A while back, at a family simcha, I sat down with one of my cousins for a heart-to-heart discussion about Jewish education. We compared notes, children and schools. We expressed our deepest dreams for our children and how we might be able to turn those dreams into reality.
As he sipped his coffee and I chewed my danish, he made a statement that offended me nearly into shock. "All children are born different," he said, "to me the purpose of Jewish education is to train every child to be the same."
I could feel the smoke coming out of my ears. How narrow can a person be? For me, the exact opposite has always been true. To a certain extent every child is born the same, or so it appears. The job of the educator is to bring out the unique, individual qualities of each child. When G-d created the world, He made no two creations identical. That would be a waste. Each blade of grass, and certainly each person, has a unique purpose and task in this world. I want each one of my children to be able to make his or her unique contribution. I left that encounter with my cousin feeling frustrated, yet very thoughtful.
I started to think about the schools I chose for my children. I started to think about my friends and colleagues and their choices. Why do we make the choices that we make? Why do we choose the schools, friends and neighborhoods that we live in? Isn't it because we want to teach by example? Isn't it because essentially all children are born different and we want to make sure they end up more or less like us? I was frightened by my own hypocrisy! And yet I couldn't think of anyone who didn't want his or her children to emulate their own lifestyle, meet their expectations and fulfill their dreams.
What is the alternative? If we let our children do their own thing from the beginning, does that imply that we don't care? How can loving parents encourage their children to fend for themselves emotionally and find their own path to happiness without any guidance? Doesn't that border on abusive behavior? How do we, as parents, find the right balance between wanting to help our children fulfill their potential and letting them blaze their own trails? This Pardes was written to help us find that balance.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
How would you respond?
1 Your brilliant eighth grader is applying to high school. The available yeshiva high school has a weak secular studies department, and your daughter is hoping to apply to Ivy League universities. An acceptance letter has arrived from an exclusive secular, private school, which has also accepted two of her closest friends who are eager to attend the private school and who plan to supplement their education by attending a Judaic studies program several nights a week. How do you prioritize your daughter's education?
2 His obsession with sports is no longer cute. When your son was nine, he spent every free moment either on the ball field or devouring sports magazines. Now, at sixteen, he still thrives only in athletics. While his standardized test scores indicate that he is clearly bright and capable, your son's grades are consistently mediocre, and his social experience appears to be limited to playing, talking or watching sports. You fret that he is compromising his academic future and, more significantly, stifling his intellectual, spiritual and social growth. His friends are planning to attend a summer tour to Europe, but your son resists your encouragement to enroll since his summer plans are only to improve his jump shot. What would you do?
3 After returning from a summer program in Israel, your tenth grade child is excited and eager to begin the new school year. As the academic year progresses, you note that your child has dropped various extra curricular activities still pursued by others in the class, and has assumed an intense, almost obsessive, interest in religious studies. While you, of course, admire, the intellectual and academic progress that your child is exhibiting, you are concerned that your child may become too narrowly focused, and may miss out on experiences necessary for a teenager's development into a well-rounded adult. When your child asks if he or she can attend a kollel (Jewish studies) seminar during winter break, rather than join the family's trip to the Islands, you wonder whether granting the request may be letting things go too far.
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