Graduation time

There are things about my son's school days that I am proud of.

student school 88 (photo credit: )
student school 88
(photo credit: )
It's June - graduation time - and all across the planet teachers and administrators, politicians and celebrities are donning caps and gowns and dispensing indispensable pearls of wisdom to high school and college graduates. Parents, too, are chiming in during this season of "Graduation is not an end, but a beginning," taking stock of where their offspring were before entering high school/college, and where they are now. With my oldest graduating high school this month, I too would like to make my contribution. I love my son dearly, but I have no idea what he has learned. I won't go so far as to repeat what my dad, an accomplished high school teacher, told me on my graduation day - "12 years shot to hell" - but I do have some equally valid observations. I learned to read and write; my son hardly reads, and never writes. I learned when Christopher Columbus discovered America; he thinks Columbus is a space shuttle. I learned about Custer, he thinks it's a type of pudding. I studied Keats, he thinks that's what golfers and baseball players wear at the bottom of their shoes to give them traction. Our educations are vastly dissimilar. To be sure, as a product of the religious school stream, my son has learned a lot of Jewish stuff. He's learned mishnayot and gemaras and Halacha and Tanach (Bible). As far as general Jewish knowledge is concerned, he stands head and shoulders above where I was at his age in Denver, Colorado. But I was a bit distressed when his comments after his recent Tanach bagrut were something to the effect that now, having finished the matriculation exam, he was happy he wouldn't have to read that again. I didn't detect a genuine love of learning there. Naturally, I don't want to blame myself for that; and I don't want to blame him, because it would indirectly reflect badly on me; and I can't blame his mother, because she won't let me. So I'll blame the system. FRANKLY, I don't understand the system. And I don't mean that in a philosophical, theoretical sense. I mean I really don't understand the system, such as the mechanics of how it works. The bagrut is just one of those things that, as an immigrant, I never mastered. It was all so easy in America. You went to school, got grades, took college entrance exams, and that was it. Not very complicated. But here it's all strategy. If you take a high-level bagrut, but get a low grade, you are still safe as long as your preliminary exams were okay. I'm clueless, and as such I can't help my son strategize. Which doesn't win me many points in his eyes. "You don't know anything," the boy erupted the other day when I asked if he shouldn't be taking a five-point bagrut rather than a three-point one. And this was not just the usual teenage outburst. He was right. When it comes to bagruyot, I really don't know anything. What I do know, however, is that for the last three years my son has studied only for the matriculation exams. If it's on the test, he needs to know it. If not, he could care less. For instance, he's not taking a biology bagrut, so he doesn't care a whit about photosynthesis - it's not his business. Not exactly a recipe for the development of intellectual curiosity. BUT NOT ALL is negative. There are things about my son's school days that I am proud of. For instance, after 12 years in the Israeli school system I'm proud my boy says thank you when someone takes him to school. Judging by the behavior of his peers, this is not something to be taken lightly - and for certain it is not something they learn in school. Of course not; it's not on the bagrut. But it's darned important. For 12 years I shuttled my son and his little buddies to and from school on numerous occasions. One of the most annoying aspects of this had nothing to do with having to get up early in the morning, or even with being aggravated by the late afternoon traffic on the way back home. The most irritating part was his friends getting out of the car without saying thank you. Color me old-fashioned, but this drove me nuts. The kids took the ride, most of the time they didn't say a word inside the Mitsubishi, and then they just got out and slammed the door without as much as a "good-bye," "thanks," or "drop dead." As if my shlepping them around was just the way of the world - as if it were somehow pre-ordained that Mr. Keinon (in my dreams they call me "Mr. Keinon") would be their chauffeur. "Please, dad, don't embarrass me," my son whispered one bright morning, as I was about to chide his friends for their impoliteness. "Please, don't say anything. I'll make it up to you. I'll make my bed for a week." "Okay," I relented. Son, as you stand poised on the great starting block of life's next race, set to step out the door and into the real world, ready to seize the day and become one of tomorrow's leaders - remember that one great lesson you learned during your high school years: Always, but always, say thank you when getting out of someone else's car. And God bless. The writer is the Post's diplomatic correspondent.