During my time with the Dror movement, I have had the opportunity to visit high schools in Mitzpe Ramon, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, talking to students and teachers about their experiences. While each school has its own unique personality, they all share the same values and goals for their students.
The central idea behind the educational philosophy of the Dror movement focuses on lifting children up to be better people. The goal is to create an environment that allows for each student to maximize their potential, find their passions and empower them to take action. There is a huge emphasis on community and social change as well.
I visited the high school in Tel Aviv a few days after Transgender Visibility Awareness Day. A group of kids at that school had decided as part of their health and sex education class to decorate the school with pride flags, art, and symbols that discussed trans identities, acceptance, and visibility. Several of the kids I met at these high schools identified as gay or trans and were very open and comfortable with talking about their identity. Many of them told me that the schools they went to in the past had environments that made it difficult for them to speak openly about who they were and express themselves in the ways that they wanted to. It was deeply inspiring to talk to kids who, at such a young age, really understood and appreciated the gifts that come with the ability, safety, and comfort of being authentic and openly expressing who they are.
When I visited the school in Haifa, it was National Workers Day. A young boy named Sol was working on decorations and a sign that people would be able to hold while taking pictures during the celebration. Sol is very passionate about politics and activism. I sat with him and his friend Romi and we discussed their ideas about neoliberalism and capitalism. They asked me lots of questions about the higher education system in the US and had many opinions of their own on the matter. Romi discussed with me his challenges as a trans person encountering the healthcare system in Israel. We talked about how political differences shape the way Israelis and Americans discuss trans issues in their own countries. I have rarely come across high schoolers who are so interested in discussing the world and who have so much to say about important social issues.
At one point on one of my visits, a young student named Hadar and I were discussing her current experience going to this high school. She was wrapping up her third year of high school but had only come to Dror’s school this year. She told me how unhappy she was at her previous school and about how excited she was now to go to class. She said that even when she doesn’t feel like going to class, she feels that she has a responsibility to her teacher and her other classmates to be there. I asked her why she felt responsible to show up. She said, “when you are younger and you get bored in class you still show up because you are scared you will get in trouble. But eventually, as you get older and shed that fear, you stop feeling that pressure to go.” Here at her new school, though, she doesn’t get bored in class. She has close and meaningful relationships with her teachers, and fear of getting in trouble no longer even factors into how she behaves in school.
During my visit to the Tel Aviv school, I joined the urban agriculture class on a trip to a day center for senior citizens located in the heart of Tel Aviv and, as a result, it does not have much open space or outdoor areas. The students decided to build a small garden that would line the perimeter of a patio, and give the residents an opportunity to have some outdoor plants that they could take care of and enjoy. The Dror students used old lockers as the flower beds and painted them to make them look pretty. They helped the seniors design placards to put next to their own plants to signify which is theirs. After everything had been planted, we sat and ate ice cream with the seniors. There was a lot of laughter and interesting conversations, and the entire time I was unbelievably jealous of how these kids got to spend their days at school.
At each school I visited, I was told that nearly everything I saw outside was built by the students themselves. These kids were responsible for building jungle gyms, benches, murals, and hangout spots. Similarly, the teachers were responsible for creating an environment, a community, in which the students can feel comfortable.
One of the beautiful things about the educational project of the Dror movement is its focus on empowerment. As I touched on earlier, the primary goal for these high schools is to create a meaningful learning environment. Zohar, my host and a teacher at the school in Haifa, told me that in order for a learning environment to be meaningful, it requires the students to feel comfortable and excited about being themselves. For example, if a student is really interested in biking, sports, or a specific abstract artist, they can work with a teacher to design a project, lesson, or program that will allow them to explore their interests but also to grow and learn. The goal is to never impose learning on an unwilling student but, rather, to foster the spark of curiosity that already exists in everyone.
Zohar and I talked a bit about some of the tensions that exist at a school as unique as his. Israel has a state curriculum and there are core requirements that need to be met in order to receive public funding. Sometimes these requirements can clash with the curriculum at a high school such as Dror’s which focuses on teaching and discussing life/social skills as well as broad and deep ideas about our larger society. Classes and projects range from the basics like math and English to volunteering, hiking, music, yoga, bike repair, and more. The subjects change as the students demonstrate their interests and passions. In accordance with their philosophy, these high schools do not give out grades to their students but rely on feedback from the teacher and demonstrable growth from a student. Teachers ask themselves if their students are growing as people, not whether they are succeeding in getting better grades. Zohar explained it to me in this way: “You can’t teach about friendship in a competitive environment.”
Zohar told me that his 10th graders were learning about social change. They started with the question: How do you create successful social change? They looked at various movements throughout history, the Suffragettes, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Panthers of Israel. They examined these movements and discussed the various tactics, protests, demonstrations, and ideas that helped these movements succeed. Next year, they are going to discuss the Israeli-Arab Conflict. While I don’t know what exactly they will learn and discuss about that difficult and painful topic, I can guarantee that as a result of Dror’s educational philosophy they will be more understanding, curious, and empathetic as they approach the issue than many of their peers.
The schools and the learning environments the Dror movement has built are hard to capture in words and I could tell that I had only scratched the surface at the end of each visit. It is so moving and inspiring to sit in a room with high school kids and witness them brimming with ideas, excitement, curiosity, and love for one another. I am unbelievably grateful to have had the opportunity to witness first-hand the rich and unique learning environment of the Dror schools. As I ended my visit to each school, I felt a profound sense of confidence the students I had just met are without a doubt our future leaders.