Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict


high school

Test All Mathematicians in Music Performance First

My boy is 15 years old, going on 10th grade next year, and he is one of those lucky people who have that mix of ADHD and Giftedness. So up to a certain point his giftedness got him through without drugs. Lately it’s not working that well.

He studies at the Jazz department of the lucrative National High School For the Arts here in Israel, plays the trumpet. Only unlike most accepted players, he joined with a little less experience… well, a lot less. One year less than the minimum usually required and no orchestra experience. He only decided he is into Jazz about 2-3 months before the audition. His trumpet teacher nearly had a fit when the kid announced he needed 2 pieces for the audition. Yet, somehow he got in.

High school is a lot different than what he had experienced before. Especially since he moved from the incubator called “a class for gifted” to a “high school for excellence in arts”. Those are the top of the top of young artists in Israel and the school has a reputation to maintain.

Now think ADHD.

It’s a struggle, and with drugs or without them, it’s still a struggle. Too many topics, too many demands, too many expectations. And, in a recent talk with the school the topic of Math came up. And I was asked what I think is the worst case scenario in terms of my son and his matriculation exams… hint hint … Math. I said, well matriculations exams don’t matter to me. Least of all math.

This is a reply that puzzles school officials. The school is first and foremost to provide the kids with the matriculation certificate, sort of a Baccalaureate, SATs or similar and parallels. This school throws in exams in arts topics too. And here I am saying all I really care about is that my kid gets to experience his arts, learn and develop with his chosen form of arts – Jazz music, and have fun with his friends – and really, honestly, I swear, I do not care one bit about his success in math.mathtrumpet

In fact, I care about math being removed from high school obligatory topics for matriculation. Remove it from high school graduation certificate altogether. I think math, in the level they require here (yes, I am talking about the minimal level) is just too much. I really don’t believe that solving equations is that important for the life of my son, whether he chooses to be a jazz musician, an illustrator, a chef, a game designer or any other profession he might be fantasizing on now or in the future when this profession will pop up. You know why?

You can solve your equations on Google. Or this app or the other. And if you want to test my son’s skills in coping with the demands of the real world, let him take the test at home, with Google access and a 24 hour time limit. That’s the only way to convince me there’s any point in testing this or any connection between the test and the real world these kids are growing into.
No? So leave him alone. If you can’t force the mathematicians to take tests in Trumpet playing, you shouldn’t force the trumpet players to test in math.


What Would You Call a City’s Achievement in Education?

Last night I attended the graduation ceremony of the 1,420 8th graders in my city of Ramat-Gan, my son was one of them. It’s a big ceremony as graduating 8th grade marks the move from elementary to high school.
Some statistics they pointed out very proudly in the many speaches they had there was that there are no drop-outs in Ramat Gan. Strangely enough, I didn’t think the possibility of a dropout even exists, since the law in Israel defines education till the age of 15 “mandatory”. It goes to force both the parents and the local supplier of education to put the kids in a school.
But still, it sounds pretty.
I have a lot of criticism on education and education systems. There aren’t real alternatives to public education in Israel (only semi-private systems, that are still, in most cases, controlled by the cities/local councils).
There’s still a very long way to go before the many problems of education will actually be solved, but if there’s something I can be proud of in my city is their constant effort to innovate and change in education. Next year, for example, they are going to open up registration zones. This means that kids going to elementary school and their parents can choose the school that most fits the childs interests and won’t be forced to send their kids automatically to the closest school. To make the choice of schools interesting most elementaru schools in the city defined a “specialization”: arts, sciences, games, nature and environment, design, technology, leadership and more.

The other thing that makes me proud of this city’s education is the kids. They are actually good kids. Schools are safe and provide a friendly environment, at least in the social context. If you could see the 1420 students perform spontaneous group hugs on the stadium’s field at the end of the ceremony, you’ll know what I mean. This, which happened when most of the audience – families of the young graduates – was on the way out, was actually the height of the event in my view.

Ramat-Gan, by the way, is the city right next to Tel-Aviv, on the east. About 150,000 live here. The city is marking its 90th anniversary this year. That’s about a decade younger than Tel-Aviv and about 30 years older than our country. The population here is very mixed, socially, financially and anthropologically. It’s an interesting city to live in, with a mentality of a small town, really. Everybody knows everybody.

A little more about my town:

I’m Back In High School !!

Last week I had a nightmare and woke up in cold sweat. I dreamt that I was forced to go back to high school and re-do my matriculation exams. I don’t think I would have been that frightened if I had dreamt of being sentenced to jail. And in a way, I feel I am partly there, doing my high school the second time around, due to my high identification with my daughter’s experience in high school.

If there’s something I regret, now that she is in 12th grade, about to finish it in 5 months is that I let her do the whole 4 years in high school. That I insisted, when she was in 9th grade and then when she was in 10th grade, that this is an important experience, that she doesn’t need to rush to university, that she must preserve her last bit of childhood by being a high school student and that high school bears some social meaning too. When she was in 11th grade it seems simply silly to leave school, she was halfway with her matriculation exams. But regrets keep growing. I guess she had to pay the price of being a first born.

