November 9, 2003
It is another evening with light breezes off the Mediterranean Sea, clear skies and warm temperatures as we walk along the tayelet (promenade) in Netanya Israel. As we walk briskly we pass and are passed by hundreds of fellow exercisers, of all ages, sizes and fitness levels. Both genders and a multitude of ethnicities are participating in this daily evening ritual of walking and jogging. There isn’t a better or more beautiful setting to engage in such activity and this continues all year long. It is not unusual to find dozens of would be travelers up and about as late as11 pm-in the summertime folks are just beginning to walk at this hour due to the heat and humidity of the day.
As an American Professor of Kinesiology living now part time in Israel, I often find myself engaged in a comparative analysis of activity levels between both peoples. Eitan, born in Jerusalem and raised here, understands the beauty of this evening activity. He is the Director of the School of Education at Zinman College, Wingate Institute in Israel. We met many years ago here in Israel and I have been invited to join his pedagogy research and development team. Eitan still remembers his early school days when there was no television and all of the children played outside and had ample social interaction opportunities. Likewise computers were only part of American science fiction movies, televisions were few and far apart, and thus no time was spent in front of a lifeless monitor. Drugs were something you only took when prescribed by a doctor for a significant illness. Alcohol was something “those older people drank” at parties. These were the days that sport was played on the fields, in the streets, everywhere that kids could run, jump, and freely move-these were the days of made of games and “u pick ‘em teams” and the rules changed daily. During the early years of this country a culture developed that through social design and necessity embraced sport and being physically active. For purposes of this article, Eitan and I will discuss the nature of Physical Education in Israel where a significant cultural, political and social change is taking place.
For most of the article the status of Physical Education is viewed through the eyes of an American Professor who has a unique perspective of Israeli life and institutions. I have lived here, off and on, approaching six years. I live in a local neighborhood and am one of those evening strollers along our beautiful sea. With this in mind, allow us to share how physical education has responded to the economic, social, and political conditions of these times.
Israelis of all ages seem to move more frequently and for longer durations. Where does this begin? Certainly its geographic location, weather and lifestyle play an important part in the creation of an active culture. What should not be overlooked are their Physical Education programs contributions as well. An examination of these programs from a fitness, social-cultural, and programmatic perspective might offer important insights into life in Israel, home of a unique social operation-Jews and Arabs living together in the same country.
First, some basic information:
Israel is a country that belongs to the Asian continent. Its western border is the Mediterranean Sea. To the north it is bound by Lebanon and Syria, to the east by Jordan and to the south by the Red Sea and Egypt. Long and narrow in shape, Israel is about 290 miles long, 85 miles across at its widest point 9 miles wide at its narrowest point and thus contains about 7,886 sq. miles. The State of Israel is less than half the size of San Bernardino County in California and it fits easily within the borders of New Jersey. Its population is about 6,640,200 (roughly 5 million Jews, 1.5 million Arabs), and its population by ethnic group is as follows:
Education is highly valued within the state of Israel. In the year 2002, there were roughly 118,000 university students studying in seven different universities. Public education is also offered to all children age 6-16.
There are over 3660 public schools serving elementary through high school populations. On any given day 1,330,000 students are scheduled to attend class. The numbers of students are increasing every year across all of the grade levels. The average class size is 27/class. In addition there are religious schools of several persuasions operating across the country. If you observed from the outside any school in the country, it looks like many of our public schools in the USA. However, go inside the grounds and things appear different in many respects. Aside from a different curriculum, a different set of social-cultural rules seems to exist. Common to many Israeli schools is a mixed ethnicity, varied socio-economic population and this adjusts itself dependent upon location inside Israel. It is useful to know that public schools in Israel are divided into a variety of groups. Israeli-Arabs typically have their own separate schools, teachers, administrators and the classes are taught in Arabic. This is not to say that in the larger cities Israelis and Israeli-Arabs alike participate in the same school with common teachers and curriculum. There are also religious schools that are physically separate and engage in their own curriculum. There are additional schools found on Moshavs and Kibbutz's that have yet another standard of educational requirements. Funding comes from the state of Israel on a per student basis that is then matched by the local communities in which the schools reside. The result is funding level varies from school to school as does the level of academic programming.
