Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Teaching our children middos- Who does it the best?

“The words of a child in the market come from either the father or mother”

Sukkah 56b

I am often asked about which school or type of school does the best job teaching middos. The question is based on fundamental misunderstanding.

The gemara in Bava Basra (21a) teaches that Yehoshua ben Gamla established the first yeshivahs, due to the fact that some fathers could no longer fulfill their obligation of teaching Torah to their sons. He is praised for this action, which is described as preventing Torah from being forgotten from the Jewish people. Essentially, when it came to talmud Torah, the educator became in loco parentis.

This was only true for the teaching of Torah, or teaching of texts. Presumably, this did not cover other areas such as middos and davening (which I will address in my next post), which the father (and mother) could still teach.

The gemara in Sukkah, from which the introductory quote is taken, discusses why a family of Kohanim were punished. It tells the story of a woman from their family who spoke publicly in a disrespectful way about God. The gemara asks why the family was collectively punished for her actions as an individual. The answer is that she would not have said this, had she not heard similar things at home. Any parent of pre-school children is familiar with a child repeating something at school, that the parent wishes was private. The gemara here is not discussing a child. It discusses a married woman. It takes for granted that even years later, the attitude that one sees in their home as a child, is ingrained in the psyche.

Ever wonder why there are so many different middos programs that schools use? It seems to me that there are so many because they are trying to accomplish the impossible. Schools can help teach manners. They can help reinforce proper actions or behaviors. They can not teach middos. You as a parent are the only one who can do it.

The scary thing is, all parents do so, whether or not we intend to. The curriculum is our own middos and our children see them all the time, both good and not so good. They see how we talk about rabbis and teachers, how we treat the strange lady at shul, if we make snide comments about others, whether we pause to help a poor person and we behave when we disagree with our spouse..

Who does the best job teaching middos? You do.