I watch my children use blocks to build a large structure, observing the trepidation with which they add each block. As the structure becomes larger there is a greater risk of it collapsing, thus bringing an end to an hour of playful labor. I anticipate what will happen when one child adds a block to the top floor, compromising the integrity of the building and resulting in the collapse of the entire structure. The argument that ensues is predictable, as each child blames the other for “ruining” the fun. As an adult, I wonder about the need to attribute blame. Will assigning blame be instrumental in rebuilding the structure?
So many of our children are lacking inspiration and connection to Judaism, causing some to leave the ways of their ancestors and embrace other lifestyles. Does it actually help to attribute blame?
No. A more useful system would be one that acknowledges those responsible for educating our children and their success in forming our nation’s future. Then we can guide these people and hold them accountable for their roles in cultivating inspiration, connection, and motivation in our children.
What is a more stable investment–gold or oil? One might suggest that both have their advantages – during different stages of economic cycles. The one fact that separates the two is intrinsic value. Most applications of gold can be replaced, and if the world were depleted of gold, there would not be a dramatic impact. The value of gold is determined by investors and the market, but gold itself is not a commodity we can’t live without. Presently, oil is so much a staple of our daily lives it has become irreplaceable. If oil would disappear tomorrow, it could not be immediately replaced in our cars, heating, and electric grids. Oil is a prerequisite for the smooth running of our daily lives, as it has value that is specific and unique.
Each child has a unique value that is irreplaceable. And so our educational goals for each child must be unique and special. Hashem gave each child a distinctive set of talents and gifts with which he is supposed to make an inimitable contribution to the world. Our job as parents and educators is to assist him or her in finding those talents and traits. After we find these individually tailored set of gifts, we must teach him to develop them and find a way to use them to make his world and the world at large a better place. That is part of our unique role. Chazal tell us that just as each person has a different face, so too are their thoughts and qualities different. Every child should feel like a commodity that the world cannot live without.
The longest parsha in the Torah is Naso, for it repeats the sacrifices brought by the nesiim, the heads of Shivtei Yisrael, 12 times. The sacrifices were basically the same; why does the Torah, always so careful with choice of words, spend 12 paragraphs repeating the details of each one? The Torah could have easily mentioned the details of the sacrifice in one paragraph and listed all the names of the princes. This would have spared 11 paragraphs of precious Torah real estate!
Chazal teach that each prince and his sacrifice was unique and special in the eyes of Hashem, even though each sacrifice was the same. This lesson is the key to success in today’s chinuch. Each child must feel special and important. Each child must realize that he is an integral and irreplaceable member of his family, classroom, community, and the world at large. Each child must be nurtured to identify his gifts and appreciate his individual greatness. It is not always easy for parents or teachers to find the G-d given uniqueness in each child, and it is even harder to cultivate them. A good teacher can hear the same answer being given by multiple children and make each child feel good about his response. More important, perhaps, is finding a way to make a child feel positive after giving an incorrect answer, giving encouragement for his effort and thought. Chazal tell us that there are 70 unique faces to the Torah, each with a different approach and answer. We should strive to see the diverse faces in our classrooms and homes, even though each face presents with a different style, attitude, behavioral presentation or life view. Different does not always mean wrong; it can be valued and appreciated.
There is a famous parable that I believe needs a different lesson in today’s times. A king who lived on top of a mountain allowed only a select group of his loyal staff to make the two mile trek to the top of the mountain to serve him. His water carrier served him with perfection for 30 years, mastering his trade with precision. He was able to carry two buckets of water from the river to the top of the mountain without spilling a drop. As he aged, he decided to teach his two sons the trade, and he took them to the river at the base of the mountain to fill their buckets. The older son learned easily to carry two buckets to the castle without spilling a drop. The younger son was very clumsy, and he spilled most of the bucket before reaching the king. He tried for months, but he began feeling like a failure due to his lack of success. He told his father that he wanted to quit; it was disheartening to observe his brother’s success while little of his own water reached its destination. Eventually, in an attempt to boost his son’s self-esteem, the father threw handfuls of flower seeds on the sides of the path, and a few weeks later the flowers began to grow as a result of all the water spilled by the younger son. The water carrier showed his younger son that although he was a failure in his attempts to be a water carrier, he succeeded at growing flowers to adorn the King’s palace. Thus, the younger son was able to feel good about his mistakes.