It is important to remember that as a country Israel is but 55 years old and its population came from all over the world. Yes an indigenous population was here for thousands of years and millions of people from all of the world’s continents have also settled here during these same 55 years. Israel was established as a homeland for Jews and while today the majority population is Jewish, a substantial population is Arab who are also Israeli citizens with the same requisite rights. This presents a unique socio-cultural experience, especially here in the Middle East. Additionally, the Jewish population consists of many different ethnic and cultural groups from around the globe-the common denominator being their Jewish heritage. However, it is important to understand that not only do you have different cultural beliefs; there exists a varied difference in religious orientation. For example, there are multiple sects within the Jewish faith and they have different sets of beliefs that transcend into quite different lifestyles. Couple this with about 50% of the population living a secular lifestyle and you have the ingredients for many interesting socio-educational situations in public schools. Add to this a growing Arab group that practices the Muslim faith; add in some Arab Christians and life is never dull.
Why provide all of this as a lead in to our article? Without this very basic information it makes it nearly impossible to understand what students bring to their Physical Education classes. An Israeli teacher sees many different kinds of students every day and often has to transcend multiple cultural points of view. This makes curriculum and methodology choices critical at all times. Before we discuss the nature of these teachers’ programs, who are the Physical Education teachers of Israel and what does Physical Education look like?
They are typically graduates from one of five Physical Education Colleges in Israel. Each of these five colleges produces 30-35 graduates every year and Zinman College at Wingate Institute produces 200 teachers annually. Teachers of physical Education then find jobs at K-12 grade public schools. As in America, the number of teaching days and minutes provided varies across grade level. For example, in elementary to high school, students receive instruction for 2 hours every week, about an hour two days per week. It is recommended to have an additional hour each week. During fifth grade all students are taught swimming lessons across the country. One final common activity performance in all schools is fitness and sport testing beginning in grade four. Special Education Physical Education typically permits all students to be engaged by a PE teacher daily (30-45 minutes/day).
The following description of Physical Education curricula is the result of onsite visits and teacher interviews currently in the field. Just as in the USA, Israel has a quality special education program designed in a similar manner to the USA program. The Physical Education programs for Special Education and for Regular Physical Education differ not only in content, students served, but also in frequency of contact minutes with the students as previously noted.
Let us begin with Elementary Physical Education. All schools have their own physical education specialist. The curriculum focuses upon physical fitness, motor skill development, gymnastics when possible and introduction to games similar to those found in the USA. Each teacher develops his/her own curriculum keeping in mind the National Physical Education Standards that recommend certain activity groups. Although I observed many single standard game designs it was refreshing to witness multiple adaptations of game structure throughout the country. It is gratifying to know that our book, Changing Kids Games, Morris and Stiehl (1999), forms the basis for first year study programs at colleges like Zinman. The application of the principles outlined in our work can be seen throughout Israel-children included rather than excluded, standard game designs adapted to fit the local needs of the students.
Briefly we now mention the curricula found in grades 7-12. Each Physical Education teacher designs his/her own program using the National Standards as a guide. The curricula address the preponderance of non-coed classes-most classes are gender specific loaded. A primary focus is upon fitness, games development (skills and concepts), gymnastics, rhythms, invasion-type games. At this level emphasis is placed upon the theoretical aspects of fitness-something akin to our comprehensive health/nutrition programs.
Going beyond the specifics of what is taught, it is useful to understand the issues that Physical Educators face daily in Israel. Teachers do not complain about lack of resources, movement space or equipment, they simply make do with what they have. Depending upon school location these resources vary in quantity and quality-regardless, this does not seem to them to be a problem. However, there are concerns. Support for Physical Education by the local administration and by classroom teachers is a large concern at many schools. Without a strong Principal (Manager is English translation for Hebrew title) Physical Education is lightly regarded. Yet, if the Physical Education teacher(s) is/are highly competent, operate a well-managed program, Physical Education is considered as important as all academic subjects. Time and again, physical education teachers indicated that it is a constant battle to retain Physical Education’s status among academic courses. In high school, Physical Education, particularly the fitness components become important-why? All Israelis must serve their country, primarily in the military services beginning on their 18th birthday. The students must have a particular level of fitness in order to succeed in the army (generic term for armed forces). This is quite different from the USA. The security of Israel is fundamentally based upon its army and its ability-one can imagine the impact this has upon secondary-aged students as they approach age 18.
