When the principal's secretary phoned the other day, my initial reaction was a pang that hovered between pain and panic. It's a reflex - practically Pavlovian - born of years of experience, mostly bad. Having had four less-than-model kids in the education system, at one point simultaneously, will do that. Particularly when none has ever been especially enthusiastic about anything school has to provide. Other than a fruitful and exponentially-multiplying social life, that is. Which is why any contact between "the authorities" and me has, more often than not, spelled d-o-g-h-o-u-s-e.
It is also why, once my children reached an age at which they no longer required babysitters, their vacations began to feel like just as much of a relief to me as they did to them. In fact, my internal calendar has grown so in sync with that of the school year that I might as well be a teacher or a pupil myself.
Imagine my delight, then, when the last of my brood entered the 12th grade this September. It was the start of the final family countdown to freedom - in the form, ironically, of induction into the IDF.
So, when the secondary teachers union went on strike immediately after "the holidays," I was probably the only parent in the country celebrating. My glee, however, was merely personal. It had nothing to do with my views on the education system in general or on this strike in particular. On the contrary, I am appalled at the former and wholeheartedly oppose the latter.
This is not because I don't agree with the teachers' gripes about over-crowded classrooms, low salaries and the sad lack of priority given to one of our nation's most crucial assets. In fact, I couldn't agree more with them about that. No, where they and I part lies not in our dissenting views on the catastrophe, but rather on the culprit - and therefore, of course, on the cure.
When the secretary phoned, however, even I couldn't imagine just how wide a divide I would encounter the following evening at the auditorium of Jerusalem's Gymnasia Ivrit.
ONCE I realized that the purpose of the unexpected call was not to inform me that a kid of mine had not completed a homework assignment - or was not showing up for gym class in the proper attire - I was able to untie the knot in my gut and assure her that I would attend the "emergency meeting" that was being held "to discuss the strike."
After all, in spite of my secret joy at having been given this delicious recess, I have been equally conscious of the fact that matriculation exams are fast approaching. Like any other parent, I too am worried about my teenagers' partying all night and sleeping all day, as though the clock isn't ticking toward an uncertain graduation date.
Indeed, if it hadn't been for this anxiety we all share, it is unlikely that so many of us would have shown up at the school building on such a cold, rainy evening - after a long day at work, no less. But there we were, waiting to hear what we should be doing about all the missed material, and hoping to glean, if not guidance, at least clues as to when this extended suspension was going to come to a close.
The first person to approach the microphone was the head of the parents' committee.
"We're all in the same boat here," he began. So far so good.
"And because we all support the teachers in their struggle, we are going to draft a letter to that effect." Now, hold on just a minute.
"This strike is not merely about salaries," he asserted. "It is about the future of education in this country." Applause from the audience. "If we don't put up a fight, the end result will be privatization, and we all know what that means." Please tell us, why don't you?
"It means that only the rich will be able to get an education," he said. "Just like with our health system. If you want an aspirin, you go to Kupat Holim, but if you're really ill, you have to go to a private doctor."
What? The health system was privatized and nobody told me? The last time I looked, it was the state-run institutions widening what has come to be known as the "social gap," and the private ones enabling greater equality. Certainly greater quality.
Competition tends to do that. But, whoops! It also weeds out workers who are not up to snuff.
"This," he said, nodding solemnly, "is why we are gathered here tonight." Kumbaya, comrades.
AT THIS point, pandemonium erupted. Could it be - I wondered - that others in the room, like me, were slightly perturbed by this Stalinist approach to open debate?
Alas, no such luck, though this might have had something to do with the fact that more than a few teachers were present. And who was really going to be brave enough to risk arousing the ire of the grade-givers?
"What about the matriculation exams?" one mother called out, angry about having been summoned under what she considered false pretenses - but not, she hastened to stress, because she was against the strike, heaven forbid. "Are you going to organize study groups - or at least tell the kids what material they should be studying on their own?"
The principal answered in the negative. "Doing that would be tantamount to scabbing - and my morals make that out of the question."
Another round of applause, this one accompanied by the Hebrew equivalent of "hear, hear!"
"Come on," a father interjected, cynically. "The minute the teachers see another NIS 2,000 in their pay slips, they'll call the whole thing off."
"May I respond to that?" a teacher asked her boss excitedly, then took the mike. "That accusation is entirely false," she said, to reassure the doubting dad. "Though it is true that we are all concerned about our salaries, this fight is about reforming our sinking system - and we will not rest until we get results." Uh-oh, kids, get ready to kiss your high school diplomas goodbye. Or maybe not. Perhaps you'll get them as a consolation prize for having been innocent victims. Civics lesson number one: There's nothing our Kadima and Labor-ites value more than victimhood. Cherish it. Cultivate it. Call it a class-struggle, and you get an A-plus for having the right politics.
I WAITED until after the head of the parents' committee resumed discussing the drafting of the "unanimous letter" before making my exit. When I was out, I was no longer down. Every minute my children are not in school is their gain. And my sanity.
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