Monday, December 30, 2013

Our Way

Facebook is a gem of, as Hungarians put it, "yenta-shag." One can find info on potential dates, on the lifestyle of someone I just met, and how classmates from a hundred years ago live now.

It never ceases to amaze me how little import elementary and high school has. 

For myself, I was molded by my parents, not my teachers. Often, the two would clash.
"Lea, you are a growing girl by leaps and bounds," my high school principal purred when I was in 10th grade (yes, I know I'm tall, thank you). "However, your skirt can't quite keep up. Have the hem let down, please."

I came home and told Ma about the edict. "Your skirt is fine," Ma said firmly. "I'm not letting it down." 

A few days later, principal beareth down upon me, her voice a trifle less breathless. "I thought I told you to have your hem let down." 

Of all the excuses, she wasn't expecting mine. 

"My mother says it's fine." 

She freaked, for lack of a better word. "It doesn't matter what your mother thinks!" she snapped. Score one for kibud eim, lady. Teachable moment, gone. 

Ma's response was unchanged. "I pay the tuition," she decreed. "I say your skirt is fine." 

This battle of wills, with me as the inept middleman, went on for a bit until I wept for mercy. 

"Ma, please," I begged, "she won't leave me alone. Could you just let it down?" 

Grumbling not-so-under her breath, she painstakingly let down the hem, carefully pinned the pleats, and neatly ironed them into place. 

The principal's face beamed with the satisfaction that I wasn't happy to give her; she was just lucky that I can't stand confrontation.

Yet a mere few years later I was out. Free. I didn't go to seminary, and I was as unchecked as the flying birds in what I wanted to wear. Which was a skirt that ended right below my knee, not mid-calf, which is, like, the most unflattering length ever

Why do they push so hard when they know it will be for naught? As Facebook tells me, a number of my former classmates are in miniskirts, jeans, v-necks, tank tops. A few even post photos swapping spit with their significant others (gross). Some of them are still frum, while others are not.  

What was the far-reaching point of that small victory? That I would behave forevermore as though she were looking over my shoulder? 

Her job was to teach me the basics of Jewish beliefs, not to replace my parents. My entire Bais Yaakov years was an infomercial for the sitting and learning lifestyle, but I was raised to prefer the path of the employed husband. My upbringing held its own despite the teachers' factually weak yet no less energetic attempts to insist that the kollel lifestyle is a biblical mandate.

There are three shitfim: Abba, Ima, and the Eibishter. While school provides necessary education as to the technicalities of Yiddishkeit, that does not give them the right to take over another's family mesorah. My parents made sure of that.

I came across an article a few years ago (and had no joy trying to find the online version) of a frum family who made the choice to homeschool their son when he could not be accommodated at the local one-size-fits-all yeshiva. That is a major undertaking, and I wouldn't choose it for myself (it's so much work!) but it is wonderful that it is now a growing option.

No school is supposed to take the place of parents, or say that the way of life a child was raised should be swapped for another. After wandering around for 2,000 years, there is no "right" way of being a Jew. Who is to say one's background is better than someone else's?
And my Zeidies would have no problem with anything I wear. 


Anonymous said...

Schools need to have certain rules for the sake of consistency. If you don't want to abide by them, you don't must attend that school. Whether or not these rules help you (later) in life is irrelevant. It isn't really about that.

While chinuch should primarily come from the home, it becomes a problem when a parent disagrees with the school (in a less machmir way) and makes it known to the kid. Mixed messages is what can more likely send a kid in calf-length skirts into jeans. Just saying.

Princess Lea said...

Judaism is a big, chaotic mess, and every Jew has their own ideas of what the ideal is. Does that mean for every type of Jew a child bumps into, he will be confused by mixed messages?

Mixed messages are only a problem inside of the home. If, let's say, a parent demands a certain type of behavior but doesn't follow through on their end. (The psychologist who is a friend of the family told us so).

Anonymous said...

No to the first, because hopefully the people that the child looks to for guidance can lead him about what is right for him.

As a side note, "big chaotic mess" sounds derogatory. I like to think of Judaism as a team or such that has a bunch of different people wearing different uniforms because they all have different jobs towards achieving the team's goal.

So then a child should ignore everything that her teachers in school say? What's the point of going to school then? Don't send a child to a school where you disagree with the hashkafa!

Gavi said...

It never fails to amaze me how some Jewish school systems seem to think that their particular version of the dress code is more important than the rest of halacha and hashkafa put together!

Nechama said...

I'm reading and going "phew" because the school I plan to send my daughter to does not hold standards that I approve of. I want a daughter more modestly dressed than my students.

That being said, as a teacher I emphasize hashkafa over cracking down on the dress code. Maybe it's not sending the message home, but I try to stick with what actually WORKS.

Then again, I might just be wary of confrontation, too.

And PL, I think that when parents and school disagree it can undermine the chinuch. Why would a student listen to a teacher if parents hold otherwise? Parents should view staff as teammates in raising and guiding their children. Schools should reciprocate and work together. Brings to mind the classic cartoon: when once the parent demanded high marks from the child, now the parents demand high marks form the teacher, without student needing to feel any degree of responsibly...

