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Losing Our Children: Who Is Responsible?

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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.

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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