In her Jpost column Uncommon Sense, Geulah responded to readers’ letters.
In my opinion, Israeli schools stifle creativity and employ teachers depressingly immune to any thinking other than their own. Sounds extreme? Here are two examples .
Last year, my son’s sixth grade teacher proudly announced a new computer-assisted program to encourage reading. This program, she promised, would ensure that each child would read two books a year more than usual. (No, that is not a typo. Two books a year.) The books would be selected by the teacher. My son, who is quite a bookworm, brought home a boring and childish book, whose content, style and vocabulary are way below the level of books he chooses on his own. He let it collect dust. His punishment was to hand-copy 10 pages of the book and a letter asking us, his parents, to forbid him to play computer games until after he completes the program’s software assignments .
My other son is in eleventh grade, in a school known for helping average pupils achieve above-average Bagrut results. From the very first day, his mathematics teachers put the class into high gear, and sent them home for Succoth vacation with 650 (!) equations to solve. My son, who is NOT an average pupil, approached the teacher discreetly and said: “I know this stuff. If you don’t believe me, test me. I’m not lazy and I’m not trying to weasel out of work. All I ask is: give me a different assignment, something less boring and more challenging.” The teacher huffily refused, termed the request “khutzpa” and made it clear that if my son doesn’t do the work, he shouldn’t bother returning to school after Succoth .
— Gritting My Teeth —
Dear Gritting ,
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry .
Parents are in a terrible bind. They want their kids to learn as much as possible in school, but fear that if they criticize bull-headed teachers, these glorious pedagogues will take their anger out on the kids. A different sort of problem arises when parents see that a teacher is devotedly investing a lot of time and energy and is convinced that she is giving her pupils the very best service (a new reading program, a weighty math assignment), while they, the parents, view the investment as erroneous or even absurd and harmful. Things get even more complicated when our kids rebel. On the one hand, we want to educate our children to respect their teachers, complete tasks, and acquire good work habits. On the other hand, we want them to develop critical thinking, the ability to distinguish between useful work and time-wasters, and the sense that adults treat them with fairness and consideration, so that they too will act that way when the time comes .
In cases like the ones you describe, parents have to cope with the situation at two levels, concurrently. In your relationship with a school, try to find the staffer who has both an open mind and enough clout to influence policy. If no-one like that exists, grin and bear it, or transfer your child to another school, provided you are convinced that the gains outweigh losses (such as separating your child from friends). In your relationship with your child, remember that, over the course of his life, he will encounter many absurdities. The ability to cope with them with humor and tolerance is no less important than other skills. Help him learn to discern when and how to be assertive and when to lie low and let the waves pass. If his school is disappointing both of you intellectually, decide together whether this stimulation can be obtained elsewhere (museum enrichment programs, for example) or whether switching schools should be considered.