Education and the Other ‘Nation of Immigrants’
America has long been, as JFK declared, “a nation of immigrants”; peopled by a diverse array of humanity from every corner of the globe and representing virtually every language, faith, and ethnicity. Yet for all of America’s experience with immigration, the challenge of effectively and quickly integrating people of different backgrounds lingers.
In no area has this been more readily apparent than in education. Educators and school administrators have long been confounded by the conundrum of how to engage students of diverse backgrounds – many of them immigrants – and help them to not only attain their full potential scholastically, but to use education as a gateway to integration and help them to find their place in American society and shape their identities as Americans.
The Other Nation of Immigrants
On the other side of the globe, about 7,000 miles away, another nation of immigrants offers a very different example of integration in education. Israel, with a population of about 8.5 million, had only about 700,000 people at the time of its founding in 1948. Successive waves of immigration helped Israel’s population to grow rapidly, doubling in its first two years to about 1.4 million in 1950. And mass immigration to Israel didn’t stop then, with the most recent wave beginning in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and continuing on into the 1990s. Even 2014-2015 saw a continued flow of newcomers from Europe and North America.
Much like the US, Israel is a remarkably diverse country. A quarter of the population is either Arab, Druze, Circassian, or Aramean. Immigrants to Israel have included Jews from across the Middle East, émigrés from the former Soviet Union, Holocaust survivors, Vietnamese refugees, Lebanese Christians, Ethiopians, “lost Jews” from India, and tribes of Peruvian converts. A multitude of faiths are represented in Israel including all streams of Judaism, Sunni Islam, Protestant Christianity as well the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Baha’i and Druze faiths, and Tibetan Buddhism. While Israel has two official languages – Arabic and Hebrew – many others are spoken as first languages in Israel including Russian, French, English, Yiddish, Spanish, and Amharic. Actually, among Israeli adults, less than half speak Hebrew as their native tongue.
Israel as an Educational Testbed
Israel’s ability to integrate so many immigrants at such a rapid pace in an already diverse country has been no small accomplishment, and its success stems largely from the innovative use of education to engage and assimilate newcomers. The classic example is Israel’s ulpan system of language and cultural immersion for new immigrants, providing core language skills and understanding of Israeli society.
Since the founding of the ulpan system in the 1940s, Israel has become a center of education innovation, where new pedagogical models are created, tested, and tweaked. In many ways, the Israeli melting pot serves as an excellent testbed from which other diverse countries like the US draw new ideas. In fact, one of Israel’s oldest schools, the Levinsky College of Education, has been doing just that; showcasing unique Israeli teaching methods and teaching overseas educators, administrators and students of education how to make their schools back home more innovative and adaptive.
Teaching American Education New Tricks
Using field visits to cutting-edge Israeli schools as real-life examples, Levinsky College’s 10-week Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Education program teaches English-speaking teachers and school admins not only how the latest educational models can be integrated into their own curricula, but more importantly, how new ideas are created and implemented. This bottom-up approach to innovation taught by Levinsky comes in stark contrast to the traditional centralized top-down method, empowering teachers, educators and students of education to create learning programs best suited to their communities’ needs.
What’s more, the program includes a Hebrew ulpan, so that participants can engage within the different educational settings, as well as experience for themselves how to quickly teach a new language to adults.