Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exploring alternatives

This has been quite a week.  Monday, I joined a group of educators in Be'er Sheva (pronounced "bear" not "beer") who were visiting Bedouin schools.  Israel and the Bedouins have a special relationship.  Israel would like them to settle down, become less nomadic, and has built communities (think townships) for the Bedouins.  Some Bedouins have embraced this idea, others prefer to live in the manner their people have always lived.  To reach the first school, we drove about 5 miles out of Be'er Sheva and found ourselves on a brand new road with newly created roundabouts driving through what can only be described as a township in the South African model.  When we reached the school, I was struck by the fact that we just walked in.  There was apparently neither armed guard nor locked gate.  We just walked in, said hi to the kids playing, asked directions to the main entrance, and headed into the school.  Very different than every other Israeli school I've been in.  We walked into the male faculty room.  Later, we spoke with the principal who has a male assistant.  Clearly, there are cultural norms in these school which are different from other Israeli schools.  This must make some types of communication difficult, if not impossible.  This elementary school was an "experimental" school.  The Ministry of Education allows schools to "experiment" with lots of different areas of learning.  Experiments are funded for five years, then evaluated for success or no success (failure is really not an option.)  Successful schools are those whose students score at the same level as "non-experimental" schools in subjects such as language and math.  They then receive more funding to replicate their model and train other teachers/schools.  Almustabel (the future in Arabic) is right on the edge of the desert.  Students study every aspect of desert life, plants, soil, animals, birds, etc. in conjunction with Bedouin culture.  These kids collect tons of data.  I have already contacted Scott Bowler at Catlin Gabel to see if he wants to trade Northwest data with the science teacher at Almustabel.  The science guy (pictured here) lives in an unincorporated Bedouin village with no electricity.  He tethers his laptop to his cell phone and powers the whole internet connection with a USB modem run on solar power.  The biggest speed bump for this school right now is teacher retention.  It must be difficult to run an experimental school with high teacher turnover.  I don't envy Abdullah, the principal.

After lunch, we joined a caravan of cars travelling off-road to a brand new school in an unincorporated area.  Remember, those areas have little, no roads, no power, problematic water distribution, etc.  Suddenly, we drove around a dune and were face to face with a lovely two story pastel colored school.  The first thing I noticed was a loud hum.  The entire school is powered by a generator the size of a small recreational vehicle.  Once inside, I thought I was back in Oregon.  Bright pictures on the walls, no hum (thick walls!), lots of color, the whole place looked just like an American school.  We met with school staff to discuss an ongoing project involving teaching Bedouin parents how to use computers.  Hurdles to overcome in this program include separating moms and dads (they didn't even want to join together to celebrate their completion of the course!), stopping in the middle of the meeting to pray, and, most importantly, the fact that many more families want to be included than the school has either teachers or space for.  I asked if families were tracked after the course to see how they put the computer knowledge to use, but, I'm not sure I understood the answer.  It was a tiring, long day, and as I was returning to Jerusalem (on an Egged bus that was overheating), the bus driver switched from talk radio to oldies music.  I smiled and sat back to Aretha Franklin's RESPECT.  That is what the Bedouins really want.  Many serve in the military.  They just want cultural respect from their country....Israel.

Tuesday, I accompanied a university instructor visiting a student teacher who was completing a practicum at a nearby special ed school.  The best part about the visit was I didn't have to take a bus!  I could have walked to the school, but, of course, I met the instructorfive minutes walk from our apartment and we drove the final 5 minutes to the school.  This special ed school appeared to be boys only.  It was a tough audience in a tough school (doors in this school are locked not to keep the world out, but to keep the students in.)  I asked the instructor how the student-teacher came to be placed in the school.  Turns out she asked to work with this population.  After the lesson, I offered suggestions about English sites which the student teacher might find useful.  She is still acquiring the skills she needs to be an effective teacher, but, she already has a very important quality.....she is passionate about the welfare of her students.  All in all, a fascinating couple of days in schools which are way outside the Israeli educational mainstream.


  1. B - this sounds like a couple of days that will be incredibly useful in your Fulbright research. Oh yeah, THAT'S why you went to Israel!! :) They're lucky you' Love, s

  2. this was the most interesting blog to me so far. a bedouin school. how do you get to these places? i love the big about coming around the bend (i mean a dune) and there's this school. also lots to think about .. a nomadic culture in 21st century isreal.