Flipside: Schools of thought - and thoughtlessness

Let's face it, unless our plans include a degree for the purpose of remaining in academia, our options are limited.

By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
October 25, 2007 15:22
Flipside: Schools of thought - and thoughtlessness

2610-flip. (photo credit: )

Entering our last year at the Hebrew University, a few of us humanities majors sat on the grass of the Givat Ram campus and talked about the future. More specifically, we were discussing whether it might not be wise to get a teaching certificate. Let's face it - my peers agreed - unless our plans include a master's degree or PhD for the purpose of remaining in academia, our job options were limited. Having a fallback, then, couldn't be a bad thing. I was the only one among us for whom this supposedly responsible route was out of the question. The way I saw it, having a fallback meant that I would necessarily fall back on it. And, though I didn't have a clue what I was qualified to do down the road - or even what I wanted to do - the one thing I knew with crystal clarity was that I could never be a school teacher. This had nothing to do with pay scale; I had no idea what teachers earned relative to other professionals, and I didn't care. Indeed, as my bank account will attest, money has never played as important a part in my life's decisions as perhaps it should have. Nor did this reflect a low opinion of the profession itself. On the contrary, memories of a number of teachers who had had a profound influence on me were still pretty fresh in my mind at the time. Unfortunately, so were the other recollections - those of my classmates and myself driving female teachers to tears and male ones to tantrums. Indeed, in Manhattan, where I grew up, teachers were in a sorry state. Either they taught in public schools with 35 or so poor, sometimes violent, pupils to contend with, or in private schools, where they had to command the respect (yeah, right) of 15 to 20 complacent, often contemptuous, ones. This was definitely not the kind of dilemma I dared - or felt equipped - to face. IT WASN'T until I became a mother that I got to know anything about the Israeli school system. Had I known then - while shooting the breeze on the quad - what I know now, I would have been even more emphatically opposed to having a teaching license under my belt. And for much the same reason - though in Israel it's even worse, since here teachers usually have 40 pupils to a class, half of whom are in the first category I mentioned, and half in the other. In other words, Israeli teachers don't even get to choose their poison. Motherhood, too, added another dimension to my view of the teaching profession. I am now in awe of anyone capable of devoting his time and energy to the education and discipline of other people's children - since I know how difficult and draining an undertaking this is even with one's own. If only for the amount of migraine medicine they must need at the end of every day, teachers deserve to be paid their weight in gold, not treated like pan-handlers begging for their bread. LEST THIS tribute be misconstrued as support for the strike - though I am thrilled not to have to drag my kids out of bed in the morning, or harass them about their homework in the evening - let me set the record straight. Without getting into the argument between Israeli educators and their detractors about their short work days and long vacations - with the former claiming they labor round the clock, and the latter telling them they've got an easier schedule than other public-sector employees - I am now officially appalled at the teachers. Again, this has nothing to do with money. My main complaint has always focused on the way lessons are conducted in this country - a function of philosophy, not the state budget. Which, to be fair, is not entirely the teachers' fault. In the socialist climate in which they operate, they take orders from their ministry. And that ministry has spent the past two decades adopting methods that had already failed elsewhere. As a result, I was beside myself when I discovered the way my kids were being taught - or not being taught - the three Rs. I was horrified that they were encouraged to "absorb" numbers and letters, rather than actually learn them by rote. Basic skills were out; osmosis was in. Out was memorizing the multiplication table; in were bdidim - plastic cubes and oblongs used to "help" the kids "understand" quantities and fractions. Out was phonetic spelling; in was "seeing" and "feeling" whole paragraphs. Out was instruction; in was letting the kids "experiment," so that they could "expand" their interests, instead of "being force-fed knowledge." When my eldest son entered the first grade, it was a lucky thing he could already read, because if he hadn't taught himself beforehand with my help, he undoubtedly would have remained illiterate well into the next year. When his teacher warned me that his notebook was "disorderly," I immediately asked him why he wasn't writing inside the margins. "What's a margin?" he asked. At every parents' meeting, I would challenge these asinine assumptions that had already been found guilty of dumbing down America in the 1960s. "You don't understand," I was told by teachers and many other parents. "You weren't educated in Israel." My pointing out that this was precisely what enabled me to have a say in the matter fell upon deaf ears. "It's not important for the kids to be 'information processors,'" asserted the principal - who actually won the Rothschild Prize for her 'enlightened' approach to education. "What they need is to learn how to learn. The rest will follow." What followed, of course, was a string of private tutors I could ill afford - since it's not only teachers who have trouble making ends meet, in spite of their imagining otherwise. Over the years, what I personally "learned how to learn" was to understand where the teachers were coming from, so to speak. The younger ones were a product of this pathetic pedagogical culture - and therefore severely lacking in their own reading, writing and 'rithmetic capabilities. The older ones were under orders from a ministry that promoted principals who espoused bogus liberal policies that were robbing everybody's kids of sorely needed structure. But last year, when the teachers, young and old alike, almost unanimously opposed and defeated the Dovrat reforms, they lost any empathy I had managed to muster for them. Though not every aspect of those reforms was stellar, the concept behind them was a good, healthy start. That concept - aiming for excellence through market-economy-like competition - was rejected by the very people who should have welcomed it. Not only would it have provided them with professional and financial incentives, but it would have given all our kids a framework in which they could flourish. Like the army. Where the rules are made known to them at the get-go. ENTERING THEIR last year of high school, my twins looked forward to the threatened teachers' strike. I asked them if they were worried about losing valuable time in which to cover their matriculation-exam material. "Come on," they said, practically laughing. "You ought to know by now that we have to study for those tests on our own anyway." ruthie@jpost.com


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