Another issue that almost every teacher expressed to me was behavior management in Physical Education and in academic classes. Before I expand on this, allow me to refresh the stage for you. Please recall that Israel as a Jewish state is but 55 years old and has a substantial Arab population coexisting within the country. Its national organizations and its social institutions are still maturing. Israeli citizens are a mixture of many different cultural and ethnic groups, arriving from countries around the world. The common thread is their Jewish heritage and desire to live peacefully in a country free of anti-semitism. Remember also that 50% of this diverse population is secular while the remaining 50% is comprised of multiple religious Jewish groups and Arab groups. This is clearly demonstrated in the separate synagogues for Aschenisem and Sephardim Jews. Now realize that 1.5 million Arabs possessing Israeli citizenship with all of the requisite rights also live within Israel. The Arab population also has several religious sects; the most notable are Muslim and Christianity. It is beyond the scope of this article to share all of the social behavior descriptions or attempt to offer explanations for the nature of these interactions. One might, rightfully, assume that this very important social experiment is unfolding before the world’s eyes complete with its warts and blemishes paraded in front of the world’s media.
Keeping this in mind, the problem that is constant across all of these schools and all of the groups and in most subject matter classes is behavior management. The concerns begin in grade 5 and decrease by grades 10/11. Does this sound familiar? It may be no surprise to understand that violence in many schools is now considered one of the schools’ largest issues. Violence comes in many forms and includes abusive language among students and between students and teachers as well as physical invasion of one another’s space. Often the immediate explanation for this, particularly by the media, is the behavior is due to the ongoing political and war-like confrontations that exist in the Middle East. Upon inspection one discovers that this is not true. Rather, there is growing support for belief that rapid social changes are producing an abundant number of social issues within all social groups. It is as though Israel is experiencing social growth and development within a time frame that is moving forward at laser speed. I leave the social explanations to our social scientists. Our behavioral observations and analysis indicates that today’s Israelis, regardless of cultural, ethnic or social group they belong, are less likely to have their behavioral actions held accountable to consequences. In other words, discipline seems to be a major issue in the schools rather than clashes resulting from co-mingled ethnic groups.
Our interviews of Physical Education teachers and School Principals pointed to the problem of lack of discipline. Every teacher interviewed indicated that the management team at his or her respective schools understood that this problem exists. The teachers indicated that many of the Principals did not support the teachers behavioral consequences set forth by these same teachers. Additionally, several teachers indicated that the Principals did not possess the tools to deal with this behavior. The lack of discipline manifests itself with inappropriate language among students, tardiness to classes, failure to complete homework-again, sound familiar? This appears to be magnified in schools where Israeli and Israeli-Arabs go to school together. In Physical Education classes, name calling and pushing and shoving is the extent of the violence.
I want to take moment and briefly share a personal story with you. There are many of these stories across this country, but the following begins to address the Israeli-Israeli-Arab issue. In Jaffo, the world’s first seaport, is an elementary school comprised of Israelis and Israeli-Arab students. The Arab students choose to go to school here even though they have an Arab-only school within walking distance. Two years ago there was not a climate of peace at the school. A new Principal arrived- Limor Bermann. A young Israeli, first-time Principal who recognized that repeating what had always been simply produced the same results. She thought “outside the dots” and is transforming the school. Yes, there was conflict between the Israeli and Israeli-Arab students, especially at Physical Education time. The normal inappropriate language, pushing, shoving occurred but in the upper grades it manifested into racial epithets which in turn led to physical violence. However, enter Ms. Bermann with a multi-phase plan. The plan is currently in phase two and has only started its second year. Here are the outcomes so far: Israeli parents have ceased saying “I want the Arabs out of this school”; almost all, 95% of the teachers are excited, hopeful and they support the plan completely; academic scores have improved; and best of all, violence has just about ceased. More needs to be done and it is “in process”. We shall share the plan upon its completion, for now, it is a work in progress.
I mention this vignette for several reasons. First, a common myth in the world today is that Jews and Arabs cannot peacefully co-exist. Further, in a Physical Education setting it must be impossible to engage in competitive activity and/or group activities without the “issue” presenting itself daily-this could not be farther from the truth. Second, one person can make all of the difference as evidenced with the preceding brief story from Jaffo. If a problem is not confronted, than what is probable will occur and repeat itself time and again. If one chooses to see this situation as a possibility for something else, and acts in accordance with that possibility, social magic happens. Third, Physical Education can easily serve as the venue for teaching social life-skills. Our final thoughts present just such programs. My colleague Eitan Eldar has been successfully engaging these situations around Israel for some time now.
As a country built on immigration, each bringing their own social values, with the potential for facilitating integration with Arab students, with the potential to therefore teach personal and social values as well as self-control, physical education can best serve as the school venue to teach and live in peace.
