Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Signing Over the Kids

Recently I've spoken with a few parents who have first-grade children in day schools in order to have a measure with which to compare David's limude kodesh progress.
In some cases the parents tell me plainly that they're not really sure what their kids are doing in school. Other parents respond with generalities but it's clear they really don't know. In one case a parent told me his kid was learning x, y, z and offered to show me some of his school books and papers, but when we inspected them it became evident that the parent was clueless.
One thing that I've realized since switching David out of day school is the extent to which so many--I acknowledge not all--frum parents have handed over the responsibility for chinuch--in the widest sense--to others. We just assume that our kids will get everything need Jewish-wise in school. I don't write this as a value judgement, but simply as an observation of the way things are. Although I could justly be accused of seeking to micromanage my son's education while he was in day school and as much as we mentally prepared ourselves for public school, there was simply no way for us to anticipate the scope and full implications of the burden we were to assume. Only parents who already have children in public school can appreciate that burden.
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One of the benefits of not sending a child to a day school is that a parent can (theoretically) provide him with a limude kodesh education tailored to the parents' wants and the child's needs/abilities. Keeping this mind, there is some irony in my attempts to compare David's progress with that of his day school peers. After all, why should it matter? The best answers I can come up with:
1) We have no idea what we're doing and it's helpful--or at least it feels reassuring--to have some type of external measure.
2) We want to make sure he can switch back into a day school, whether next year or in five years, and not be at a disadvantage (or worse).

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Tis the Season to be Jolly . . . (Uncut)

(This is what I originally wrote and I'm posting it now to clarify yesterday's abbreviated post.)

I miss David being in a school environment where Hanukkah is celebrated.
I don't miss Hanukkah gifts for the staff.
The truth is I don't think there is anything wrong with presenting teachers and other staff with a token of appreciation, although I'm conflicted over whether a group collection or individual presents are preferable. But I think it's a problem when cash gifts are expected, moreover when large cash gifts are expected. (One friend gave his son's rebbe five hundred dollars!?)
And don't give me that nonsense that there is nothing wrong with a rebbe accepting such a gift if parents give it of their own volition and there is nothing the school can do about this. When I worked in camp we were forbidden to accept any tips from parents and it was understood that violators would be fired. (In my two summers I never heard of anyone taking a tip.) While public school employees where I live are permitted to receive presents, they are limited to gifts worth twenty five dollars or less. And I can tell you that the vast majority of gifts are worth a fraction of that. And just in case the policy isn't clear, at the last PTA meeting the principal reiterated over and over that parents are not expected to give gifts, than any gifts must be less than $25 and that there is really no reason even to give that much (and that a homemade holiday card is perfectly fine).
But yes, I miss David being in a school environment where Hanukkah is celebrated.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Tis the Season to be Jolly . . .

I miss David being in a school environment where Hanukkah is celebrated.
I don't miss Hanukkah gifts for the staff.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Preventing Abuse: Yeshivah vs. Public School

I have to go the police department to get fingerprinted in order to volunteer in David's school. I was floored. Yeshivos don't even fingerprint the teachers, and here in public school I have to be fingerprinted!
The plan is to switch David back into yeshiva at some (undetermined) point. I used to say concerning all the unknowns we faced when making the switch to public school that my worst fear is that we'll love it so much we won't want to switch him back as planned. So far I can't say that I "love" public school, but now my worst fear is that I won't want to switch him back since I've seen how dysfunctional yeshivos are even when compared to a public school I don't "love."
The whole fingerprinting issue brought this to the fore for me. It's always bothered me that yeshivos don't fingerprint teachers and, more importantly, don't institute mandatory reporting policies (as in public schools). At one point I did raise the issue with an administrator. Guess how seriously my concern was received.
As much as it bothered me, it had nothing to do with the reason we finally decided to switch David to public school. But now that he's in public school and I look back, I see some of contrasts even more clearly. I'm not talking about educational issues--which the truth is I don't know how to compare because I don't have a good reference point with which to judge--or administrative issues. But even simple safety issues like fingerprinting and mandatory reporting. (Or a little thing like using seat belts on school buses, another issue I wasted my breath on--as if school buses never get into accidents and the occupants injured. Or a nuissance like bullying. David's old school was pretty lax on bullying, but in his public school it is taken seriously.)
So my worst fear is no longer that I will love the public school. Because even if I hate it, I will feel trapped in middle with no good option. I'm not sure how I agreed to begin with to entrust David's safety with people who don't take it seriously, but now that he's no longer there, how can can I put him back in that environment?
(And some of my critics actually believe that I'm the one who is putting my child at risk of physical harm davka because I put him in public school?!)
Postscript: This post is something that's been on my mind for a couple of weeks. I finally wrote it up because of a post today on Hirhurim that references some new books that deal with sexual abuse. One of the authors, who feels very strongly about the issue, notes in a comment on the post that he is pessimistic because there is no mechanism to fix some of the underlying problems. I don't understand how people who acknowledge that community's response to abuse is flawed and at the same time admit little will change, then continue to patronize yeshivos.

