Monday, August 24, 2009

Meet them: the Israeli homeschoolers

Recently, we have had the chance to talk to an Israeli homeschooling family. Needless to say, we were very excited about that, because even though we knew there are some homeschoolers in Israel, they are rare like unicorns and it's not every day you get to actually talk to one. Also, because homeschooling, on the whole, has a semi-legal status in Israel, people who practice it often choose to keep their head down, reasoning that the quieter they are the more chances they have to be left alone by legal authorities.

Here's a part of our conversation for you, along with some comments from me.

Q: Why do you homeschool?

Why not? Tell me one good reason to send my child to school. Let's face it, the main purpose of schools is to serve as babysitters. I have no need for that.

Q: What about socialization? (I'm sure all homeschoolers who are reading this are rolling their eyes, because this is such a common question)

Well, we are not the only homeschooling family around here, so my children have friends to play with, apart from their siblings. But you know, it all starts with one family in every area. (Side note: throughout the course of history, many children grew up in areas where they had little to no contact with people who were not family, such as on isolated farms for example. Were they scarred for life? Traumatized? Grew up to be socially inept? I think it's more of a myth now that we are so used to having children locked up in a classroom all day long)

Q: Do you follow any sort of academic program?

I have no wish to start a school-at-home. I think that with their rigid programs, schools stamp out the healthy and natural desire for learning. We make sure we have plenty of learning materials and good books at home. My children are on the same level academically, if not ahead, of children their age. My daughter, who is first grade age, can do third-grade math. Anyway, I believe that the most important thing is to help a child acquire learning skills. Once they have the skills, they can learn anything or almost anything on their own. (Side note: we spoke with a family whose children are young. Perhaps in older ages, and in certain subjects, there is need for more structured learning; but when we talk about lower grades – which means reading, writing and basic math – it makes even less sense to me to lock children up in classrooms all day long and pretend something terrible will happen to them if they don't get that sort of "education")

Q: How do you settle the legal issues?

We don't. When my daughter was three, I received a booklet inviting me to enroll her in kindergarten. Because I knew I was not legally obligated to do that, I just chucked it in the garbage. A few years passed since then, and the authorities seem to have forgotten about us, perhaps because we live in such an out-of-the-way location. I'm perfectly happy with this arrangement, and hope it goes on for as long as possible. Essentially, I've been homeschooling illegally for a couple of years already.

Q: But if the authorities discover you, you might end up in serious trouble. Wouldn't it be wiser to apply for authorization to homeschool?

We choose not to do that for now, because from experience of other families, we know it can be a real drag. And often, they deny families the right to homeschool their children for the most ridiculous reasons. For example, one family was denied the authorization to homeschool because the children "don't speak Hebrew". Well of course, as the family's native language is not Hebrew, they don't speak Hebrew among themselves – they speak it well enough with outsiders, but the person who made the inquiry didn't hang around long enough to hear them! Another family was forced to send their children to school because they "don't have any books in the house." Turns out that the government worker reached this amazing conclusion because she didn't see any books displayed on shelves, and didn't bother to inquire further. If she had, she would have known that they keep their books in closed bookcases, but once her report was handed in, it was next to impossible to reverse the damage.

Q: Homeschooling essentially means that you cannot work outside the home, how do you feel about that?

Yes, homeschooling my children is a full-time job, which I find very rewarding, even though I get no paycheck at the end of the month. With no work-related and school-related expenses, it's possible to live modestly on one average income.

Q: How long do you think you will be homeschooling?

I don't know (smiling). The sky is the limit!

… The legal status of this family is the reason I choose not to reveal any details about them, such as their name, location and the number and ages of their children. To be frank, I'm not sure what happens if a government official unexpectedly knocks on the door of parents who have been homeschooling for several years. It's bound to be more difficult to get authorization to homeschool then, I think. But when the government puts so many obstacles in front of each homeschooling family, I'm not surprised some people try to avoid them in the first place.


