Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Entitled to Success

The faces of the staff and students tell the same story. June is beginning to shed its first rays of summer sunshine, and everyone is working on fumes. Let's get through Shavuos, review week, finals, liberty.

Of course, before skipping town, we have to give grades. As a Limmudei Kodesh Rebbe, grades are about much more than plain stats on tests and quizzes. It's even more than factoring in effort, participation, attitude, Midos. It's about entitlement.

A quick perusal of the GPAs of the seniors at the Senior Awards Commitee meeting revealed an unsettling, if unsurprising, story. The upper crust of the students have great grades in the classes both before and after lunch break. As you go further down the achievement levels, though, the gaps start to widen. A third of a point, a half point, sometimes even a full GPA point spread between the Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Hmph.

"Do you ever give 'D's?"

"Er, no. We couldn't. The kid might get turned off and lose interest in going to Eretz Yisrael. Do you?"

"Yep. An 'F' is rare. But 'D's? Sure."

Grade inflation. And it's not just at the low end of the spectrum that it's done. There was one kid who got an expected A-, and the Rebbe slogged it out with the parent for hours on end. I highly doubt that would happen with the English teacher.

Why? Because. "I send my kid to your school to get a good education that will help him get in to the best college he can. Of course, I want him to have a good Torah education, too. But a man has to make a living, you know. And if his Limmudei Kodesh grades bring down his GPA, what did I throw out all that money for?"

Yeah. You want him to be a good Jew. But, that's not measurable in grades. So the grades are just a nuisance. Just do it. Your range is A to A, for the kid getting 'B's in the afternoon, A-/B+ for the C student, etc. So they don't work half as hard in Torah studies.

But it's not just in grade land that guys feel they can pluck cherries, it's in the curriculum itself. First of all, the morning half of the brain has atrophied, because a decent grade is in the bag. So the classes and tests have to be easier. And now that we've set the bar of success lower, so you get used to working even less.

And, if it's a bit hard - Gemara is too hard. It's boring. I'm not going to Israel. So, we'll make it painless for you. Yep, sadly, Limudei Kodesh is not the arena where you will taste the savory flavor of success. You will be applauded for achievements we both know are fairly pathetic. Run along, dear.

At the beginning of the school year, I showed some of my Talmidim the following quote from Rabbi Yonason Goldson, from Jewish Action(summer 2000):

"Unfortunately, as a teacher, I come head-to-head every day with this generation's aversion to struggle. It's easy to understand why. Today's children have instant food, oven-ready and microwave prepared; they have pre-digested information on the Internet and from English seforim; and they have multi-media entertainment (video games) that the mind absorbs with as little effort as a lifeless body sustained by intravenous drip. Many of them aren't expected to throw away their own trash, or clean up their own messes.

So little is demanded of this generation that they demand next-to-nothing from themselves. IN school, they are often taught to merely regurgitate information without thinking or processing, and the inflated grades they receive confirm their impression that mental effort is a waste of time and energy. They have rarely been called upon to challenge themselves, and tragically, have never tasted the sweet flavor of success.

By living as models of Torah values, by teaching our children through example how to reject quick fixes and convenient rationalizations, we bequeath to them the only enduring pleasure this world has to offer: the satisfaction that comes from working hard and doing well. In this way we can hope to raise children from whom both we and Hashem will have Nachas. What's more, our children will have Nachas from themselves, from their own effort, their own struggle, and their own success."

The effect was: YEAH, he's RIGHT! Of course, the effect lasted until the sub-85 grade on the first Gemara test. That grade is broken, man. Get a new one. It's the cost of a phone call - from the parent. Sigh.

One of my Rabbeim in Israel would say: "Yesh Lachatz SheYotzei Mitz, VeYesh Lachatz SheYotzei Kvetch." ("There's pressure that yields juice, and there's pressure that yields mush")

No pressure yields a rotten fruit.

I'm pretty demanding as a Rebbe. And I've seen kids really latch on to the opportunity to prove themselves in a difficult arena, and I honestly believe that is one of the best fortifications I can give them for life as an accomplished frum Jew.
But there's a deep pang of regret for those who haven't taken the ball and run with it. My Talmid, my son, you should know: I care deeply, and I can give you opportunity, give you encouragement, and cheer from the sidelines. But success must be solely of your own making.


Blogger chardal said...

Required reading on this toppic from a college profesor who sees many of the same symptoms in the quality of students that arrive in his classroom: Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind

3:20 PM  
Blogger Catharsis said...

Thank you for the insightful post Bari, I realy appreciate it.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Lukos613 said...

Very true. Unfortunately the minority that aren't totally consumed by laziness are endangered by the encroachment of the lazy dominated environment on themselves.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Great column. In all seriousness-I am sure that many of your talmidim become Bnei Torah thanks to your insistence that they apply their talent and brains to Talmud as they do to secular studies.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Thank you, Steve. I appreciate the back-up on this critical element of my personality as a Rebbe.

7:43 PM  
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