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The Education City as a Learning Social Network: "Past Cultivating Future"

“One will not learn Torah but from his heart’s desire” (Rabbi in Babylonian Talmud, Avoda Zara tractate, page 19A)

Yaakov Hecht is the founder of the First Democratic School, the cornerstone of the democratic education movement in Israel and worldwide. The architect founder and leader of the Institute for Democratic Education, he is an internationally acclaimed lecturer and advisor to municipal authorities and Ministers of Education.


An “Education City” perceives the education system as an essential instrument for citywide development, and the city as a central instrument in the education system’s development. An education city is a social educational network; a tangible network focused on the realization and development of both the individual and the city.

Education Cities focus on citywide transformation. A prerequisite for a citywide process of this kind is the desire and commitment of the municipal leadership to lead a transformation process. A mayor has the ability to work wonders or, at a minimum, outline a unique and groundbreaking plan. In fact, mayors in Israel and worldwide acknowledge the possibilities that lie in their city’s education system and in its development as an instrument for the growth of the city as a whole.


In the year 2010, the city of Tiberias set out on a fascinating journey: A journey aimed at paving a way of life in the spirit of “Past Cultivating Future”. This vision was conceived out of the desire and need to bolster the human capital of Tiberias, to acknowledge and make public the city’s cultural, historical and geographic treasures and to cultivate a sense of a citywide pride.


The city’s mayor took the implementation of the Education Cities idea a step further and perceived it as the principal engine in the citywide strategic plan. At this point, the second part in the Education City equation came into play. This is the part pertaining to the creation of an “instrument for citywide development” as a result of linking the areas of strengths of students and their parents with those of the city.


A structured strategic process revealed that in order for Tiberias to develop and flourish through reliance on tourism, the city must adopt a new approach and move away from the “all inclusive” hotel system which keeps the tourists in the hotels and limits citywide economic traffic, towards a tourism array that will invite the tourists to step out into the city, tour it and enjoy a wide range of activities unique to Tiberias. Hence, to develop “Sightseeing Tourism.”



How it works

The first phase: We activated a “personal education” program – whereby each one of the city’s students, through a structured process, identified his/her areas of strength and development, whereas the city supported the construction of a personal development path for each student. This was accomplished within the framework of the formal and informal education; family and community settings; and others.


The second phase: We developed a local-municipal study program – in which all the students learn the celebrated history and heritage of Tiberias, which served as the capital of the Jewish world during a period of five hundred years after the destruction and fall of Jerusalem. In addition, students learned about the natural resources in the vicinity of Tiberias, the cultural and art treasures, sports, and other assets the city is blessed with. This learning was accompanied by a process of identifying and mapping the city’s current areas of strength, and an analysis of its future development avenues.


The third phase: Education through development of citywide growth engines. The students chose an area of activity they would like to participate in. It could be either a structured development of one of the city’s landmarks; an attempt to find a solution to one of the municipal problems they have revealed; or initiating an activity aimed at promoting the city’s strategic future plan.  For instance, The Tiberias Archeological Park was designed by the Branco Weiss School students, who also operate it. Another example is the Cultural Ambassadors Program, within which Tiberias’ youth serve as tourist guides on city routes. This way, all the city’s students, and essentially the entire community (parents become part of this process too) take part in leading this citywide change process.


It was decided to include a youth activity in each and every municipal event, in order to transform not only the education system, but to essentially transform the city, as a whole, into a growth engine. The municipal journey of Tiberias is called “Past Cultivating Future”, and when asked whether this is a program, a project or an educational initiative, the mayor determined: This is a way of life!


Recently, the Emek Hamainot Regional Council (the head of the Regional Council, educators and public figures) have met with the mayor of Tiberias, as well as with the teachers, to hear about their experiences during the past eighteen months as part of “Education Cities.”  The teachers described a momentous experience of change: in the classroom; within each student, and in their personal lives. To further illustrate the profound level of change, they described the reactions of subject specialist teachers, who are not part of the program, when they meet one of the “Past Cultivating Future” classes.


These teachers report a total change in the class climate, including the absence of discipline related problems, as well as active listening which stems from assuming responsibility for the lesson and for what they, the students, can earn from it. In explaining the dramatic change that took place in such a short period of time, the teachers pointed out two main elements:

Early Morning Circles: Meetings held three times a week at the beginning of the school day. During these meetings, the children are invited to describe and share their dilemmas, successes, failures and any other experience in their lives. The circle is nonjudgmental, embracing and facilitating. Following an adjustment period, the children had begun to utilize it. The circle transformed into their “home base”, a place where both the students and their teachers feel comfortable. As a result, the children feel that their voice is heard, and that they are being seen, a feeling essential for their development and growth. In addition, the circle is a whole, hence the class has become a unified group with its own meaning, a group committed to its members’ well-being and a safe haven.


Collaboration: This word was mentioned time and again by the teachers. “Past Cultivating Future” strives to generate citywide collaborations. Teachers, students, parents, businessmen, artists, archeological landmarks, museums, and many other city elements are invited to go beyond familiar boundaries, to perceive others or other projects as an opportunity and to collaborate in a way that will yield growth, both their own and that of the entire city. Nevertheless, the most exciting part in the teachers’ stories was the fact that although some of them are not yet involved in the large projects and did not, so to speak, go beyond their school’s walls; the idea of collaboration in itself, has trickled and penetrated deep down into the foundations of the dull and taxing daily routine.


We have heard stories on displays of mutual help that developed and grew out of the children’s initiative, for instance, helping a sick child or group study sessions. Thanks to the Early Morning Circles, the kids became unified and closer and started helping each other. They discovered that they have different areas of strength as well as different areas of weakness, and therefore, they can both help and receive help from others. After they established a network of collaborations and help, the teacher supported them by giving bonus points to every student whose help yielded a passing grade for a friend. Naturally, their motivation to help and share knowledge grew.


The famous quote attributed to Archimedes says, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.” The equivalent educational saying is, give us an education system that respects and appreciates its students’ uniqueness, and therefore knows how to stimulate their internal motivations, to support and empower them – and we will have succeeded in changing an entire universe, the universe of a single child significantly!