Ora Update

Yesterday Ora kept on crawling into the kitchen while I was working. She sat down next to me and kept on blowing me kisses. No matter how many times the babysitter carried her out, she kept on returning to blow kisses.
She just learned how to blow kisses, although her coordination is off. She covers her mouth and kisses, but waits a few seconds before waving her hand forward. This amplifies the sound and makes it sound funny. It was also really funny when she blew kisses with the pacifier in her mouth. (She reminds a lot of Maggie Simpson with her pacifier.)
* * *
Her hair is very thin, but starting to grow out a bit. (David's hair was also very thin, but it hardly grew out at all.) It's very cute when her bangs cover her eyes.
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Ora likes sour pickles.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Macabbeats vs. Samantha Fox

My jaw dropped when I heard the Macabbeats on the morning radio last week. I had heard about them, but I hadn't heard their song yet. And here it was on the radio! It's nice that a positive Jewish song can become so popular in the larger world, but as far as the song itself I wasn't particularly impressed. Not that my opinion matters, so I won't bore you with my critique.
But I will bore you with my critique of a critique that I've read in a number places. Some have dismissed the song as a "freak" novelty. I.e., the only reason it's garnered any attention in the larger world is because the frum singers have an exotic or curiosity element to them. (Similarly, it was argued, Matisyahu isn't really that good and in large part his fame is due to the fact that his grooming and garb make him a curiosity.)
To this I respond, so what?
Did anyone really think that Samantha Fox (the mega-popular 80s singer) had a better voice than all the other aspiring singers out there? Was there really anything that separated her from the pack other than her famous chest (which she famously insured for a quarter of a million pounds)?
If Samantha Fox and all the other mediocre pop singers can use their own gimmicks to propel themselves to stardom, let the Macabbeats benefit from their own gimmick.

Ora/David Update

Ora turned one year old last Friday. We made her small and quick party right before Shabbat started and she enjoyed thrusting her fingers into the cupcake-on-steroids that Kinneret brought home.
Babbles a ton, but still no words. No independent walking yet. We've added omelets to her menu and she enjoys them. She is very attached to her pink blanket and she snuggle with it no matter where she is. David never had a security blanket, but he couldn't go anywhere without taking a few cars with him.
David gets bigger and bigger ever day. He was able to spin a dreydel on Hanukkah, which really surprised us. Last week he was able to finish anim zmiros in shul for the first time. He ivre is very good, but he doesn't have a strong voice and I'm afraid that when some of the other boys start finishing off with him they will overpower him and he will conform to their ivre. Two weeks ago he asked me to start teaching him yigdal and hopefully soon he'll start saying that in shul as well. He can also lein about the first fifteen psukim of Breishis, but I haven't really kept up with him on this. His favorite subjects in school are math and reading and he said he also likes Spanish.
David has always been a bit of a kano'i and last week he got into a verbal altercation with a friend at Hebrew school because the friend said he didn't care about mezuzos.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Decorous Synagogue, Morocco, ca. 1670s

From Lancelot Addison's popular volume on Moroccan Jews, The Present State of the Jews (London, 1675):

In time of Prayers none are permitted openly to spit, belch yawn, or blow the Nose. All of which they do in great Secrecy in the Synagogue, when they have occasion. Neither may they spit, or any such thing, to the right hand or before them; because of the Angels, which have made those places their Situation in the Synagogue.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Israeli Version of Stand and Deliver

Who hasn't seen "Stand and Deliver," the wonderful cinematic dramatization of how Jaime Escalante took a class of troubled and poorly educated East Los Angeles Mexican teenagers and managed to teach AP Calculus?
Now watch the heartwarming Israeli documentary "Tichon ha-Hizdamnut ha-Acharonah" (click here), in which a dedicated principal and his teachers take a group of Israel's worst high school seniors and prepare them for bagrut (matriculation) exams.
1) The teachers were not trained as educators and came from other professions without any teaching experience. The twenty-nine-year old principal came without any experience as a teacher or an administrator and there was no mention of his educational credentials. (He came on the heels of a slew of rotating-door principals, with the previous one having lasted but one day.)
2) The students in the school seem mostly to belong to particular social-ethnic groups that historically have not fared well on the path to absorbing into Israeli society. It is depressing to think that after six decades this is still a problem. I don't mean this as a criticism of modern Israel or the Zionist enterprise and I hope it isn't interpreted as an attempt to be motzi shem ra. Yes, Israel has come so far and achieved so much in its short history. But it's still depressing to read about ecstasy parties, mafia hits and an educational system that is plagued by wide gap in quality and results.
3) I was disappointed with the Russian girl at the end.
4) The principal sports a kippah. Not that it matters.

Ora Stands?

She let go of David's train table to clap her hands and was standing without support for a few seconds.
Also, yesterday when I waved to her she picked up both up her arms and waved her hands around.