If you put together the group of smartest people in the world, what is the chance they’ll do something incredibly stupid? Very high. And how do I know this? Because I live in the State of Israel.
Quite a few people feel uncomfortable when faced with the claim that the Jews are the world’s smartest people. In our politically correct era, one is not expected to argue that one group within humanity has an advantage over all the others.
However, it’s hard to argue with facts: The Jews have more Nobel prizes than any other global group, they wrote (and read) more books than anyone else, reached more scientific achievements than anyone else, and fundamentally changed the history of religion, philosophy, and psychology. Given their relatively tiny numbers within the overall global population, their contribution to humanity is no less than a statistical miracle.
Yet nonetheless, the highest concentration of wise Jews on earth – that is, the State of Israel – keeps on doing stupid things.
In her famous book The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman noted three criteria that a certain policy must meet in order to be considered wholly stupid:
1. Its negative results must be clear while it’s taking place, rather than in retrospect.
2. There must be an alternative that could have been adopted.
3. The policy is one of a group, not a single ruler, and it remained in place for longer than one political generation.
Now, take the above principles and compare them to the following data about the state of education in Israel:
1. Israel fell to 39th spot in sciences and to 40th spot in reading comprehension in the OECD rankings. Meanwhile, 75% of eighth graders are unable to perform basic mathematical calculations. Israeli teachers are not required to hold an academic degree, and their salaries are the lowest in the Western world.
2. Several committees have already noted that the situation can be changed. The corrupt bureaucracy of the Education Ministry must be reorganized, the salaries of teachers must be boosted considerably, the layoff scandal must be called off, and every student must study the core curriculum. All of these are simple steps that can be implemented within a relatively short time.
3. In the years 1990-2010, Israel had 12 education ministers. Yet none of them managed to do anything and each one of them continued the policy of their predecessor with only minor cosmetic changes.
The oddest thing is that the people in charge of Israel’s education system know all this. They know that we’re in the midst of a disaster zone, they know that without a dramatic change in the state of education we shall lose our qualitative advantage – which would endanger our very existence as a state– and they know that our children get terrible education, because they too have children.
And what do they do in response? They head into closed-door sessions, engage in lengthy debates, and come out of there with stupid statements such as “we have to act gradually,” “we must not shake up the system,” and “it’s not that simple.”
However, it is that simple, because as opposed to what it appears to us, most smart things are simple, while the stupid things are the complicated ones. What could be simpler than the notion that you cannot graduate high school in Israel without ever having studied math?