Students at the Tel Aviv arts school, one of the city's most prestigious institutions, may not represent the socioeconomic average of all Israeli students, but their parents were still surprised last week when they received an invitation to celebrate the birthday of a fourth grader at the Club Hotel in Eilat one coming weekend.
The father of the 10-year-old pupil is a well-known businessman, and his mother appears occasionally in the business gossip columns. In the email they sent to the parents of all the children in the class, the parents wrote that "the stay will include full board" - in other words, the classmates will stay at the hotel at the expense of the birthday boy's parents - while additional family members who want to stay at the hotel will receive a special discount.
This is not the first time the family has thrown such a party for its children and their friends, all from the arts school. In recent years, birthday parties of a similar nature were also held for the older siblings. Friends of the parents say the parents never received any complaints or comments from the school about the previous celebrations, only "enthusiastic responses."
Responsibility for the problematic celebration lies not only with the parents who extended the invitation, but also with the school, which did not intervene. Instead, it left the other parents to deal on their own with the frustration of trying to inculcate a sense of proportion in their children.
School, especially elementary school, is a formative social framework. There the seeds of long-term friendships are sown and every pupil's budding personality is shaped.
But now, other parents of children in the school who try to celebrate in the "usual" way - a public park with a clown and activities - will find it difficult to meet the ostentatious standard being set here. Even if the days of education for modesty have passed, there is no reason why the education system should cooperate with such norms.
Yet the arts school chose to do nothing, perhaps out of self-abnegation before wealthy parents. The problem is not the family's decision to have a birthday party for a 10-year-old in a hotel in Eilat, but the educational institution, "which didn't explain to it how improper this event is in educational and social terms," said the parent of one student in the class.
This nonintervention, which grants legitimacy to the celebration in Eilat, was explained by the school administration as stemming from the fact that the event "is not our initiative and not our responsibility." A similar attitude was expressed by the Ministry of Education, which, especially in recent years, has boasted of educating for values and not only for academic achievement. When asked its opinion of the matter, a ministry spokesperson said this is "a private event, during the pupils' free time."
"There's a limit to our power," a ministry official explained. "We can't tell the parents what to do."
How easy it is to sigh, to complain about parents who know no limits, and to do nothing. But if the reason for the failure to respond is that this is an event outside the school framework, why do teachers and principals try to deal with the ostracism of students over the Internet, or with incidents of violence that take place after school hours? The shoulder shrugging by the school and the Education Ministry signifies acceptance of an anti-educational act.
Yes, it is possible, even desirable, to tell the parents, influential though they may be, that they have overstepped the boundaries. If a weekend celebration in a hotel influences the atmosphere in the classroom or the feelings of other students and parents, the school is not only allowed to intervene, it has an obligation to do so. All that is needed is educational backbone.
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