Princess Lea said...

Anon: In terms of "big, chaotic mess," Judaism is unique in that in that hodgepodge yes, we all have a common goal. That said, where would mixed messages be a problem, if we all have the same goal?

No, a child does not ignore everything a teacher says. A teacher is supposed to teach basics: Aleph-beis. Rashi. Basic halacha (which can get messy because different rabbanim differ in rulings).

However, when a teacher says "The only way to be a good frum girl is if you marry a sitting and learning boy," I am not "allowed" to object? I can't speak? I must silently accept? That sounds a lot like Christianity, not like Judaism. We are encouraged to question. If the question cannot be answered, well, "No one died from an unanswered question."

"Don't send a child to a school where you disagree with the hashkafa"—like there is a school out there that is perfectly tailored to every individual home? Please. So what if I or my parents disagree with a teacher? It's not the end of the world! We can still all be frum, like you said, right?

Mesorah is from family, not who is arbitrarily assigned as my morah from year to year. I have free will, and so do you.

Gavi: They totally missed the forest for the trees. Kinda sad, really.

Nechama: Oh, sweetie, am I right that you don't teach in the NY-area, or even in the US? Schools can be large behemoths that have four 30-student classes per grade, and for the sake of economy and simplicity they don't focus on the individual child. We're less individualistic here, there's less variety, funnily enough. And many teachers or principals are all "It's my way or the highway": No teamwork.

I hate confrontation. My sympathies.

My parents expected good grades from me, not from the morahs; if I didn't do well it was always my fault, not my teachers. My parents are Europeans; no slacking off there.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, mixed messages are a problem even if we all share a common goal, because we don't all play the same position on the team. What works for him may not be right for you. Thus, looking at other Jews doing different things and following different rabbis doesn't send a child mixed messages if, like I said, he has someone to guide him in what's right for him. Mixed messages come from different mechanchim in the child's life telling him contradictory things.

You're right, chinuch should primarily come from the home, but more and more nowadays unfortunately it does not. We rely on our schools to teach our children to be good Jews. I think that is why sadly so many of our kids have gotten lost. School cannot take the place of a warm loving family who instills the warmth and excitement of Yiddishkeit.

As a side note, so many people are quick to blame the school system for kids who have left Yiddishkeit or are on the brink of leaving, but if it's really like you said, that school should teach skills and history and whatnot, then why is it their fault??

Back to the subject here though...Because kids don't get a sense of Jewish identity or love of Judaism from their families, we rely on schools to do that job. So, if you're entrusting this job to the school, you can't contradict them!

Obviously there is no school that is tailored to fit each individual's specific hashkafos, but that's why we have a brain. Filter! School is a microcosm of one's life. Each person must learn to take what applies to them within the ramifications of what their individual rav holds them to.

Everyone doesn't have to keep to the same things. Perkei Avos says "Aseh L'cha Rav." Each person needs their own rabbi, and he must follow what the rabbi holds to be true. What may be okay for me can be a sin for you. Yet, somehow it all works...because we were not meant to be the same!

Princess Lea said...

So we are agreed. Whenever I or my family heard of a child going off the derech, we never blamed schools. It didn't even occur to us as a option.

As I am saying here, my parents were the ones who gave me a sense of religion, and did not rely on schools. If they disagreed that my skirt was sufficiently modest being below the knee as opposed to mid-calf, they said so. That is what I am advocating here: more parental involvement and less outsourcing. Parents have to step up.

So if we are agreed that everyone has a brain and I can choose and filter and we don't all have to keep the same things, then what exactly was your original objection?

(BTW, for all the Anons out there, it would be easier for me if a tagline was used—even Anon 1).

Anonymous said...

Just that it can be harmful for a parent to disagree with the school so blatantly. It sends the kid mixed messages. Besides, the inches thing is not really about making you a good Jew, it's about following school rules. (It tells the kid first off that authority figures don't always have be regarded as such, and that they don't have to listen to school rules.) Do whatever you think makes you a good Jew at home, but in school follow the rules.

Princess Lea said...

(Head in hands, weeping)

Note I never said I was receiving mixed messages, or felt confused. You say, "It can be harmful if a parent disagrees with a school so blatantly." If, you mean, my mother disagreeing with the principal, it would seem I emerged unscathed.

I HIGHLY doubt it said anywhere in the school rules about an arbitrary line in skirt length. In those days, floor-length skirts were considered "bummy," since floor-length skirts were the style in general. Now every single BY girl I see now wears the very length my school abhorred.

I was the good kid in school. Always. Because my parents placed an emphasis on respecting elders, even if they are totally off base. I was never chutzpadik. Even if I thought and my parents thought a teacher was off her rocker, I was quiet and diligent in all my classes.

Here, a principal decided to arbitrarily pick on me, and she wasn't going to back down for no money. I can bet you that if I was another student, maybe one with a generous grandfather, she wouldn't have bothered.

A + B doesn't always equal C. My parents rarely argued with teachers. Only when they felt the matter merited an argument.