Friday, November 30, 2007

Reading, Writing, and Hating

My step-son is in Toronto this year with my wife. He's smart and independent, and as a result, never quite fit in with the traditional educational system.

Last school year in Israel, in 11th grade, he simply had enough, quit school and became a goatherd out in the West Bank for several months. In truth, the most important criterion for him about school is a good social environment. He hates cliques, pretenders, politics, ... basically anything other than kids who are straightforwards and nice.

So it was a challenge for my wife to find him a school in Toronto for the year that he would be there. Rachel eventually settled on Toronto's The Student School.

The Student School is an alternative school stemming from the student-empowering school movement in the 1970s (and before) that included Summerhill (also in Toronto). Students get to vote on school policies, the curriculum has unusual courses, and it organizes some unusual activities, such as "Purchasing a goat for a Rwandan village". Wikipedia's entry on the school mysteriously lists the likes of Cher as former teachers, without any further information.

My step-son was excited about it until after the first week, at which point he realized that he wasn't making any friends. He just didn't have anything in common with them. After a month or so he was again beginning to resist going to school.

That's when the trouble began.

A Lebanese student thoughtfully brought to school a Palestinian propaganda video (sorry, I don't remember which one) which the entire class watched.

We heard a little bit about the video from our step-son, and it sounded like a distorted one-sided view of a complex situation. For instance, the video described how the Palestinians were living peacefully in their own country until the Jews came out of nowhere in 1948 and kicked them all off of their land. Ever since, it's been one Israeli atrocity after another aimed at helpless Palestinians. (This is a second-hand recounting of the film.)

After the video was shown, a proposal was made to introduce a pro-Palestinian campaign into the school activities list, alongside their campaign of letter writing regarding genocide in Darfur. The campaign would include hanging Palestinian flags around the school, letter writing, and so on.

My step-son is pretty shy, and he's only a high-school student, but even so he tried to say something about how there are alternate points of view to this story. His objections were dismissed.

When he asked the principal of the school if there was room to speak about an alternate point of view on the issue, he was informed that opposing points of view on this issue were considered last school year and dismissed; it's too bad he wasn't here last year, but the alternate point of view isn't going to be raised again.

Perhaps it may also be of interest to point out at this point that, according to my step-son, the principal keeps a Palestinian flag on his desk.

My step-son made us promise not to directly confront the school over the issue while he was still there. However, my wife has withdrawn him from the school and he now goes to CHAT, the Toronto Community Hebrew school. The social environment appears to be better, and so far he has more in common with the other students, at least.


Update: My wife would like to clarify and correct my omissions and errors in the above:
The issue is "Stop Israeli Apartheid Now" and it's about boycotting certain organizations/stores like Indigo/Chapters which send charity funds to organizations in Israel.

The posters were all over the school when Eitan arrived. Eitan spoke up against "the cause" in front of all the staff and students of the school, in the monthly school meeting in October. That is when he was dismissed by the principal. In the second meeting in November, the film "Occupation 101" was shown and a movement forwarded to decorate the school with Palestinian flags.

The whole school saw the film but the "flag movement" was voted out. Another Jewish student voiced her discomfort and the policy was not adopted. The one Lebanese student who spear-heads this cause attends no classes at school (although she is registered) and has made it her full-time occupation to monopolize the political direction of the school. Many students and teachers are neutral or even critical.

The problem is that this is a public school, which tax payers are funding and it is a terrible misrepresentation of Israel without any redress. I am contacting the Board of Education in Toronto, even though Eitan is no longer in the school, to make sure they look into this affair and introduce some corrective.
Update: Two articles about this issue have now appeared in the Jewish Tribune:

Trustee probing anti-Israel programs in Toronto schools (Feb 21, 2008)

Article misleading, trustee claims (Feb 27, 2008)


Safranit said...


It is never easy (at any age) to be the only person on "the other side of the issue." I worked at a Catholic Women's College, and after 9-11 they started having round-table discussions. Until that point I had never realized how many Muslims were students there. Try being the only Jew trying to explain that the reason Palestinian children were being killed is that they were being used as Human just didn't work.

Anonymous said...

that's sad. those places pretending to stand up for the truth are in fact propaganda tools for their own gut feelings and nothing more.
i am glad your step-son got out of there, i think your wife handled this very good, it is impossible and quite destructive to be in a place where you have to shut up for everyone, let alone teenagers.

sailorall said...

what transpired with your son is atrocious under any circumstances, but more so in an environment that purports to be progressive and open minded.
Unfortunately, he will have to deal with this bigotry his entire life so he may as well learn how. I am sure he has already learned that "the chosen people" are chosen to be cursed and scapegoated by everyone else
on the planet.
I guess I don't have anything new to tell you as you are living this every day in Israel surrounded by enemies who would rather spend resources hating you rather than helping themselves.

Yehuda said...

safranit, I've had occasional successes as the lone voice, but mostly failures. You're right, it's hard, especially on teenagers.

anon, thanks. My wife generally knows what she's doing.

sailorall, I think it's actually more likely at such places, unfortunately. I don't claim that Israel is blameless in all it's actions, but two sides to a story should always be available, at any rate.


Heather and Dan said...

Very sorry to hear that. It always amazes me how seductive that kind of thinking is. I guess it is just so much more satisfying to pick a side and "be right" than to put serious thought into a complicated and intractable problem that isn't likely to be resolved in our lifetimes.