Posts Tagged Education

In Memoriam — Rav Ephraim Oratz z”l

proverbs-6How do you start to describe the one person most responsible for launching you on the path that has defined you for nearly a quarter century?

I never had any great desire to be a classroom teacher until I found myself under the tutelage of Rabbi Ephraim Oratz, whose unparalleled pedagogic genius and vast reservoir of Torah knowledge inspired me to embark upon my career as a rebbe.  Whatever I have accomplished in the field of Torah education is primarily because of him.

Rav Oratz was — if I may be permitted to use the term — the ultimate Torah-Renaissance man.  He possessed the passion of the Amshinover chassidim, theyekkishe precision of the German Jews, the academic discipline of the Lithuanian scholars, and the worldly nobility of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch, all rolled up — as Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz would say — into one selfless, total servant of the Almighty.

Rav Oratz was truly of the old school, with countless stories about growing up in the post-depression years, about learning and teaching in the old American day school system, about playing stickball on the streets of New York.  He told me once how his father had to go out every Monday morning to find new employment, because his Sabbath-observance cost him his job time and time again.  More incredibly, Rav Oratz didn’t learn of this until years later; his parents kept the children in the dark so they wouldn’t feel insecure.

In our coddled generation, that kind of mesiras nefesh — self-sacrifice — is almost entirely forgotten.

Coddling was one term absent from Rav Oratz’s educational lexicon.  He understood with every fiber of his being that self-esteem is not given, it is acquired by learning discipline and discovering the joy that comes from struggle and success.  He never acknowledged good work with exuberant cries of excellent, fantastic, or well done.  Instead he responded with a silent nod, a quick smile, a short nu, nu or, on one extraordinary occasion, with not bad, not bad at all.  That was high praise indeed.

Rav Oratz would arrive exactly two minutes before each class, replace his hat with his yarmulke in one smooth, practiced motion, then look inscrutably around the room, which was usually less than half full when it was time to begin.  On one occasion, when there were only two of us present on time, he looked at me and asked, “Is something else going on this evening?”

I shrugged my shoulders.  Rav Oratz shook his head.  “Just one of those things I guess I’ll never understand,” he said.

There weren’t many things Rav Oratz didn’t understand.  In two years of classes I never heard him unable to answer a question, although he could hold his tongue indefinitely when he wanted us to come up with the answers on our own.

“Wouldn’t you have hated to have him as a rebbe?” a member of the Ohr LaGolah leadership-training program once commented — after Rav Oratz was safely out of earshot.

“Wouldn’t you love to have had him as a rebbe now?” I shot back.

There’s nothing more inspirational than witnessing a true master do something as well as it can be done.  Watching Rav Oratz teach made me want to be a teacher.  That was it.  My course in life was set, without prompting, without a sales pitch, with just enough encouragement to convince me that I could succeed if I put my heart into it.  And I wanted nothing more than to do what he could do, even if I did it only half as well he could.

 

Read the whole essay here.

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NOW IN PRINT!

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A collection of insightful Torah essays that will change the way you look at the world and at yourself.

A Crucible for Silver
Forging a brighter future for our children and ourselves

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson

Read the title essay here.

Available at Block Yeshiva High School, the Kollel bookstore, or from the author

$18 Donation (+ $3 postage)
All proceeds go to Block Yeshiva

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Who is honored…?

imagesI am honored to learn that I will be recognized at this year’s Block Yeshiva Scholarship Gala, acknowledging my 18 years of service to the school.  Mostly, it has been my privilege to be part of an institution that can justifiably claim so much success:  our students and alumni consistently strike a beautiful and delicate balance between Torah and secular culture, between the spiritual and the material worlds, and between meticulous observance of Torah law and development of moral character.  Perhaps our greatest shortcoming has been our limited success in highlighting all we have achieved.

To learn more about Block, take a look at our blog.

For gala reservations and ad journal tribute opportunities, click here.

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The thought police widen their net

Thank you, Glenn Garvin, for paying attention.  The Miami Herald columnist reports what the rest of us were too preoccupied to notice:

In an order to the University of Montana that they labeled “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” Obama’s Justice and Education departments created a sweeping new definition of sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct.”

(Or, as those more familiar with the English language call it, speech.)

Who gets to define “unwelcome”? The listener and the listener alone — no matter how high-strung, neurotic or just plain pinheaded that person is. The feds’ letter is quite explicit: the words don’t have to be offensive to “an objectively reasonable person” to be considered harassment.

Given that standard of guilt, it’s perhaps not very surprising that the government says anybody accused of harassment can be punished even before he or she is convicted.

Mr. Garvin goes on to identify a partial list of authors whose provocative works stand in danger of censorship under these new edicts:  Shakespeare,  Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and Anne Frank, to name a few.  He then continues:

But surely, you say, surely nobody will take the letter of the law to such absurd extremes. And surely you are wrong: They already have. Brandeis University went after a professor for uttering the word “wetback” during a lecture — no matter that he was criticizing its usage.

A janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis was disciplined for reading a disapproving book on the Ku Klux Klan. Marquette ordered a graduate student to remove a “patently offensive” quotation by Dave Barry from his door:  “As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”

So what do we have here?  If someone takes offense, even where any “objectively reasonable person” would see no cause for offense, the perpetrator is guilty without recourse to due process or appeal.

In a land of political correctness run amok, feelings are the ultimate currency of social interaction.  Reason, logic, intellectual discipline, objective reality — none of these mean a thing if there is the slightest risk of hurt feelings.

Or perhaps there is a deeper fear.  Not the pain of hurt feelings, but the pain of having to think, the pain of developing  a work ethic, the pain of personal accountability.  Apparently, the truism of no pain, no gain applies only in the gym and not in the halls of academe.

Is this really what we want for our children?  Is it really what we want for ourselves?  Or are those questions simply too painful to think about?

Read Glenn Garvin’s full article here.

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What teachers really want to tell parents

Published at CNN.com by Ron Clark, Disney’s Teacher of the Year

This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, “You can’t leave us,” and she quite bluntly replied, “Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can’t deal with parents anymore; they are killing us.”

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list “issues with parents” as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

Read the whole article here.

A few choice quotes:

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.

Trust us… And please don’t ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

If you don’t want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren’t succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

And parents, you know, it’s OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong.

In all honesty, it’s usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal’s office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has “given” your child, you might need to realize your child “earned” those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.

And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, “I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me.” If you aren’t happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don’t respect her, he won’t either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask — and beg of you — to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That’s a teacher’s promise, from me to you.

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