Thursday, May 10, 2007

Making It Theirs

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 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 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.

End diatribe.

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."


Anonymous said...

I have linked to this posts and made my comments on my blog. I hope you don't mind me quoting you. There times in my post where I appear to use the words synagogue and church interchangeably; I realize they are not the same and I hope this isn't offensive. It is only my bungling of the English language. Please stop by and let me know what you think. If the post is a problem for you I will take it down.

Megan Bayliss said...

Ah E, you capture the very tenets of workable community development well. Kids are humans, humans like to have a sense of belonging through ownership. Their values, ideas, vitality and knowing are so important in making kid focused activities functional.
I LOVED this post.
The reason we have tear ducts is to let the tears come out.
Go mother woman.

Anonymous said...

Make it theirs - I have been saying that for years as to why our homeschooling works.. it is because the work is their choosing in many ways. They have a stake in it. And it doesn't matter if your kids have abilities or disabilities.. making life theirs is what matters.. and too often adults forget this even though they want their life to be theirs as well.

Elisheva... you rock!

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

There must be something in the air this week. I blogged along somewhat similar lines I think also on May 10 and then was directed to FallingLikeRain's blog, which then directed my to your post. I love your last line--I think that sums it all up.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

Sorry--I am the previous poster and I forgot to leave my calling card:

K. said...

Oh wow, how frustrating. I get ferklempt a lot too, sometimes I think it's just being tired of always having to advocate because the world would rather blame our children's problems on us than help us meet their challenges. Sigh, been there soooo many times, and just really wanted to say I hear you!

Anonymous said...

Yup, yup, yup--you hit on two of my biggest concerns with Christian education in my denomination: that it's completely inhospitable to non-traditional learners, and that kids never get to "practice" their faith. They learn (maybe), but they don't do their faith. They don't get a chance to be their faith.

Rant away. You're absolutely right.

Shawna said...

When I was going to university to earn my teaching credential I had an English professor who gave us a piece to read in which the author stated that as teachers we tend to want to give our students information, like making a deposit, and then ask them to regurgitate it, like a withdrawl...and true learning does not take place like that.

You are so right--the kids need to own their own learning!!!!

Kudos to you for standing up for something you belief strongly in--your child!!!!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Wow! I really touched a nerve here. I did not realize that this problem is so widespread across denominations and religions. I think I was on to something important when I said it was a generational thing!