, these features were inspired by pedagogical philosophers of the time such as the work of Leah Adar (1973), who was the first to examine fundamental precepts of sociology instruction in Israel.
She set forth the following objectives for the social
sciences as taught at the high school level:
A. Knowledge of the world in which we live B. Development of critical thinking C. Aiding the learner to shape opinions on the issues studied Adar’s influence on the formulation of the curriculum of those years is easily discerned.
It is worth noting that in choosing study materials for the 1988 curriculum―i.e., choosing the articles and chapters in the reader―considerations of presenting a range of Israeli sociology approaches came into play; therefore, in addition to the critical approach and the various systemic approaches, other
approaches are presented, such as:
• The elitist approach (see Ram, 1993), a prominent proponent of which was Yonatan Shapira, and which minimized the importance of shared values and consensus in society, and focused instead on power and confrontation. Ralf Dahrendorf and C. Wright Mills influcenced this approach, which is clearly manifested in the 1988 curriculum.
• The pluralistic approach, whose prominent proponent is sociologist Sammy Smuha (1984) of Haifa University, and which is presented in the curriculum to a certain degree