Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dark Side

"Everybody's got a dark side; do you love me? Can you love mine?" 
-Kelly Clarkson

The philosophies that we FFB's (people who are Frum From Birth) are raised with differ depending on which communities we're born into. Some communities focus strictly on the importance of scholarly knowledge; others believe that it's what you do and how you behave that matters most. 

The community that I grew up in had a strong emphasis on thinking positively. Long before "The Secret" became popular, the leaders and teachers of my community were teaching, "Think good and it will be good." (And with that a bunch of readers are going, "Hey! I know what community you're a member of!) 

The teaching of, "Think good and it will be good" is that if you think positively, and honestly believe that G-d will give you good things, that you will actually experience those good things. 

If you've read my blog, you know I have a lot of issues with my community; this teaching is not one of them. I think it's a beautiful way to live your life - to always think positively. 

[Not that it's easy. It isn't. Just about the only time that I see it work consistently is (as per "The Secret"'s instructions) in finding a parking space. Literally, I'll say out loud, "G-d, please give me a parking space," in a parking garage that I've been driving around in for 15 minutes and someone will pull out right in front of me. It's awesome.] 

But what happens when you can't think positively? When you've experienced a tragedy, or are in a difficult life situation? It's easy to tell people, "Just think good and everything will be fine!" What about when things aren't fine? 

When I heard Kelly Clarkson's song, "Dark Side", a song that acknowledges that we all have struggles and difficulties, I was struck by the lyrics' willingness to admit that, "Nobody is picture perfect; but we're worth it; you know that we're worth it." 

Because the underside of being raised with the, "Think positively!" message is that we aren't allowed to admit that sometimes we don't think positively; sometimes we aren't perfect. 

And if you grow up in a world where no one admits that they have imperfections, you start to think that you're the only imperfect one. That something's wrong with you because you're not perfect, when, in fact, no one is. 

I think it's time for us to erase the taboo that imperfection is wrong. We're human - all of us. That means that we aren't perfect. We have "dark sides". And that's okay. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Overheard: Therapy Before Marriage

Exerts from a conversation I overheard on Shabbat

Woman #1: "Everyone should go to therapy in order to get to know who they are as a person before they get married."

Woman #2: "You get to know yourself in marriage. You grow up together."

Woman #1: "Well, there are going to be a lot of stumbling blocks along the way if you choose to do it that way."

This is a common discussion in the frum world because people get married at such young ages and with so few real-life experiences that it's nearly impossible for them to already know who they are as people. The answer nearly-always given is the one of Woman #2 above: That young couples grow up together and get to know themselves through their joined experiences. 

I'm going to refrain from criticizing at this point and just ask readers: 

What do you think? Is this a good or a bad way to grow up? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let's All Be Teachers

In the community that I was raised in we're taught that we can all be teachers, no matter what our education level. 

"If all you know is aleph," (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet,) the saying goes, "then you teach that aleph!"

It's an encouragement to share what you know with those who know less in an attempt to increase learning and understanding in the world. 

It's an admirable mission. I heartily believe that education is the best way to improve our standard of living, so I applaud all efforts to spread wisdom to the masses. 

Yes, it's a wonderful philosophy... Until it is applied to school staffing. Until you find that your teachers have little to no training or that the schools will hire just about anyone to teach their students. 

I experienced it both as a student and as a teacher. When I was very young, I didn't realize that my eighteen and nineteen year old teachers had neither the education nor the life experience to be educators. When my classmates and I did start to realize it, in about sixth grade, we took full advantage of our teachers' youth and inexperience by raising hell in their classrooms. We scared away teacher after teacher. As one school administrator told us, "You chew them up and spit them out!" 

When I was, myself, nineteen, I took my own turn working in one of the schools. I was hired as a teacher's assistant in a classroom of three and four year-olds, despite my warning to the school principal that I had zero experience with children. I'd told myself, as a (younger) kid that I'd never   be the one to subject children to an untrained teacher by becoming one myself, but I needed a job, jobs outside of the community are frowned upon, and they were willing to hire me, so I took it. 

I hated that job. I loved the children, but as a member of the school staff I saw the way that things were run, most significantly the way that they treated their teachers, (very poorly,) and I dreaded every day that I spent in that institution. 

Because I loved the children, I was determined to treat them with the best care I could offer them. I held them when they cried, when they had tantrums and when they were sent to the corner; I couldn't stand to see such innocent souls upset. I took special care with the children who didn't seem to have friends or couldn't keep up with their classmates academically, but there was very little I could do because my job was to do what the teacher told me to do, and that usually kept me too busy to give the children individual attention.

I don't know how long I would have continued working under these conditions if after two years of working in the school I was refused a raise (I was being paid close to minimum wage) and I said, "Well, if they're not going to give me a raise then I'm not coming back." 

It was the last day of the school year and I nearly skipped my way home. I knew I would miss the kids but I was just so incredibly happy to be out of that school. I was lucky enough to find a better job in an industry outside of education and I've never gone back. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has that option. Parents are limited in their choices of where they can send their children if they want them to be in a Jewish environment and teachers are often stuck in their jobs because they don't have the education or training to work in any other profession. (Never mind the fact, previously mentioned, that working outside of the community is frowned upon and teaching jobs seem to be the only ones open to religious women.)

Which is terribly ironic, you know. That those who are supposed to educate are uneducated themselves. 

I'm not saying that they're all bad teachers. They're not; especially the ones who care about the children enough to research teaching methods on their own so that they can offer a better classroom experience. 

I know that in posting this piece I risk upsetting a number of friends and acquaintances who are,  themselves, teachers in the Jewish school system. I ask them to please read this with an open mind and instead of getting upset, to provide feedback (in the comments area) with their thoughts on the subject.