In retrospect I realize that high school, like university, like any other form or frame, isn’t made for everyone, doesn’t always fit. For her it was totally redundant. She could have finished all of her matriculation exams with a perfect score independent of high school, would have done it much better and much quicker. Not wasting time in a classroom where a teacher is standing up dictating a book to the students. Her social circles have very little to do with her high school. In fact, most of her friends are from other high schools in the area. Her last childhood years, which I was so anxious for her to preserve, have been lost in favor of excessive homework assignments, too much time in the classroom and redundant tests. She barely has time left to play her music, read her favorite books, do her D&D, travel, party or simply have fun and relax. Why did I insist she stay in high school??

Now my son is about to finish 8th grade and we have started to search for the perfect high school for him. He is different from her, but I can’t help that sense that here I am about to do high school for the third time around!

We are looking for an arts high school for him. There are a couple of those in the vicinity, both with great reputations. One is the National High School of Arts (free translation from Hebrew). Considered “national” means that it gets its budget from the state and not from the city where it is located. Parents are requested to pay higher fees, yet the infrastructure is relatively bad reflecting in the very old and neglected buildings. The second high school we visited is the Tel-Aviv High School of Arts – a high school which enjoys high budgets from the city and presents a very high standard of buildings and equipments. It’s the visit in that second school that brought up the nightmare again.

The first school prides itself in having a reasonable table of classes – about 45 a week, out of which 15 are dedicated to the arts classes and 30 to the ‘regular’ subjects – to complete the matriculation exams. The second high school offers 12 hours a week dedicated to arts studies, and about 50 more dedicated to the ‘regular’ subjects. Both schools show great results in matriculation exams and the only question I am left with is – how does this school achieve it with 30 hours a week, and the other requires almost 50.

When I asked one of the school representatives about it she said “but the kids love it here!”. She then asked one of the senior year students to tell me and he said: “yes, we spend here long days, but we love it here”. How about life outside school? – I asked. “Well, we live our lives in school”, he confirmed. “This is it”.
I thought this to be sad. I mean, it’s nice that if you have to spend such long hours – sometimes 8 AM till 6 PM and more – at least you spend those hours in a friendly, pleasant and interesting environment – but don’t kids deserve to have some life outside school?? Is this what we have reduced their childhood to – School and tests??

I try to push aside my expected 4th time in high school. My youngest son is only in 4th grade. Looking at him I think he might not go to high school at all. He is the type who can do it his way. With grand plans – since he was 5 years old – to save whales and endangered species – high school will be a setback.

My Old High School
My Old High School

Why does it have to be like that? Why are high schools all about matriculation exams – SATs – Baccalaureate instead about knowledge and growth? and some childhood time…

It’s been several years since I graduated from high school… I am asking myself could I have evolved and be what I am today if I hadn’t finished high school, and it was during a much more conservative era. The answer is – yes. I started my writing career when I was very young. Not relating to the books I wrote (and never attempted to publish) when I was 10 and 14, at the age of 15 I was already a paid journalist. My grade at the “written expression skills” matriculation exams was somewhere around 60-70 percent. No one had ever asked me about it.

Newly Named Disease: Schoolitis

My daughter got it. It took me a while to define it as an illness. But it is. And bit by bit I am discovering more and more kids who have this disease to various extents.

Over the past two years plus my daughter got sick a lot of times. Really sick. Dark circles under her eyes, running nose, nausea, stomach aches, dizziness, weakness, sleep disorders, lack of appetite, headaches. We went to the doctors. Ran the blood tests. Nothing pointed anywhere. When the first long vacation of the school year came, and all symptoms disappeared I got the first hint. It all came back with school, and disappeared again with the next vacation.

We sat down and had a long analytical discussion. Now, I am not a doctor, nor a psychologist. I am a mother. A very attentive mother. And I decided I need to get to the bottom of this.

The background is also relevant: my daughter is highly gifted. From the time she joined the special class for the gifted on 3rd grade, till the time she left this class and went to high school, on the 9th grade, she never wanted to miss a day at school. She loves learning and does a lot of learning by herself. Her grades have always been perfect. Even now, with the Disease, she is a straight A student.

But now she hates school. In that eye-opening conversation she confessed that her main problem with school is that “school is preventing and delaying learning”. In those words. Being a mother of gifted kids that’s a startling truth to hear.

But even if they weren’t gifted… I mean, if this is the way a gifted student is feeling, then those who don’t share such a motivation for learning must be feeling even worse, don’t they??

A little asking around confirmed that high-school-frustration manifests in various physical ways – similar to what my daughter has been experiencing over the past two years plus.

Like other diseases there are several ways to prevent and to treat it. Unfortunately, prevention demands a deep reform into the education system. Treatment – well, the only thing left to do is to let her go. Skip school as much as she needs to in order to feel better. But that could work with kids who can learn by themselves. I am at loss when it comes to kids who really need the classroom and the learning enabler. This is taken back to ed-reform table.

But one thing I do wish: I wish that parents all over would realize that this is real. A real disease. It’s not laziness or some other form of “I want to skip school” naughtiness. This is a real illness and please treat your kids-with-Schoolitis exactly the same way you would care for them when they have the flue or even Angina.

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