The 2 + 2 and High School Graduation
American kids grow up on what I call the 2 + 2. It's a philosophy that says that if you do what you are supposed to do, then everything adds up. Mr. Wolowelsky, my high-school math teacher, would regularly spell out the 2 + 2 for us (and here I'm skipping a few steps for the sake of brevity): "Why do you have to study for the test next week? Because you want to get a good grade on the test? Why do you want a good grade on the test? Because you want to do well in high school. Why do you want to do well in high school? Because you want to get into a good college. Why do you want to do well in college? Because you want to get a good job and live happily ever after."
Israeli kids do not grow up on the 2+ 2. Compulsory army service throws a wrench into the whole equation. For one thing, there is little connection between academic success in high school and one's acceptance into the most elite army units. Since these elite units are the dream of many high-schoolers (boys especially), there essentially is no immediate incentive to study. (Learning may be fun, but as Mr. Wolowelsky knew, studying is a different matter.) A related problem for the "2 + 2" in Israel is that one's army service may significantly change just who you are as a person. So why (you might think) should you bother studying in high school if the "you" who will be continuing on in life will be a different you?
All this helps to explain an unusual situation in contemporary Israel. Unlike in the States where college entrance examinations are taken toward the end of high school, in Israel it's quite common to take (what is know here as) the "psychometric" exam only after one's army service--and perhaps also after one's period of decompression from army service (say on a trip to India or to South America). Of course, by then you will have forgotten most of your high-school math and English, but that's why they invented psychometric-exam preparatory courses didn't they?
There are in effect two kinds of graduations from Israeli high schools: there is an academic graduation, for those who have completed a full course of matriculation subjects, and there also is a social graduation, for all those who have completed adolescence--as evidenced by the fact that they attended high school until the very last day of 12th grade. Israeli high schools are fantastic at recognizing the social needs of teenagers and at facilitating group cohesion and development. Every Israeli teacher is trained to think both about how their students are doing academically and about how they are doing socially.
Last year, I attended my son’s high-school graduation. On the one hand, part of me was thinking: isn't it silly for some of these kids to be here? After all, they have not yet completed their matriculation requirements? But then I thought: you know, it really is not all that easy being a teenager, and it's more difficult for some than it is for others—so I'm glad that Israeli schools recognize and credit the journey taken from child to adult.
I just have one question. If my 19-year-old is an adult, then why on a recent leave from the air force did he smear jelly all over his brother's pillow?
Copyright 2007, Teddy Weinberger