At Zinman College we have developed and implemented successfully in various Israeli schools a program based on Physical Education as a context for presenting and promoting social skills.
Physical education lessons are characterized by intensive activity, teacher-student and student-student cooperation, stress, frustration, anxiety, joy, and much more. All of these characteristics are presented in a natural highly reinforcing context of movement and games. This is in essence, a special controlled framework, which can be molded for the purpose of achieving pedagogical and social goals. Thus this concept offers the design of situations analogous to other contexts in the behavior of the student population. We offer our pre-service teachers lessons tailored for achieving educational goals-we call these scripts.
For example, in order to help students practice inhibition and self-control the teacher may design a soccer game in which the success (i.e., scoring) becomes less probable (i.e., by prearranging team members). The gradual increase in task difficulty requires students’ higher levels of self-control that are rewarded by an immediate specific feedback. Students are taught to delay their reactions and convey their feelings and difficulties in an appropriate way (i.e., suggesting to better match the teams next time). Therefore, we teach our students alternative communication skills that promote non-aggression during the game. Students are given many opportunities to experience success during the program. A similar context is applied with cooperation and other social skills.
Another example is relating to an individual skill such as goal setting. Students are asked to set a simple goal (i.e., distance in a long jump). They are taught to self-record their performance, to set an appropriate goal and to practice towards achieving this goal. The teacher provides feedback relating to the goal set, to the steps taken to achieve the goal and to the procedures used in recording the performance.
The Applied Behavior Analysis Program at the Zinman College has developed a series of stages implemented in a yearly Physical Education program. The program is first shared with Zinman pre-service Physical Educators. Next, from the very first year at our college, students engage public school students on and off our campus. Following an incremental plan during the next three years of study, our students practice and learn how to successfully deliver the program with a variety of student groups, e.g., autistic children, other special education students, at-risk youngsters, and yes, regular education youngsters. The program requires reaching proficiency in each of the following steps in order to proceed to the following one:
1. Complying - Adhering to teacher’s instruction.
2. Attending - Focusing on relevant stimuli. Effective use of all senses.
3. Rules and routines - Learning to cooperate with class procedures.
4. Waiting - Practicing patience.
5. Demand - Confronting cognitive tasks.
6. Don’t give up - Persisting in task fulfillment.
7. Activity termination - Coping with a termination of reinforcing activity.
8. Cooperation - Collaborating in a team.
9. Self control - Coping with aversive situations.
10.Self-management - Assuming accountability for one’s own learning.
11.Peer teaching - Assuming accountability for a peer’s learning.
12.Generalization - Performing in contexts different than the clinical one.
We are fortunate to have many success stories. One of those stories focuses upon yet another population of students in our public schools- there is a significant number of students with severe behavior problems that also participate in one of our specially designed programs. Within a year they were able to reintegrate into the regular school successfully. Learning to apply the model is relatively simple. Teachers gain effective and alternative teaching strategies enabling them to reach students with special needs and concerns thus helping them to integrate with their fellow students. This is an important goal in light of implementing the concepts of inclusion and integration found in many education systems around the western world and now in Israel. Zinman students have managed to learn how to teach during their time with us on campus. They report that their student teaching experience proceeds with fewer “bumps in the road” compared to their student mates in other Colleges. At Zinman, theory is essential and practical application of the theory under the guidance of our professors is crucial and helps produce quality physical education teachers thereby strengthening physical education in schools.
In summary let us say that Israel is portrayed in many ways in the media. Having lived here, taught here and performed research here, our perspective is authentic. A young country, attempting one of the world’s greatest social experiments, is alive in a land with a population of very different peoples most of whom are here to celebrate their Jewish heritage. The people are comprised of many different nationalities, ethnicities; and have different values and cultural backgrounds. Their social institutions are still in the infancy stage and they live in a part of the world full of constant danger beyond Israel’s borders. Inside this country 20% of the population is of Arab descent. Yet, there is relative social harmony within this small country. The institution of education is working reasonably well given these conditions. A perceived and very real social change across all groups is taking place causing some emerging behavioral challenges within their school system.
People still go for evening walks and enjoy one another’s company while pondering what tomorrow will bring.
Eldar, E. (2001, August). The role of confrontation games in the assessment, prediction and reduction of violent behavior patterns among Elementary School students. Paper presented at the conference: Teaching Games for Understanding in Physical Education and Sport. Plymouth State College, New Hampshire, USA.
Morris, GSD, Stiehl, Jim, Changing Kids Games, second edition, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 1999