Mrs. Wayne Hunter said...

Thank you for this post.

Do you personally think that homeschool laws in Israel may change within the next ten-years? Is the homeschool movement there gaining much momentum?

By the way, thank you also for the photos in your "Our Home" post, they are very touching and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I have never visited a school in Israel, they must be horrible dungeons by comparisson to Uk schools. Here children attend only from 9am to 3pm, annd there are day trips, outdoor activities and 2 hours of the day are free time to play with other children. If they lock the children up over there, good for you for not sending them.

Mrs W said...

Where on this earth do you or these people get the idea that schools are only for babysitting? Schools are for LEARNING, and many people in the Bible actually went to school. While I support people's right to home school (if it's legal and they followed legal channels), why do those people have to try to feed everyone misinformation to try to make themselves sound good?

Jess said...

Thank you, this was a very interesting subject. As an american teenager, I am public schooled currently but intend to home school my kids in the future if I am blessed with marriage and children. Many of my friends are homeschooled and are glad that in the state we live in, there are no curriculums that must be followed. My homeschooled friends are some of the most brilliant people I know, as well as the most socialized. Since they are not locked up in age-based activities everyday, they go everywhere and meet everyone. I am often surprised to find that they have met many of my friends before I have the chance to introduce them!

Ways of Zion said...

Thank you for sharing the beautiful photos of your area. A kind friend bought over 2 bougenvillea vines for us (indoor plants here) so we feel like there is a wee bit of Israel in our home now. There is a bright orange one and a bright pink one.

Thanks again for writing about homeschooling, we will be doing this once Magoo leaves the lil local heritage school run by our group.


Public teacher said...

"Let's face it, the main purpose of schools is to serve as babysitters."
-As a teacher, I find this statement insulting as well as untrue. I never felt like a "babysitter". I love my students and they enjoy learning in a class setting. If you want to homeschool your children, then good for you! You seem to be happy with the decision that you made. However, please don't belittle or ridicule other people's choices or even people for that matter because you chose something different.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Just a clarification: it was not ME who said schools mainly serve as babysitters, but the homeschooling mother I talked to; I can't deny this is what happens in many cases, though, particularly in the lower grades.

may said...

"But if the authorities discover you, you might end up in serious trouble. Wouldn't it be wiser to apply for authorization to homeschool?

We choose not to do that for now, because from experience of other families, we know it can be a real drag. And often, they deny families the right to homeschool their children for the most ridiculous reasons".

To be honest, your interviewee struck me as a little arrogant. In the examples she gave, the visitor who came to check that the children were being properly educated seemed to have entirely justifiable concerns on the basis of the information given.

If you intend to make your home in Israel, then you should speak Hebrew because that is the official language, is it not? Maybe the government worker didn't ask these questions but if I were seeking to homeschool my children I would have made this information freely available. I'd want to demonstrate that not only could I homeschool but that I would be looking to make a first-class job of it. If the homeschooling parent is not capable, or interested in demonstrating this, by for example saying "I know Hebrew isn't my first language but I'm going to make sure that my children can read and write Hebrew properly by doing xyz" then it's fair to draw the inference that he or she is not interested at all.

After all, not every immigrant is interested in learning the official language particularly if they can get by without it and in certain cultures and places, women who remain at home find it particularly difficult to master the native langugage because they have less opportunities to practise. (I appreciate that this may be less of an issue in Israel where we are speaking of people who have made aliyah than in the UK. Still, in the children's interests, it is a question that ought to be addressed). What if this is a fair question because learning Hebrew is an issue for these children, but it is one that could be addressed with proper support or use of certain materials? Shout about how you will solve this problem, I say, and then point out that your children are learning 2 languages, thank you very much.

If it really is "next to impossible to reverse the damage", then it's so much more important that these questions are addressed up-front.

I would also say that for the State of Israel to take an interest in how some of its most vulnerable citizens are treated should be regarded as to its credit.

