What Revolution? As American Campuses Roil, Israeli College Students Crack Open the Books

by GIDON BEN-ZVI February 21, 2017

Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election has set off a wave of hysteria across American college campuses. From 'The West Wing' levels of righteous indignation before Election Day, the Zeitgeist settings at many institutions of higher learning have since been ratcheted up to DEFCON 1 nightmare scenario.  

Dear reader, just take a look at what's passing for higher education today: the banning of 'controversial' speakers, a failed attempt to ban hummus (chickpea paste) from campus dining halls, the creeping trend of 'bias response teams' that are thinly veiled thought police thugs, filing of a legal brief by nearly 20 U.S. universities against President Trump's executive order suspending travel to the United States by citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries.

And, to quote Al Jolson in 'The Jazz Singer,' "you ain't heard nothin' yet."

While young Americans are being exposed to toxic levels of illiberal education, their Israeli peers are quietly slogging through their studies without the benefits of frat parties, safe zones or such illuminating courses as 'The Art of Walking' or 'The Joy of Garbage.'

Many American campuses are warping liberal arts education so as to indoctrinate today's naïve students into becoming tomorrow's social justice warriors. And while approximately 60% of all freshmen college students in Israel major in the social sciences and humanities, college life here isn't widely perceived as an ideological training ground for cultural revolution. Rather, Israelis tend to regard higher education as just another stage on the long rite of passage from youth to adulthood, nestled somewhere in between serving in the Israel Defense Forces, a post-army trip to India and starting one's own family.

Why is there such a discrepancy between the respective attitudes to higher education in the United States and Israel?

"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains," Winston Churchill said. And indeed, age may be a factor in how Israeli and American college students approach their education.

According to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study, Israelis are the oldest students in the world. The study shows that in Israel, the median age for obtaining an undergraduate degree is slightly above 27, compared with an OECD average of just over 23.

The good news is that students who tend to be more mature and serious than peers abroad has resulted in Israel having the second-highest percentage of adults with a post-high school degree among OECD member states. However, there's trouble afoot in Israel's halls of academe. The country's higher education system is fossilized, operating with outdated methods and at an inadequate academic level, ultimately sending many students out into the workforce unprepared.

This disconnect between academia and employment is a problem Israeli students share with their American counterparts. In the United States, enrollments at colleges and universities nationwide peaked at more than 21 million in 2010, but have been sliding ever since. Out of control tuitions, ballooning student debts and shrinking opportunities in certain professions are three probable reasons for this decline.

If history is an accurate guide, then many of today's student radicals on American campuses will outgrow this acting out phase and go on to assume prominent roles in business, the arts and, of course, politics. Meanwhile, Israeli college graduates will probably have to pursue a good, stable life after receiving their diplomas while under periodic threat of armed conflict. The former group is hell bent on wreaking chaos, while the latter can't avoid it.

However, whether guided by dreams of social upheaval or social mobility, today's world-beaters will eventually come to realize that "education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."

Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer who left behind Hollywood starlight for Jerusalem stone. As a 'returning resident,' Gidon has vivid memories of playing hooky from Rene Cassin High School while strolling through Ammunition Hill. After serving in an IDF infantry unit for two-and-a-half years, Gidon returned to the United States, where he embarked on a twelve-year run of half-baked careers and wholly misguided educational pursuits. Today, Gidon is happily entangled to the prettiest, sweetest girl in Israel. The mildly unhinged Ben-Zvis aspire to raise a brood of children who speak English fluently - with an Israeli accent."


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