Yesterday, I had a meeting with our rabbi about N.'s religious education.
Since February, we have been unschooling Jewish education for N. The 7th grade class at the synagogue was long on sitting, notes, and tests, and short on hands-on activities and discussions. I discussed all of the reasons for our decision here. I had sent that blog directly to the rabbi, who, as far as I can tell, did not read it. On the last Sunday in April, I attended a parents meeting for the Religious Education Committee to hear what their plans are for the next year. The religious education program has been in some state of disarray for a long time. Two years ago, the educator that had been in place for a number of years resigned because her husband had gotten a new job in Colorado. She was a good educator, but over the years so much had been put on her plate that the core programs, the religious school, Hebrew school and the teen Machon program, were left to run themselves. Last year, we had a temporary educator on a one-year contract who made a number of recommendations to strengthen the core programs. She was a sharp lady and had a lot to say. This year, the congregation hired a new educator who, for various reasons that I do not know, was terminated within six months. As I understand it, the termination decision was based on performance rather than any egregious act. So, last week I attended that meeting for parents. And found out that after two-and-a-half-years of frustration, a promised special needs procedure was still not going to be put in place. GRRRR!
I know all of the reasons. We had set-backs due to all of the administrative changes. We are hiring a consultant to hold focus groups and make us look at ourselves--the good and bad--so that we can make constructive changes. They all sound reasonable--when it is not your kid who is losing out. So I made an appointment to talk to the rabbi about N.'s Jewish education. It was my plan to discuss an alternative program for N., mediated by me, composed of all of the components we have in place alreadly along with, hopefully, possibly,...some kind of service work at the synagogue. Please?
So I called the rabbi's secretary and made an appointment. And I began to think about what made my religious education a good one. (I can sum that up in three words: Camp and Sharon Kahn). And what we did that filled the sanctuary on holidays like Purim, when I was a young Hebrew teacher in the 1980's. I talked to MLC about the things that made it all fun and exciting when she was in the religious school. I talked to our "daughter of the heart," L, about what she remembered. And all of these ideas were jumbled in my head as I drove to my appointment with the rabbi yesterday.
Now, I actually, actively dread these kinds of appointments. I always resolve that I am going to appear professional and competent. I AM a teacher. I HAVE a master's in special education. But when it's about my baby, my own little boy, I always end up crying. It did not help that the rabbi was accusatory. The staccato tone of "So you did this...you agreed to this...and then you just pulled him out," felt a bit like gun fire. At this point I realized that he had not read my e-mail.
No, that's not quite it, rabbi. I met with D. (the inflexible teacher) and S. (the educator) in September. D. dictated the terms and did not bother to read the information I gave him about Asperger Syndrome and Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I did attend class with N. for 6 weeks. I saw that my presence was isolating N. from his peers (I was not just in the room, I was expected to sit with N. and make sure he took notes, like a helicopter parent, rather than be a general presence in the class) and I saw that N. was too busy trying to write and spell correctly to actually understand the content of the lecture. So I told N. to focus on listening to what was being presented (pretty difficult anyway for a kid with CAPD) and try to tell me one thing he had learned. I stopped going to class with him so that he would interact with his peers. I waited outside in case there were problems. In late November or early December, D. accosted me and yelled at me that N. was not learning because I was not coming to class and N. was not taking notes. I countered that N. was not learning because the pedagogy was completely unsuited to any 7th grader, let alone one with learning disabilities. I asked D. if he would please use graphic organizers because N. learns best visually. The response was "No." I asked if he could e-mail the content of the lecture power point to me on Tuesday, so that I could make the graphic organizers. No, again. I met with the educator, who promised that she would talk to D. and agreed that it was not appropriate for me to be in the classroom. Then we got caught up with the Bar Mitzvah--where N. surprised them all!-- and then the educator resigned. Having no recourse, and facing increasingly clear evidence that D. did not want my son in his class, and that N. was increasingly frustrated with the situation, I made other plans. The plans discussed here.
Sigh! I am getting all ferklempt just recounting this here! :( It's really embarrassing.
Like I said, when it's my kid...
So I got pretty passionate about what I think is needed. I was waving my arms a lot. Getting loud. Tears in the eyes. The whole ferklempt thing. And then it just came out of my mouth.
"If we want the kids to want to come, we have to make it theirs! They have to own it. They should be conducting services during religious school. They should be playing the guitar and leading the singing! They should be doing Judaism!"
Doing Judaism. Being Torah.
What a concept. Duh!
As I think about it, you know what the problem is with my generation? We do everything for our kids. No wonder the kids are disengaged. No wonder they roll their eyes when we talk at them about the wonders of Judaism, or of math, or of science, or of....anything. How would they know? They hear about it..from us. They watch a performance of it...by us. But we do not engage them in it. We do not require them to be responsible for it. They are passive. They know, as kids do, that we are egoizing to the max. It's all about us.
I feel a diatribe coming on:
Why was my Jewish education--gotten on the sly as my parents were not synagogue members--so exciting? Because we were drafted to lead services, play the music, sing the songs. We ran our own youth group meetings--sometimes badly. The advisor was just that--an advisor. A college student. We learned to be Jews by being Jews.
Why is N. so excited about Boy Scouts? Because his patrol works at being scouts. They follow a series of requirements--that is true. But those requirements require them to own scouting! Why does N. enjoy his Post-Bar Mitzvah class at Chabad? Because the rabbi who leads their discussions poses questions. He does not dictate answers. As the group struggles for answers, the concepts become theirs.
And why is homeschooling and unschooling so successful? Because we adults are stepping back. Relinquishing our places as "Sage on the Stage" to become "a guide on the side."
We are making it theirs.
Sigh. Sometimes I feel like I am from another planet. Too loud. Too big. Take up too much space. I don't think the rabbi "got it."