I know it's difficult to tell from a report like this, but your interviewee sounded like a loving, engaged parent who is properly and appropriately concerned with the welfare of his or her children. Sad to say, not everyone in the world is like this and sometimes such people shut their children away to hide what they do to them. And afterwards people say, "why did we not know? Why don't we ask more questions so that we can find out about this before it happens?"

These situations are mercifully rare, but they do happen. Better that a thousand people are bothered with a little official nosiness than a child who is suffering in a situation where he or she can not be heard is not found.

eliza said...

This woman sounds indeed quite defensive. It all seems to come down to the same problem: the need to blast the alternative option to justify your own choice. It doesn't show much real faith in your own choice as a positive move towards instead of a negative move away from.

Also, following at least some sort of curriculum might stand this lady (and others in her position) in good stead when the inspectors might come a-knocking.

Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias said...

I'm surprised homeschooling is so unpopular in Israel as to be almost illegal. I feel very fortunate that the US is pretty accepting of homeschoolers. Certain states have more requirements than others but I think any family who is homeschooling well can easily meet these low standards, the often simply require logging hours in particular subjects and taking a test twice in 12 years. I plan to homeschool and really look forward to it! I taught for 1 year and would love to teach in a school again but could not send my own children to public schools here.
I hope you are able to successfully homeschool without big legal ramifications, perhaps it's a good thing you are looking into it more in depth now before you get that letter. Do they really require you to enroll your 3 year old in school or is going that young optional?

Kim M. said...

Great post! Thank you for the interesting tidbits about home-schooling in Israel. It makes me all the more thankful that I, as an American, have the freedoms I have.

Bethany Hudson said...

Wow, I cannot imagine living in a place where you must have a government official come inspect your home to verify whether or not you are allowed to educate your own children!

In our state, we simply have to let the state know by the time our child is 8 years old. Then, we have to hand in a prospective curriculum at the beginning of each school year and a status report on what the child has learned at the end of the year.

Marianne said...

Mrs. T --- regarding the legality of homeschooling in Israel, do you have to apply for a exception to public schooling or something like that? In the US, some states require you to "establish a school," which from what I understand, is just a formality. You can call it "The X Family Home School."

I'm just curious if there are ways to legally homeschool (which seems so absurd to me...) or if everyone has to do it "illicitly." Forgive me if you've already discussed this.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Kyle, Amanda and Tobias - 3 years old is not an age for compulsory institutional education, but it's an age when the government tries to round all the kids up. Few stay home at that point, though parents are within their legal right not to enrol their childre in kindergarten.

Marianne, there is a possibility to homeschool legally but the process is long-winded.

Gombojav Tribe said...

This lady definitely sounds like a fore-runner! My mother was when she started homeschooling my siblings and me back in the 80's. When she pulled us out of public school we didn't know of a single family in our whole town (a small town) that homeschooled! We were like pioneers!

This lady (and likely other homeschoolers in Israel) sounds like a strong woman who is probably doing an excellent job at educating her children! Her views may offend others, but that is often what happens when one's thoughts don't follow societal norms. But, I think it is OK to go against the flow--especially in regards to education! Her children will likely be the innovative thinkers that we'll need in 20 years to solve the problems we are creating today!

Jiabaoyu said...

While I think homeschooling may be a good option for some people, I never understood why homeschoolers----a beleaguered group long accused of inferior education----need to mete out the same treatment to public schools.

While there are students better than me, schools better than mine, I often more a need to defend my education.

I attended public school in the US through high school. Then I attended a highly selective university where half the children went to public school, half to private. Given the academic focus of our school, most students entered college with an excellent public and private school education.

Now, I can't imagine how 'great' homeschooling must be if the schools my friends and I attended are so obviously "inferior".

