Why some Israeli parents will become their kids’ teachers

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It was always the rare case for Israeli parents to feel that homeschooling was their best option. By and large, they trusted the public school system, perceived that social interaction with other children is an asset, and most of all, were often unable from an educational or occupational standpoint to take on the role of teacher.

Yet, if the past 18 months have shown parents anything, it’s the conclusion that the current pandemic has prevented a guarantee of continuity in classrooms or even a safe and healthy environment in the future since kids will be required to wear masks throughout the entire day. It’s also shown that social interaction among students has been greatly modified – to a point where sporadic contact has become more common.

Although children were initially viewed as unlikely candidates to spread or catch Covid, they are now being treated no differently than adults, even though the statistics are clear that the two groups are diversely different on so many levels. This is strange because kids have never been considered super spreaders nor have they been as vulnerable to the virus as adults; yet, suddenly, they are being looked upon as equally problematic to themselves and others.

Consequently, these unpredictable changes have caused parents to feel uncertain and jittery about their children’s social, medical and educational future, leading them to make unprecedented and bold choices concerning this year’s schooling.

As one parent said, “This past year for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a horrible year, but not just due to Covid. I came to discover what my kids were learning in school during this time. It became clear that the school’s purpose was no longer focused on teaching, but rather working on their emotional state.”

A letter sent by the principal to this parent stated that “all knowledge was just a click away,” so since everything can be accessed on line, the school has decided that this year’s emphasis would be on “caring for their emotional state and feelings.” Only a minimal amount of time each week will be devoted to core curriculum, allowing more attention on playtime and chats.

As a number of parents sense this new overreach in the public schools, which are now taking it upon themselves to act as psychological surrogates, oftentimes against the parents’ wishes, they are watching, in real time, educators switching their roles to analytical purveyors. That worrisome trend has caused parents to feel that school personnel are now managing the lives of their children, taking on authority that has not been given to them.

All this comes on the heels of other parental concerns, some of which have to do with political agendas and new social norms.

One parent, in particular, lamented that her child was being forced to receive transgender indoctrination, which was unacceptable from her point of view. Over the past couple of years, parents have had to confront the fact that homosexuality has become a reality in the lives of everyday students. Some of their friends come from a home with two mothers or two fathers. That gave way to an accommodation being made for the Friday tradition in preschools wherein a boy and a girl would typically welcome in the Shabbat as “mother” and “father.” Suddenly, the concept of a two-mother or two-father Shabbat was instated.  It’s fair to say that all parents were not on board with this societal change.

For all these reasons, some parents decided to take back their decision-making role and become fully engaged in assuming responsibility for the welfare, safety, and education of their most precious commodities.

The feeling that they were fast becoming passive observers, rather than the dominant arbiter of their child’s life, was a stretch too far for them.

One case in point was no longer being able to accompany their child to preschool or kindergarten classrooms, as had been the custom. Covid suddenly put an end to the parents’ right of inside access. The gate literally turned into an impenetrable barrier and the place where their children became, in some respects, wards of the state.

With mandated serologic testing now in place and the stated agenda of child vaccinations, succumbing to peer pressure will be another threshold to which parents may feel the need to conform.

One mother expressed the fear that her kids could be mocked or bullied by classmates just because they’re not vaccinated. She is also concerned about mounting costs as weekly tests continue to be required for unvaccinated students.

Others are worried about the possibility that the educational system could, ostensibly, try to supersede the will of parents so long as they remain part of the State school system.

From an educational point of view, the constant disruption in the learning process is extremely problematic. One father believes there is a real possibility of an entire class being quarantined if just one child is exposed to the virus. That fear is justified by the fact that it already happened to each of his three school-aged children last year.

The choice of homeschooling and the continuity it brings is still another factor for parents who fear that constant disruptions in education have significantly depreciated their kids’ learning progress.

All these concerns are being weighed against whether the lack of social stimulation and isolation might end up having an even worse effect on children who opt out of public schools. Of course, much depends upon the geographic area of the family. For example, a parent, who lives in a small village, has been comforted by the fact that his children will still have the ability to connect more easily with friends. Even though he intends to homeschool this year, he plans to continue sending his kids to after-school activities and sports.

As these parents wake up to the State’s encroachment efforts, which are intensifying as the opening of the school year is imminent, some realize they’ve waited too long to make alternative arrangements to extricate their children from what is, for them, a system with a lot of uncomfortable decisions.

In Israel, homeschooling must be reported to the Ministry of Education, which will then grant permission. The ministry requests the homeschooling parent provide his or her educational philosophy, as well as curriculum. The requirements are less stringent and allow for a variety of approaches. Homeschoolers must maintain contact with local educational authorities (Israelhomeschool.org).

In the age of Covid, what was once an option for hundreds of families could easily grow in number as parents seriously contemplate the many troubling issues of vaccinating their children and constant disruptions in learning due to lockdowns or quarantines.

Either way, alternatives to traditional in-school education are being sought throughout the country as parents feel the need to take a more active role in the decisions they believe are not right for their children.

Finally, it should also be noted that not all parents feel infringed upon and that a number of them interviewed for this article are content with the public school education their children are receiving during this pandemic.

The original article appeared on Aug. 24, 2021 on the Times of Israel personal blog of Cookie Schwaeber-Issan and has been granted permission for re-publication.