Who Is To Blame?
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber

Sometimes it seems as though parents have relinquished the job of educating their children to the schools. Although schools play a significant role in our childrenís education, giving them all the responsibility is itself irresponsible. Who knows a child better than his parents, who have been with him from the moment he came into the world?

Question: When our child returns home from school, our job as parents is to continue the educational process. Which values should we focus on with the child when he is at home?

Answer: First Iíd like to provide some background.

It seems as though it was just yesterday that the school year began, and here we are a third of the way through. Many of us were hesitant before school began, wondering primarily whether the school our child is in is indeed the right place for him. Is it proper to reconsider our choice? How does one decide? How can we know whether the match is ideal? Can we attempt to find a suitable general environment, and within that, determine the suitability of the friends, the class, the teacher, the curriculum, the daily schedule, the level of expectations, etc. And then we torture ourselves as we ask if we made the best decisionÖ

Only after a few months have passed can we begin to see the first fruits of our decisions. For some people the fruits of their decisions are sweet, for others they are tart, and unfortunately for some the fruits are rotten. Actually, it makes no difference how the fruits taste. We constantly find ourselves going back to the familiar educational scene, one that is extremely complicated, sometimes even frustrating.

Itís true that we donít have the power or the tools to control the situation, but we still retain a spark of hope that perhaps we can do something, inching one step forward, and then another, progressing slowly, but effectively and confidently.

Hereís bring two examples Ė extreme perhaps, but characteristic. The child returns home from school Ė sad, tense, looking upset. Itís a sign that the honeymoon is over. Without looking into his schoolbag we can guess that itís a mess. The notebooks and books look worn out. The pages are crumpled, the writing is sloppier now than on the first pages, and there are no longer straight lines under the headings in red and blue marker. The first cracks have appeared in the patience of teachers and the child as well, which are expressed in little crises here and there. There are no more smiles or attempts to be charming.

The parents repeat the old familiar and painful questions: Who is to blame and who is responsible? At first they try to respond gently, but deep inside they fear what is to come. They fear the old painful script, the next stage when it wonít be possible to refrain from mutual faultfinding.

The parents blame the teacher, the teacher blames the child and the parents, and the child naturally claims he is not at fault and doesnít understand what they want from him and his life. The frustration is enormous: What do we do?

The truth is that the child is not the cause of the problem. The problem is the framework, which creates a situation that does not suit the individual needs of every single child, with his own special abilities, talents, and feelings.

The ones who are truly aware of their childís needs are the parents. They know what he needs, what the right approach is for him, and they bear the brunt of the responsibility to supply his needs in the most suitable manner. Parents feel powerless when they are unable to provide their child with the ideal educational conditions, and they are pained and feel pressured as a result.

Another example: The child complains repeatedly that he learns nothing new in the classroom. He already knows the material from the year before. He wants a higher level of learning, challenges; but there arenít any. He is extremely disappointed. He feels as though he is wasting time in kindergarten. He complains to the teacher, and the answer he gets is that the school, i.e., the educational environment, was not created specifically for him personally. The class consists of other children and they donít know the material yet.

This answer depresses the child. He feels powerless and having no other choice, he gives in. He loses his motivation to learn, which had been very high at first, and he eventually loses any connection he previously had to learning. Then the old question surfaces again: Who is to blame?

The child is not the problem. The system cannot deal with every child individually.

In order to pave the way towards solving the two problems we presented, two which are really one, we first must analyze the school system. We must examine its good points and what it contributes towards the child, and what its flaws are; flaws that can actually damage a child.

First of all, itís vital that we realize that the less homogenous the group of students, the greater the differences between them, the harder it is for every one of them to find his place within the system.

The schools have many goals and opportunities which give them power and authority. Sometimes it seems as though parents decided (maybe feeling intimidated and helpless in the face of the power of the system) to hand over a sizable share of their authority to the school.

It should be noted that there is an essential difference between backing and delegating authority, and the conferring of authority that parents do, which is more precisely, throwing the authority at the school.

What do I mean? We often find that parents tell their childís teacher, "We rely on you completely and give you our full backing for whatever you decide and say." Thatís called abdicating responsibility, giving utter authority to somebody else, in this case Ė the school. In other words, this is relinquishing oneís personal obligations, those which are incumbent upon every parent regarding their child.

Itís true that the system is powerful, but thatís a far cry from a good reason to give up all responsibility. The parents know the child best. How can one compare a teacher who is there for one year, no matter his life experience and teaching ability, to the parent?

The first rule is: Parents must take responsibility and retain their full authority in everything that pertains to their child.

Itís characteristic of parents to have one general goal. Instead of getting involved in the little things, they want to grab everything at once. They want it to be good for their child and for him to be satisfied. They want him to love to learn and to learn well. Thatís a huge goal, and itís a worthy one. But you mustnít forget that the road to realizing any goal is comprised of little steps, of smaller, focused goals. Many steps must be taken in order to reach the finish line.

These smaller goals must be attained together, cooperatively. You must check and see what the home can contribute and what the system is able to provide. These little goals are extremely important. You must sit down with the teacher and decide which specific goals are important for this child. The goals need to be noted, such as: acquiring skills and habits, providing encouragement and support, and placing limits.

The importance of the goals that seem small and not critical or significant can be learned from what it says in Tanya in Igeres HaKodesh: "every single coin joins together to form a large total." Thereís an advantage to collecting small coins. Itís slow going, but sure and lasting. Paying attention to the details, focusing on them, leads in the end to a grand total.

Chinuch is no different. Every detail should be valued; every stage, every step. Every goal, even if it seems insignificant Ė because this is the road to success. There are no shortcuts in chinuch! You canít fly to the end. You get there only after walking a winding road; you encounter obstacles, you fall and get up and continue walking.

This is accomplished by the collaboration between home and school in order to realize common goals. Just as the parents must take an active and consistent role in their childís education, to direct and fill in, they must also understand what the school system can contribute, and take maximum advantage of whatever it can offer.

The school contributes tremendously when it comes to integrating socially, acquiring human relationship skills and everything associated with that, developing thoughtfulness and an outlook on life, as well as acquiring learning skills. The home contributes in the area of values; presenting the child with educational models, teaching habits, how to handle situations, and developing talents that arenít in the curriculum.

Cooperation between home and school must focus and relate to the whole child, not as it sometimes happens that there is a difference between the "child at home" and the "child at school." In this latter case, there are two sets of expectations with two approaches for each one. The result is that the child finds himself living in two separate worlds with no real connection between them.

We cannot allow such a situation to exist! Every educational issue and achievement in learning Ė in every area, and it makes no difference under whose authority Ė must lead to a specific, clearly defined goal, which, in turn, leads to a greater goal.

When parents see their preparations the beginning of the school year not as a one-shot deal with the goal of finding a school for their child, but as an ongoing work-in-progress in conjunction with the school in order to realize the greater goal, then the picture is sharper and we have the tools with which to Ė with G-dís help Ė lead our child in the right direction.

(Questions can be faxed to Eretz Yisroel to 03-960-7289)


The parents blame the teacher, the teacher blames the child and the parents, and the child naturally claims he is not at fault...



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