I learned calculus from a great math teacher. College level papers were expected in many of my social studies courses. We had debates in my US history class and a mock UN council for our world history course. I did cat and pig dissections in biology. We had bridge building contests in physics class. And we had some interesting experiments in my chem and biochem labs (that could never be replicated at home). And I went to a normal public high school in our city.

I can't imagine how my parents could have done better. They are research scientists and admit they can never replicate the curriculum I had at my public high school. I'm not saying a homeschooler can never get the same experience as me, but I don't believe I received an obviously inferior education compared to those who studied at home. And I also don't believe my school was truly exceptional in what they offered to students.

Michelle said...

I feel very fortunate to live in Texas. Here I have homeschooled completely legally for seven years without ever having had contact with a government official of any sort. I belong to a state legal association for homeschoolers, which advises that if any official questions us about homeschooling I am to provide a written notice that we are homeschooling according to the law. Then we call our lawyer.

I love living in a place with a healthy mistrust of the good intentions of government. ;)

BTW, in response to May. I agree that it is important to get such questions handled up front, but how is a homeschooling family to know what specific concerns and questions the official has unless he ASKS? The problem isn't so much that they were worried about the kids speaking Hebrew or having books, but that they made baseless assumptions without ever giving the family a chance to set them straight. Imagine if Child Protective Services came to your home, interviewed you, then went back and reported that you don't feed your children because they never SAW your kids eat while they were there. They never asked you about it, never asked the kids about it. Should you make sure to state up front, "By the way, yes, I do feed my children! Don't have to worry about that!" It's ridiculous! No, if the government wants to know if you do this or that, they ought to ask and not just make assumptions.

Amy said...

This was very interesting to read! Thank you for sharing, Anna.

I think on such heated topics as schooling, it's immensely important to remember anecdotal evidence, which for many of us is just our own experience, is a terrible reason to make a decision. Certainly it might be the starting point of research, the leap into the world of an unknown such as homeschooling, but with experiences that vary so widely, as well as a public school system that does as well, it's hardly wise to make a decision made off such a thing alone. Many people make it through public schools fine, sure, but many do not as well. If we focus on experience alone, we discount too much.

Many studies and statistics can confirm that homeschoolers are indeed doing better academically in the United States, as a group, with boys receiving special benefit compared to public schooling. A most basic study in child development could also account for the downsides of many curricular across the country, as they are not age appropriate, do not provide best results, or fail to provide a learning experience with grasp on subject matter, rather than memorization that simply goes away.

Additionally, one must also consider other areas that can have an adverse effect on the education offered at a particular school. In some areas, funding might be low, parental involvement might be nil, crime might be more prevalent. A good education, and hence good prospects for the future, are not as likely to come from such an environment.

Jiabaoyu who was commented earlier in this thread sounds like somebody who had a very enjoyable experience at public school and was fortunate to go to a school that provided a quality education, as have many others I'm sure, including myself, as my time in school wasn't that bad. This is a wonderful thing of course, but not something that can be taken for granted when it comes to discussions on education.

Many private schools provide an education far better than the public schools at less funding. Numerous public schools have students who are barely literate by the time they graduate, unable to find work that can support a future and a family. This is a grave problem with education and one that needs to be considered, even by homeschoolers, as not every child is fortunate enough to have involved parents, funds for private education, or a parent who can homeschool them.

When it comes to making educational choices for our children, should the debate really focus on the hurt feelings of anybody involved in the debate or the facts? Anybody with a passion for education and a love for children should be seeking the best for their children, as well as supporting the rights of others to do the same. :o)

Lisa said...

I think homeschooling is "okay" for a short period. I agree with the the last post by Jiabaoyu - learning calculus from a great math teacher, dissections in biology, mock UN council for World History, etc. Ugh, I am terrible at math. I would feel so badly teaching my child math. Poor thing wouldn't get past geometry! LOL.

All children have certain talents and gifts. Sending them to a teacher or mentor who can bring these talents out of the child even more is wonderful. What if the child wants to play the piano and the mother doesn't read music or play an instrument?

