Posts Tagged Education and Parenting

A song of hope

An elaboration of remarks made this week at the l’chaim for my son Yaakov and his kallah, Amanda:

It’s especially fitting to celebrate an engagement this week, when we will observe Shabbos Shira.  It’s difficult for us to imagine what it was like for the Jews of Egypt when, after watching the systematic and miraculous obliteration of the empire that had oppressed them for generations, after witnessing the death of four-fifths of their brethren who refused to trust in the hand of heaven, after setting forth into the forbidding desert with great wealth and fanfare, after finding themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s advancing chariots and the unyielding sea – after all that, to launch themselves forward between towering walls of water may have been the only option available to them but was by no means a simple act of self-preservation.

Panic, desperation, terror, relief, and disbelief – all these emotions caromed back and forth through their collective consciousness as they raced forward into uncertainty.  And, as they came out soundly on the other side, the cacophony of thoughts and feelings coalesced into a divinely inspired harmony we call the Shir Shel Yam – the Song of the Sea.

For all that, the commentaries all question the syntax of the opening phrase, Oz yoshir Moshe u’vnei Yisroel – contextually translated as, “Then, Moshe and the Children of Israel sang,” but curiously rendered in the future tense rather than the past.  Explains the Sfas Emes:  although the people were inspired to sing as they passed through the sea, their preoccupation with the practical business of fleeing for their lives demanded that their lyrical expression of elation would have to wait until their salvation was completed.

And so we learn that Hashem is closest to us not during those times when we have already connected with Him, but rather when we are seeking Him with the sense that revelation is nearly within reach.  Naturally, we express our deepest gratitude after we have been saved.  But our most intimate connection with the Almighty comes during those moments when salvation is imminent but not yet complete.  Only then can we experience the spiritual intensity of absolute dependence upon divine intervention even as we see our redemption unfolding before our eyes.

Indeed, the Zohar tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu felt humbled when he beheld prophetically the generation before the coming of Moshiach.  For Moshe, who lived in an era of open miracles and divine revelation, it seemed a simple matter to trust in Hashem and His providence.  But to live in a generation of such spiritual darkness that even the faintest glimmer of divine light seemed to have vanished, and to retain nevertheless even the smallest shred of faithfulness to Hashem and His Torah – that was something the Moshe himself could not fathom; that was the source of his profound humility.

We find ourselves in such a generation, so much so that it’s easy for us to reckon ourselves like King Louis XV of France who said, “Things may last my time, but after me – le deluge.”

It’s terrifying to contemplate the world in which our grandchildren will grow up and the storms our children will have to navigate.  But on the occasion of this l’chaim, I’m filled with hope.

After two decades of trying, by constant teaching and imperfect modeling, to instill in my children the primacy of middos tovos, after laboring to impress upon them by any means that qualities such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, modesty, and respect are the foundations of Torah life and Torah society, I thank the Ribono Shel Olam that my son has chosen a young woman whose impeccably fine character testifies to the quality of her parents and her upbringing.  I look with nachas at my own son, whose maturation into a ben Torah and a ba’al middos testifies to the inscrutable power of tefillah.

And looking at them, I feel as the Jews must have felt when they were passing through the Yam Suf  – I want to sing shira.  For as frightened as I am for them and all the challenges they will have to face, they give me hope for the future and inspire me with confidence that very soon we will all merit the final redemption and the coming of  Moshiach.

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The Danger of Lowering our Expectations

Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.

The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes back to nearly 2,800 years ago and, in a very real sense, it lies at the heart of all the problems that have plagued the Jewish people ever since.

Read the whole article here.


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Mistaking Identity

Consider the Egalia preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, where staff avoid such culturally loaded words as “him” and “her,” addressing the children as “friends” rather than “boys and girls.” According to the AP, “breaking down gender roles is a core mission in [Sweden’s] national curriculum,” and many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to devise strategies for eliminating “stereotypes.”

Could they be right?


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No More Training Wheels

What my four year old son taught me about challenge and achievement.

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Thanking the Garbage Man

Lessons my two-year old taught me about appreciation and the power of a smile.

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1984 and the Language of Confusion

Sixty years after Orwell’s masterpiece, his message is more prophetic than ever.

And my apologies for the typo in the fifth from the last paragraph.  Essays on language should be pristine.

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Apostrophe Catastrophe

Someone once said that if the English language is going to die, at least it will die laughing. But this kind of story makes me want to cry.

Please read it, since you may not believe me without seeing it yourself.  In fact, I still can’t really believe it.

England has decided to remove aspostraphes from its street signs.  King’s Heath will now become Kings Heath.  What’s the reason?  Apostraphes are too confusing.

According to Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city’s transport scrutiny committee, “Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed,” he said. “More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don’t want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it.”

Maybe this is why Tom Daschle didn’t pay his taxes — he found them too complicated.  And perhaps that’s why Rod Blagojevich crashed and burned — he found bribery and corruption laws too confusing.  And no doubt this is why the auto industry continued manufacturing substandard gas-guzzlers, why the banking industry collapsed, and why congress is throwing a trillion dollars good dollars after a trillion bad — because responsible business practices and real solutions to difficult problems are just too hard to understand.

But don’t imagine that it can’t get any worse.  It will.  The closing of the American mind was probably never limited to North America, but it’s spreading like cancer.

It’s more important now to remember Aristophanes:  Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.

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Terror is the New Communism

Hey, I got a social disease!

Remember that line from West Side Story?  It seems that the street gangs of half a century ago may have had more on the ball than college students today.  Especially in light of the deeply disturbing conversation on a plane recounted here by Dennis Prager.

Apparently, from the lofty view of the ivory tower, terrorism is merely a foil for the political right to wield in its pernicious agenda to trample our civil rights — just like Communism was only a threat in mind of Joseph McCarthy.

With apologies to Ann Coulter, McCarthy was one of the great criminals of American history.  With apologies to academe, Communism was much worse.

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You only hurt the one you love

“Man Bites Dog” would be a welcome relief from the sometimes-terminal stupidity that seems to be making its way into the news, like this report from last month.

We’ve come to expect full intellelectual shut-down here in America, where Senator John Edwards failed to anticipate that  a $400 haircut might undermine his position as a man of the people, and where the CEOs of the Big Three auto makers flew to Washington, D.C., each in his own private jet, to ask congress for money to bail out their failing businesses.  But there’s something astonishingly disturbing about an adult who fails to recognize the difference between a giant Panda Bear and a puppy … or a Beany Baby.

“Yang Yang was so cute and I just wanted to cuddle him. I didn’t expect he would attack,” the 20-year-old student, surnamed Liu, said in a local hospital, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

As I’ve already written, the sages predict that the generation before the messianic era will be characterized by hesik haDa’as — the failure of reason.  Perhaps the militant activism for same-sex marriage and the search for affection from a brightly-colored omnivore are symptoms of the same affliction:  a profound, irrational confusion over the nature of love and intimacy.

There was a time, not so long ago, when sexual perversion may have existed but was kept securely locked in the closet.  Social pressure forced abherrent sexual behavior underground.  It existed, but it wasn’t fashionable.  Consequently, it wasn’t terribly attractive.

As the line of acceptibility shifts, we can expect more stories like this one, and further demands from the radical fringe.


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Tough Love on Trial

Take a look at how a Texas judge is stopping teenage truants from sliding into a cycle of undisciplined failure. Needless to say, the ACLU opposes him.  How is it possible that so many can so consistently be wrong about almost everything?

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