I’ve had some questions about the program I mentioned considering for my daughter – I’d be engaging in wishful thinking if I said the response of most people to this idea has been positive. There seems to be widespread disbelief that I would consider this option, and I think part of this is because I haven’t addressed some understandable concerns so people think that I haven’t considered them.
First of all, I want to be clear that nothing has been decided. She hasn’t been accepted yet and we haven’t decided if we’ll definitely let her go if she is accepted. It’s possible I’ll learn new information that will totally change our current view and shift our decision in the opposite direction, but at this point it’s heavily leaning toward sending her.
>>I don’t understand why you would send your child to high school when she’s already graduating this year. She doesn’t need it and it seems like a waste of her time.<<
Not only have I been asked this several times, but this is definitely the response dd is getting from all her friends. This response underscores a major difference in how I look at education and how most people look at it. Dd will have her high school diploma in 2 months. She doesn’t NEED to go to more school to earn credits. However, we see learning more as a positive, as something more than just transcripts, credits, and tests. Although this is definitely a high school program, dd sees it more like a post-high school option for her, a chance to experience a different culture, learn a new language, meet new people – very much like a foreign exchange or transfer student. She sees the value of the learning itself and the inherent gain in becoming a better educated person, and loves the idea of getting to travel and have new experiences. She was planning to attend community college in the fall and this is a nice time to take a break without setting herself back significantly with her college plans.
>>Isn’t she going to be bored ?<<
No, because high schools across the world (and this country!) have different curricula; they’re not all teaching the same information. I expect that most of what she is taught will be new to her. History and geography will be of a different country, writing skills can always use improvement, and she’ll be doing intensive language studies for Hebrew. The science and math classes are supposedly at a higher level than here in the US; if the testing she did last week at her screening is an accurate indication, then she feels it will be very challenging. Additionally, math is taught using the spiral approach rather than the strictly linear approach that we have. To my understanding, she’ll also be taking math class in Hebrew, which in and of itself will be challenging since she doesn’t yet have much experience with conversational Hebrew. There are also three options regarding the difficulty of the classes that she can choose from. And of course there’s the experience of being in a new country, going on trips, meeting new people – it’s not all about academics by any means!
>>And about your daughter…Bnei Akiva is also different…talk about future values…come on, you protected your kids until now….from all that I have gathered about you and your family, this is not what I would have thought you would choose for your kids…<<
You don’t use the same tool in every situation – a hammer is a great tool, but sometimes you need a screwdriver. Different goals necessitate different choices; we view this as primarily an academic experience with spiritual possibilities, not a spiritual experience with academic possibilities, and are discussing it and preparing her for this accordingly. As an academic choice in a religious girls setting I feel that this program has the potential to be a very positive experience for her on a number of levels. While it’s true that there are differences in worldview between us and those running this program, I don’t believe they’re inherently as significant as they they may seem. (I’m not naive and I lived in Israel for ten years; I think I have a fairly accurate sense of what the differences in perspective are.)
I also feel that you can learn and grow from all people. The people running this program have solid values; they’re good people. I’m not afraid of the differences – I think learning to embrace differences and respect others who make different choices, while maintaining your sense of who you are, is a sign of maturity; at least for me it has been. This is something that has been part of how I’ve raised my kids; that you can and should have strong beliefs but that shouldn’t mean looking down on others.
>>AND, at 15 years old??? Really young and vulnerable to send away.. Please – rethink this! The(y) have totally different tznius (Avivah’s translation – modesty) standards…can she keep to hers withstanding peer pressure?<<
I went to Israel to study for a year when I was 16, but because I graduated 12th grade along with my (older) peers, not one person ever commented to my mother with any concern about my age. I agree that 15 is very young, but I also don’t think that there’s a magic number when a child is ready. I was a dorm counselor in a girls seminary abroad, and I saw how many 18 and 19 year olds were immature and not ready to appropriately handle the independence from their families. It’s not about the number, it’s about the readiness of the person to handle the experience. Dd will be almost 16 when she goes; we wouldn’t consider sending a child of any age who hadn’t already demonstrated the necessary maturity and levelheadedness, but dd has proven she has these qualities time and again.
We’ve discussed some challenges that will probably be part of her experience, and part of that is that we have different expectations for her than what some of her peers may be allowed, particularly regarding level of immersion in secular culture and mores of dressing. However, she’s also experienced this in camp for the last three summers – she’s been very grounded in her response and handled it gracefully. I realize that there’s a difference between being away for four weeks and for ten months – but as parents, after we’ve done the best we can to inculcate them with our values, we have to gradually let them try out their wings. Trusting our kids is more than lip service; to trust them means we give them opportunities to make choices. That can be scary for a parent because there’s no guarantee that they’ll choose what you want, but this is part of the growing up process.
In my opinion, peer dependence is the biggest concern for any parent in an environment in which kids are surrounded by same age peers all day – including your average local schools. Dd not only hasn’t been immersed in a culture that pressures kids to conform to whatever their peers are doing for the last ten years (thereby making her less susceptible to doing things just because her peers do), but will be one of the oldest in her class and tends to be socially confident. The combination means that I’m significantly less concerned about peer pressure/dependence than I’d be if she were one of the youngest. She knows that you can be a fun and well-liked person without compromising your values. Again, she’s been in this role before and is comfortable with it.
>>I know the free schooling is enticing but at what price???<<
Important decisions can’t be made based primarily on the dollars involved, even for a super frugal person like me. There are things you do not because it’s cheaper, but because it has a value to you. For example, I spend much more on alternative doctors, herbs, supplements rather than take my kids to the doctors/give them medications covered by my insurance. I also spend a lot more on food than I would if health weren’t a priority to me. We pay for homebirths out of pocket though I could have my entire pregnancy and hospital stay paid for by insurance. So obviously getting something for free isn’t the most important criteria to me, since I’ve repeatedly demonstrated with other choices that our decisions are made based on if it matches our goals.
Not only that, free tuition in and of itself isn’t necessarily a significant savings over the alternative for dd. I’ve successfully homeschooled for almost a decade now and spent less than $7000 on all six of the school age kids during that time ($5500 of which was for religious studies tutoring for my oldest ds). So you can see that the costs of homeschooling aren’t exactly breaking me financially – it’s cost me less than $50 this past year for her academic costs.
In fact, sending dd to this program will be more expensive than keeping her here. Thanks to financial aid and scholarship money (just got a message a couple of days ago about a $500 scholarship she needs to claim in the next two weeks before it goes to someone else), community college tuition and books will be entirely covered if she stays home for the coming year. Just the ticket and passport expenses necessary for travel overseas will run about $1500, and she’ll certainly need some kind of spending money for the year! I overheard a couple of parents at the screening talking about how they could use the money they’re saving on tuition for a family trip to Israel to visit their child, or to buy the child a laptop with Skype so they can easily keep in touch – but that’s not my reality. I’m considering this in spite of the costs to me, because technically the more frugal thing to do would be to keep her home.
I have so many, many thoughts on aspects of this decision and there are a number of points that could be discussed in depth (certainly I’ve thought about them in depth!). One crucial factor in making this decision is that we know our daughter – and we have a lot of confidence in her.