When I was a child I loved my art teacher... she knew so much about the visual and fine arts. I couldn't believe how much my artistic talent improved by being a student under her wing. My mother couldn't believe it either. She wasn't very into art so I definitely wouldn't have improved much. ;)

To each his own though. I just get infuriated when people put down another person's choice because it's not their own. If it harms a person or is immoral, then yes, I can understand people being upset. But when a person puts down a parent who decides to send their child to school or vice versa, only shows their insecurity and arrogance. This interviewee calls a learning institution "babysitting"? Well that's just plain ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like in Israel that the situation that I fear will soon arise in the UK. In the UK it was recently made much more obstacle filled to homeschool (supposedly to combat child abuse?!) - Previously you either didn't enroll your children in school in the first place or you simply wrote a letter to the school/authorities explaining that you were planning on educating them yourself. Now you have to (if I have understood correctly) apply for permission, be inspected annually and show a "curriculum". We aren't sure what we will do yet for "curriculum" (and we have a few years to think about it) however I would like our child(ren) to have an education that encompasses our other two languages (Norwegian & Italian) but finding suitable books - never mind "textbooks" - for example in maths in those two languages while living abroad doesn't appear simple - especially as homeschooling though legal is virtually unheard of in both countries.
Perhaps though the situation will get better in Israel at least as more people take it on.
The good thing is that you have already been thinking about it for some time so you will have an opportunity to work out what you want to do as a family in the future.

Sarah Brodsky said...

Although homeschooling in Israel is tough, it's not so bad as some places like Germany, where homeschooling is completely forbidden and people actually have to flee the country if they want to homeschool.

Bailey said...

Jiabaoyu and Lisa -

I think it's important to realize that all forms of education by default entail sacrifices. For homeschoolers (specially those in smaller areas), we might have to sacrifice, say, "real" labs, or band, or organized sports - or else find an alternative to them. For public/private schools, the sacrifice might include time spent in the home as a family, learning together, parents imparting wisdom and truth and being the soul educators of their children.

It's not a matter of sacrifice. It's a matter of priority. What things do you consider important in an education and in a life, and what will you do to get that?

Lisa, as a homeschooled sophmore, I smiled a bit at your examples of not being able to provide musical or math instruction for your child(ren). I don't think the majority of homeschoolers are opposed to taking advantage of mentors and outside teachers. I've taken piano lessons from outside teachers, and now have the privilege of teaching my two younger sisters. And while my mommy's strength is not math (neither is it mine), I learn much of it on my own - and wouldn't have it any other way. My mom and I did my physical science together last year - and we learned tons (with a little help from my scientific older brother who's already been there, done that). Too, I got together with another homeschooled friend to do science two years ago. My family has "debates" around the family table, from politics, to religion, to daily life. My brother currently is doing higher math and science (on his own!) that even my daddy can't understand. Our whole life is our school, and our experiences our education.

(Research also shows that parents' education has little to do with the success of their homeschooled children - see

There are struggles, there are sacrifices. I wouldn't trade any of it for one moment in an institution. ;) Not to say that anyone who had a legitimate education in public/private school is somehow beneath me - anyone with real education should be proud of that. I'm not a genius. I know of public schoolers and homeschoolers alike who are smarter than me. I just wanted to point out that homeschooling is not just a "great idea," but a proven road to a successful, happy, well-educated life.

Thanks for hearing me out. :)

Coffee Catholic said...

When people ask the "socialization" question I always say, "You are supposed to be sending your kids to school for an education. It's not a social club!"

Folk behave as if homeschooled kids are kept locked up in the house all of the time and they never get out! But how can we think that the schools offer healthy, normal socialization when kids are segregated into age groups and don't spend much time with people of all ages??

Anonymous said...

if I would come for one year with my school aged kids to Israel-
a I allowed to homeschool them without problems?
Do they care for foreigners?
Thanks for your answer!