Thursday, January 04, 2007

We do need education, but how do we get it?

The Little One is only two-and-a-half, and we are already concerned about where he will go to school. Rumor has it that our local elementary school is okay, though not fabulous, and our local high school doesn't have the best reputation, to say the least. Admittedly, my experience with the Israeli school system is limited to the grumblings of my friends, and while some schools are obviously better than others, I cannot help but compare the whole educational experience here to my own experiences growing up in Upstate New York, where our local school system was recognized nationally for its excellence. I have fond memories of the many hours spent in school libraries, reading book after book and learning to use the computer, which, in the 70s, was a rather different experience from using the computers of today. I remember being able to take the computer home over the weekend, using a small television as a screen and having to place the phone receiver in some rather space age-looking equipment in order to dial into our school system's local network so that I could chat with other students and play endless games of Dungeons and Dragons and other adventure games, as well as fool around with Eliza, the program that made you feel as though you were in a therapy session as it threw out a variety of psychological questions and responses.

I remember the joys (and sorrows!) of gym class, climbing the ropes, playing floor hockey, and learning to do all sorts of marvelous tricks with a basketball. They were good days. We were sheltered and we were happy (and I'm sure I must be blocking a lot out here), and I worry that I won't be able to provide the same kind of experiences for my son, as he enters a very different school system in very different times. I realize that we were very fortunate to grow up in such an area, with schools that were lacking for nothing (at least nothing that we students felt). Our elementary school even had a small greenhouse, whose walls were inevitably always lined with topless, half-pint milk cartons saved from endless lunches in the school cafeteria, and filled with soil, seeds and small plants, all waiting to be brought home to proud parents. We had music classes and musical instrument lessons, we put on plays and joined the chorus (obviously before I realized that my singing voice has the potential to bring entire nations to their collective knees in pain).

During a recent trip to the US, I had the pleasure of taking my son to the playground at my old elementary school. The playground is outstanding, with swings, slides, and bridges, places to climb and places to hide. Even I had fun as my son and I chased each other all around and up and down, sliding together and running together. The greenhouse is still there, and everything was exactly as I'd remembered it, aside from the fact that I hadn't realized that it was all so small! I looked around me, and I looked at my son, wondering if I was denying him the wonderful opportunities that I'd been given. While many of the newer schools in Israel seem to have a lot to offer, I have yet to see an Israeli elementary school that compares to my own. I worry about the violence in the schools, and I worry about him being robbed of his sweetness. I worry that he won't be challenged academically, and I worry that once the mandatory English lessons begin, the fact that he is more or less a native speaker will not be taken into consideration, and he will not be able to realize his full potential (some schools with a high concentration of native English speaking children offer special English classes for these children, but I don't know if our school is one of them). As one who did not grow up in this culture, I feel that I'm at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of the Israeli school system, and that I will not be able to obtain the best for my child, simply because I don't know the ropes. It is a rather daunting prospect, made all the more so because I know that any mistakes I make will affect the Little One. We've heard that schools in some of the surrounding towns are better than ours, and there are also a number of alternative types of schools that we are also considering, as we try to figure out how best to play the game and get the best education possible for our son, one which will hopefully allow him to use his bilingualism/multiculturalism to his best advantage.

For now, though, we will continue to enjoy his toddler years, and do our best to ensure that he is as well-rounded and as aware of his background as possible. I must be doing a good job, as only this morning I was told, "Mommy, you rock the house."

* This post cross-posted to Brio.

4 comments:

Life Out East said...

Hmm, I would guess you have a better chance of good education than us. Thai schools were an absolute no-go for us, terrible education system and not an option for us for racial reasons too (they make life hell for anyone who looks different at Thai schools).

The daughter started at an international kindergarden when she was two and is just changing into a big school now, at three and a half.

English has always been the dominant language but over the last two months she has gone from just understanding Thai to speaking it. Without warning she simply starting speaking in Thai to Thais and English to all others.

We're considering a French school so she can be educated in a third language. Not sure if that is pushing too much.

It really is a joy to see the ease with which she can absorb language at this age.

Arik said...

Israeli "education" system???

As a father to a child in second grade in the "system" I may just say what the other parents say: "Let them just go in one piece and come back in one piece, as for the rest we will make up for it at home". What they really mean, is that we already gave up education and we are more worried about their safety. I guess education level is poor and is hightly connected to teacher salaries and funds invested by the local municipality, since the goverement underfunds all equaly... :(

Any solution?!? wait 4 years and see if there is any change... your little one is still young.

RR said...

I was particularly struck by your worry that your little one would "lose his sweetness" in the hectic, sometimes violent Israeli school system. I had those same worries, but so far, thank goodness, my kids are still sweet. I think home life is the biggest factor in that department.

And as for the rest of it...it's hard. Most of us from the US realize that our kids will lose out on lots of good stuff that we had in school, like the things you mentioned. But there are good schools to be found, if you look hard enough- you have a few years to conduct a really thorough investigation (in the meantime, I doubt you'll have trouble finding a good gan)- is there an internet group for your city (yahoo has them for many Israeli cities) so you can post questions and get feedback?

Meanwhile, remember doing something like this on the school computer from Radio Shack:

10 Hi!
20 Go to 10
Run

Nicole said...

Liza, I heard from some happy parents that there is a good Steiner school in your area (not your typical israeli school, different priorities, smaller classes) but I'm not sure up to which age it is for. Let me know if you want more info.