America’s into talent of all types, and we seem eager to watch, based on show ratings and tallies of millions calling in to vote for their favorites. This past Sunday we had a school talent show. In what was a thoroughly enjoyable display of amateur ability we had singing, dancing, a fencing demonstration, quick sketching, a song parody, comedy, and dramatic readings. What made this display of skill so energizing and exciting? I think part of it was giving teens the opportunity and freedom to express themselves in ways besides the academic.
We say that in our environment teachers should share more of “who they are” with their students, as these role-modeling opportunities are built into the fabric of Jewish educational programming. This works both ways. Students also need to share their talents with teachers, and not in ways that are limited to annual classroom ice breakers.
At the show, we were able to see these students at their best, doing what they love while being generous enough to share it with others. It’s interesting that as much as we think they might be afraid to be judged by their peers, they were incredibly open about performing in front of them. I hope that we will continue to give our teenagers opportunities to shine and get applause.
credit: Mike D'Angelo
How can we get our own students to love us the way their friends do?
This past Purim, students were asked to bring friends to school to share in the festivities. Out of over 200 students, only one brought his friends because he wanted them to experience a fun holiday like Purim. As it happened, his friends weren’t Jewish. As it also happened, they had a great time. They loved being in a ‘unique, challenging, fun and educational place’ !
In a recent small focus group at the school, we were trying to get to know students a bit better, and what makes them decide to attend. We asked them why, if they enjoy attending so much (satisfaction rates are above 90%), they don’t bring their friends. They basically said that ‘unless cookies were falling from the sky’ they wouldn’t ask their friends to come. Oh, and they also asked if we were kidding: didn’t we realize that since they were attending on a Sunday morning their friends already think they’re crazy and that they wouldn’t be caught dead asking their friends to wake up early to join them?
So, I’m trying to put this together with a recent news item by Rabbi Justus N. Baird in the Religion section of the Huffington Post . He reports on several studies (one of which was a decade’s worth by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), which show these same results: that American attitudes toward Jews are as positive — or even a few degrees warmer — as attitudes toward Catholics, and significantly higher than toward any other religious group (the Pew data does not ask about attitudes toward Protestants).
Even the Anti-Defamation League had similar responses to the surveys they conducted. So, this should make us feel very good, very secure, and surely steady enough on our feet to hear the term Pro-Semitism without falling over.
Love from our students? I think we get that, it’s just that they won’t tell anyone else about that….except maybe their non-Jewish friends.
It seems that South Koreans have figured out what trains our brains and gives us (according to them) an intellectual edge: engaging in Talmud Study. Close to fifty million Koreans have studied the Talmud, and in a country where most people are Christian or Buddhist, that is a persuasive number.
It is interesting to note that most homes have a copy of the Talmud in Korean (picture courtesy of the Embassy of South Korea). I wonder how Talmud is being taught there and how it’s being presented to young learners. Perhaps we could learn a few tips from them and interest teenagers in furthering their Jewish education.
The next time your teen asks you why Jewish education is important, you might just have an interesting answer.
That’s actually the opposite of the way I feel, but before I whine about how I’d like more parents involved in what their teens are doing at a Jewish supplementary school, I have to think about the messages they’re getting from the secular world about how much their presence is desired.
How often are parents part of the picture at middle school? High School? When my children were in elementary school, there were numerous ways to be involved: classroom parent, library aide, PTO member, usher, office worker, committee member –and encouragement to volunteer my time any way I could.
So, what happened as my children got older? All of a sudden, the welcome mat disappeared. Whether this was intentional, implicit, or perhaps inspired by teens who would much rather not associate publicly with their parents is a mystery. This experience has been confirmed with other parents, especially when invited for programs and they tell me they’ve promised their teenaged children complete anonymity and decide to stand ‘way in the back’ unnoticed. So, contrary to popular expectations, I want parents to show up. A place in the back guaranteed but not condoned.
I can’t help thinking about it. Why do our most committed students keep their Jewish involvements a secret? Even from Jewish professionals? Are we guilty of modelling that behavior to them?
I co-facilitated a workshop a week and a half ago that featured a teen panel (volunteers) who were asked to discuss communication and other issues that are important to them. There was no set criteria to be on the panel and they were not billed as “Super Jews”. These were teens who were willing to share their opinions with a group of Jewish educators and parents.
None of the adults knew the students personally. Ironically, the teens all opted to continue their education past the age of the infamous Bar/t Mitzvah drop-off, and are enrolled in supplementary synagogue and community high schools. A majority of them are well into their senior year of high school. Some are taking college level courses and earning Teaching Certificates. Yet, when introducing themselves to this group of Jewish parents and educators they mentioned their secular high schools, towns of residence, some hobbies, but none said that they were currently enrolled in a Jewish supplementary high school program (ignoring the kvell factor entirely). Why the secret?
Our students may be compartmentalizing their lives, and we may have trained them to do so: “I go to hebrew school on Sundays and Tuesdays, baseball practice on Wednesdays, debate class on”…..and so on. I’ve even heard students say on occasion: “When I’m here, this is my time to do things Jewish (sic), I don’t have time to do (extra research, projects, language practice) anything in addition to that. I only have this amount of time for that.”
Even if I get the fact that their time is limited, the question I still need to ask is “okay, so why are you keeping what you’re doing a secret? Why aren’t you proud of the fact that you’re doing this double academic load? Why is doing this not a cool thing to do? ”
The question I need to ask myself is whether, as a Jewish educator, I’m helping to ‘keep the secret’. Am I complicit in setting this standard by not talking about my Jewish life outside of class? Am I modelling what I want my students to do?