Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bart or Lisa- Who's Correct?- Finding the Right School for our Children

I love Plato, but I love the truth more.


Our Country! ... may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!

-Stephen Decatur

Over the years, I have seen a number of episodes of the Simpsons. The shows are almost always funny and clever, and, occasionally, cross the line into brilliance. By far, my favorite episode is “Like Father, Like Clown”. It tells the story of Krusty the Clown, a bitter, somewhat obnoxious host of a TV show for children, who is a favorite of Bart and Lisa. When he comes to their house for dinner, he reveals that he is Jewish, and is estranged from his father who is an Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Krustofski (brilliantly the voice was that of Jackie Mason), who comes from a long line of rabbis, is horrified that his son has become a clown and has severed all ties with him. The episode centers around Bart and Lisa's attempt to reconcile father and son. After a few failed attempts, they have the following conversation:

Lisa: “Bart, what do rabbis value more than anything?”

Bart: “Those funny looking black hats?”

Lisa: “No Bart. The truth!”

Choosing the right school for our children is very difficult. There are all sorts of pressures, including social ones. Each community has a limited number of schools which are acceptable to its members. What if it's clear either from the start, or after our children have been at one of those schools, that none are giving our children the education that they need? What if the school that seems to be right for my daughter is outside of what my community deems acceptable? What if my son needs a more open-minded yeshiva? At that moment we are put to the Bart-Lisa test. What do we value most: being on the right team, with the right headgear, school, shul and camp choices, or the truth, the needs of our children, and doing what's best for them?

As a child, I was a decent, but unexceptional athlete. I yearned to be on my school basketball team, but was not good enough to make the cut. I decided that when I was a father, I would work with my son from a young age to ensure that he would be a good athlete. As I got older, and more into Torah learning, my plan switched. Now I would push my son in Torah to make up from my late start at serious learning. It was with this desire that I jumped at an offer to meet with Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg ZT”L, when he came to Baltimore in 1999. My oldest son was three years old at the time, and we were on the verge of choosing a school for him. The two choices that we considered were both yeshivish, but one was more “modern” and the other was more intense. I wanted to send our son to the latter, but lacked the guts to make the decision myself. Rabbi Scheinberg, I thought, would make it for me. I was sure he would choose the same yeshiva I had. When I explained my question to him, he looked at my son who I was holding on my lap and asked how old he was. When I told him, he told me “Relax. He's young. Let him play”. He continued by saying that he could not tell me which school was better, but that when I was ready to make the choice, to “choose the one whose principal best understands children's psychology.

“Chanoch l'naar al pi darko” (educate a child according to his way). If Shlomo HaMelech had a dollar for every time that passuk was quoted, he would be, well, a king. On the other hand, if he had a dollar for only the times that passuk was applied, he'd need a second job. Over the years, I've seen students switch schools from “frummer” schools to more “modern” ones. Often, something remarkable happens. The boy, who didn't have such a head for learning, suddenly thrives as the star of the play, or the editor of the school newspaper. The girl who was a rebel for wearing colorful striped socks, is now the rebbetzin, proud of being the most religious one in her class. To be sure, this doesn't always happen, but I am not suggesting that this is the right choice for every child. I am suggesting that parents consider more options when considering schools for their children, particularly when they are looking make a switch. I well understand the social pressure of sending a child to a school outside of the community norm. Peer pressure exists beyond childhood. Still we need to decide whether we are willing to sacrifice our child's welfare for the sake of the “team”, or whether we are truly interested in helping our sons and daughters find their truth.

1 comment:

  1. As a parent of an 8th grade boy, I very much appreciated this post. We are currently bouncing back and forth between a local boys high school and an out-of-town (but in the same time zone) school.

    Finding a place where your child wants to thrive in isn't so easy.