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The end of school

I attended / sat through seven end-of-the-year school events this year. Six of them were at the WAS-NS primary school and I was there to take pictures. I do the same every year. The children perform various plays, skits, dances. The teachers show slide shows and talk about the past year. Parents read out long speeches, words of thanks, sometimes in rhyming couplets, which enter one of my ears and go out the other. I usually can't follow more than the most obvious themes of the plays - partly because of the Hebrew / Arabic mix, partly because I'm busy taking pictures, partly because children naturally mumble their lines, and partly because I'm just pretty thick when it comes to dramatic content.

But I do absorb general impressions, squinting upward at the sunlight filtering through my murky waters. You can tell when a teacher is full of light, speaks from the heart, is loving, and has given all she can give to her class. We have a few such teachers at the primary school. No amount of murky water could hide this, and I was touched.

The seventh end-of-the year happening was my youngest son's graduation from Tsafit high school. Five other kids from Wahat al-Salam graduated with him. Four of these are Arabs. At the school, they were a tiny minority. And the graduation event probably left them feeling even more alienated.

The artistic part of the evening was given to a series of plays, skits and dances on the theme of life changes from babyhood to adulthood. The backdrop was a canvas with drawing of each of these transitions. The final drawing showed a helmeted soldier, making a wooden salute.

Yotam says the school hired at no small expense an external professional manager, who wrote the script and managed the entire production. The young people invested much time and effort and this paid off in a very professional production.

The main weakness was the blandness of the theme. Parents could enjoy the cuteness of youth, sigh nostalgically and listen to the medley of old songs. The captive audience heard nothing that would challenge their ideology, belief system, or acceptance of the status quo. There were no progressive themes, and nothing to upset the Israeli ideal of school followed by military service to the nation, The Zionist and militaristic themes were particularly obvious to the Arab parents (as the only outsiders). One of whom said that if this had been a TV program, she would have been able to switch channels.

Krishnamurti, speaking before his time, used to say that schools should teach children to question authority and all the received notions about their role in society. I'm sure among educators such ideas are no longer revolutionary. But they haven't properly been absorbed here.

Tsafit, which probably has more potential than an average state high school to provide the kids with a good education and critical thinking skills, makes many compromises. The result is a crop of graduates whose unquestioning next step is either 3 years of military service, or a year of civil service, to be followed by military service afterwards.

There may even be a regression. At the graduation evening of my eldest son, Yonatan, the school kids put on a production of the 70s musical "Hair", with its antiwar theme. When I described it to Yotam, he said there's no way the present group at his school would have done something like that.

That these graduates accept the pattern and the role imposed on them by the establishment and so few offer any resistance shows that, on the one hand, the school has not sufficiently encouraged the development of critical thinking and, on the other hand, it has actively led these young people to believe they have no moral alternative to military service. They have absorbed this message, made it their own, and will pass it on to their own children.

After the graduation, we came home.