A School for Autistic Kids as a Model for the Entire Education System

The classrooms are small and the staff members are many. This is a school that teaches children how to think, behave and get ahead in life.

Ilya Melnikov

Dear Naftali Bennett,

All indications are that you’re about to be appointed education minister. One of your party’s new Knesset members, Yinon Magal — a personal appointment of yours — recently asked the attorney general to investigate a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, Alon Liel. The suspicion: treason, an offense punishable by death.

Since you’re the party leader, I’d like to offer you the following advice before any harm comes my way. You see, like Liel, I too support the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Last autumn I published an article protesting, in the name of my autistic son Yotam, comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s (soon retracted) self-diagnosis that he was on the autism spectrum. That very day you texted me. (“Dear Rogel, This is Naftali Bennett. I was deeply moved by your op-ed this morning ....”) You complimented me and shared your personal experience in the field.

Actually, before providing a little advice, I have a request. In view of the empathy you display toward autistic people, I implore you to consider the possibility that Liel suffers from (slight) autism. Maybe it’s an especially elusive kind of Asperger’s?

I don’t think he interprets social situations correctly. And what’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if not an especially complicated and intricate social situation? He needs a reality mediator. He doesn’t understand what he’s doing. Really, have some mercy.

Now for my advice. Visit my son Yotam’s school (text me, I’ll give you the details). I have three children, and I myself have been a student in the Israeli education system, but this is the best school I’ve ever seen. Its teachers, principal, aides and National Service volunteers view their work as a calling. They’re filled with real passion, something sorely missing among many staff members at regular schools.

They go to work every morning highly motivated because their work gives them satisfaction and meaning. They chose this profession. Nobody works with autistic people by default. They are really above and beyond, dedicated professionals, the kind who change children’s lives.

I wish Israel’s ordinary children had such teachers. They move me to tears. The kids in that school aren’t statistics. A child can’t get lost in the system there. He is seen. Every minute.

The classrooms are small. The staff members are many. The report cards don’t matter. This is a school that teaches children how to think, behave and get ahead in life. It teaches them how to be human beings and friends. How to manage a relationship and how to love, how to be angry and how to be sad. How to create and how to accept oneself.

It’s a school that’s both a home and a family. A school where the student knows he’ll never be expelled. Ordinary children don’t get those things at school. And I have to tell you, Yotam’s general knowledge is surprisingly broad, because this school really aspires to teach him about the world.

People always ask me where Yotam goes to school and I always answer, “a school you can only dream your kids could go to.” It’s a school that provides for children’s emotional and intellectual needs, rather than being a grade factory. Visit it and see what excellence in the Israeli education system looks like.