The Sacred Right to Have a Good Time

What educators have lately taken to calling the "loss of parental authority" is a tragedy for both sides. The parents are unable to educate their children and the children grow up in a blurred reality, lacking boundaries and firm values.

The demonstrations last week by high school students upset about the cancellation of their school trips appeared to be a curiosity: media coverage of spoiled kids who are ready to take to the streets and burn tires only when their sacred right to have fun was disturbed. And not merely fun, but fun organized by the teachers. All the students have to do is drive the teachers crazy. For fun, of course.

But that tasteless show was not a curiosity. It was evidence of a clear trend made up of two interwoven themes: the inflated stature of the child in Israeli families and the shrinking prestige of the teacher in Israeli society. While many Israeli children still suffer beating by their parents and others have unmet physical and emotional needs, the average child in the average Israeli household is an outright tyrannical king. And it does not make these children happy - the contrary is true.

What educators have lately taken to calling the "loss of parental authority" is a tragedy for both sides. The parents are unable to educate their children and the children grow up in a blurred reality, lacking boundaries and firm values.

Trying to fill a bottomless pit

These children live with the excuse "life is already so difficult here" or "I didn't have anything, so they should at least have everything" and so are denied any measure of frustration and any hint of difficulty. They start their lives as babies who accompany their parents to every event, sometimes without any consideration for the surroundings, continue as children driven in privately owned cars to nursery school and kindergarten and every possible extracurricular activity and then, as adolescents, are overprotected by parents against their schools. They can get a private physician to supply psychiatric and other medical diagnoses to get out of difficult exams or courses. And they end up brutal and bored. Neither they nor their parents can fill the bottomless pit that yawns beneath them.

The connection between that educational failure and the dwindling status of teachers is crystal clear. The more the egos of the pupils are inflated and arrogant, and the more their parents protect them on the grounds they are fragile and delicate, the less chance teachers have to create the not-so-simple pact that defines them as the authority and the pupils as subject to that authority. That equation has anyway become problematic as the gap widens between the parents' education and that of the teachers (to the teachers' detriment) and the easier it becomes for pupils to purchase knowledge and cultural enrichment. The village teacher in the documentary "To Be and To Have" manages to win the hearts of his students not only because of his rare personality but also because the students - who are mostly exposed to cows and goats and abacuses and their parents, who have trouble reading a newspaper - adore him and his work.

The heads of the Dovrat committee for educational reform have declared the status of teachers to be their guiding light. But everyone knows - and especially those who know how determined the education minister is to see privatization wherever possible and at whatever cost - that the teachers have never been so weak and frightened as they are now. They know that the system is inflated and problematic, that there are lazy teachers, and that the entire system needs to be shaken up and refreshed.

The teachers know they're easy to fire

But they also understand there will be mass firings, and it is not clear how the schools can prepare for the reforms without the enormous budgets needed for long school days, higher pay for teachers and all the other promised improvements.

The teachers also know how easy it is to fire them. Their collective wage agreements are about to expire and their unions, which used their power badly and alienated the public, are cracking up from within. The strike by the spoiled teens is therefore not a marginal matter. It is a sign, making clear to the teachers they have lost the battle against the consumers and their parents. Because with extraordinary shortsightedness, parents are ready for the government to break the teachers and turn them from organized workers into frightened workers, just so the kids can go on their end-of-school trips. Those who can buy their children better schools with better teachers have already done so. And those who can't, want to, too.