The parable is beautiful, but I believe that in today’s world the lesson must change. The father should have realized that his son was clumsy and should not have subjected him to months of failure in an attempt to mold him into a water carrier. A good parent must find what is best for each individual child, and the water carrier should have recognized that his son’s qualities were not consistent with his goal. We must find what is best for our sons and daughters and nurture those goals. Cookie cutter education must be a thing of the past. Instead of trying to individualize the education for each child, we test them all according to the same standard. There are many failing water carriers in our schools and homes today. They are not succeeding in the framework of rigid expectations and competition that make up our school system today. It is okay for a child to learn a bit less or act differently within acceptable parameters, but it is not okay for him to feel like a failure and not recognize his own strengths and talents.
Many of the children who are being lost to our families and communities do not feel good at home or in school. Instead of us educating them according to their individual styles and personalities, we expect them to conform to a uniform code of success.
Unlike the water carrier, we must adjust the educational style to allow our children to feel successful and special before they experience failure and enter crisis mode. Parents must be advocates for their children in finding ways to nurture their individual successes. If parents don’t have the ability or experience to do that, the schools must step in as partners to nourish each child’s skills and ensure that they feel like champions. The competition and narrow description of success in schools hurting the B students and literally kill the spirits of those who are weaker. It is often tempting to focus on the brilliant students, spend time by default trying to deal with troublemakers, and ignore the average students.
Our goal should be to diagnose social, emotional, and learning disabilities at a young age so children can get the help they need to develop successfully. In addition, a parent should never feel that all he needs to do is write a check and expect that his children’s educational needs will be fully attended to. A parent is the primary educator in a child’s life, and a large component of his or her education comes from interacting with the parent in social and religious experiences. It is easy to blame the school for the child’s lack of success. Ultimately, however, parents are responsible for their children.
We can work towards a solution by creating a partnership between schools and parents. When children come home from school with complaints about their teachers, it is important that nothing negative about the teacher is said in front of the children. Speaking negatively will teach the child that it is acceptable to disrespect authority, an attitude that will backfire on the parents who are also authority figures. If we really want our children to be happy, we should spend less time “buying their love” and more time modeling productive ways of dealing with frustration and conflict. When a person sends his car to the mechanic for repairs, he is likely to call every hour to find out when it is ready, as he misses the use of his car. Parents send their most precious commodity, their children, to school, yet they only speak to the “mechanics,” the teachers, a few times a year. As a result, the needs of children are often not dealt with until the child is frustrated, failing or in crisis. The onus is on both schools and parents to reach out and create an environment in which parents can be actively involved in their children’s education. If social, emotional, or educational issues are addressed before they spiral out of control, we are more likely to rectify the situation while it is still rectifiable.
Each child is an unpolished diamond, and we must give our children the tools they need to shine. May we all be given Heavenly assistance in guiding each child to find success through his or her uniqueness.
About the Author: Rabbi Gil Frieman is the pulpit Rabbi of Jewish Center Nachlat Zion, the home of Ohr Naava. He is certified as a shochet, sofer, and has given lectures in the United States, Canada, and throughout Eretz Yisroel. Rabbi Frieman is currently the American Director of seminaries Darchei Binah, Afikei Torah, and Chochmas Lev in Eretz Yisroel, and teaches in Nefesh High School, Camp Tubby during the summers, and lectures weekly at Ohr Naava. In addition, Rabbi Frieman teaches all tracks in Ateres Naava Seminary. He is a highly anticipated speaker on TorahAnytime.com where he speaks live most Wednesday nights at 9:00pm EST.
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