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Dec 4 2014

They’re Not Teaching Our Kids the Whole Truth in History Class

By at 3:46 pm

I Hardly Recognize the History My Kids Are Learning in School

When my son came home from school the other day, the first thing he said to me was, “I learned about the Mayflower today!” And an immense feeling of dread overtook me.

This is not the first time this has happened. Last month, he came home from school and said, “I learned about Christopher Columbus today.” And again, my stomach dropped.

Don’t get me wrong; I love how excited my son is about learning. And I definitely didn’t let him in on my worry either time. My problem is not his. My problem is that I spent eight years as a middle school social studies teacher. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 18 2014

What I Learned Chaperoning 45 6th Graders to the Holocaust Museum

By at 1:13 pm

What I Learned Chaperoning My Sons to the Holocaust Museum

The bumpy ride and cacophonous roar of the kids’ voices were giving me a headache. I was on a bus with 45 sixth graders, full of hormones and fart jokes, on our way to the Lower East Side in Manhattan. I’d volunteered as a chaperone for my twin sons’ class trip to visit New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage—A  Living Memorial to the Holocaust. I was interested in the exhibits but I also wanted to be close by as my boys witnessed a memorial to the darkest time in modern Jewish history. I wasn’t sure how they, or the other kids, would react upon seeing such vivid images, and if they had the requisite maturity to process what they’d be witnessing.

The kids had been studying World War II in their social studies classes, so there was certainly preparation by the teachers in an age-appropriate manner. However, I knew there was a difference between learning about the Holocaust in an academic setting, and actually seeing the depth of the destruction that took place from relics and vivid documentary testimonial.

As we made our way through the narrow streets of the Financial District, a kid shouted, “Look, there it is!” I was surprised at their enthusiasm about spotting the museum until I realized that the kids had spotted the gleaming Freedom Tower, the new building under construction in the former location of the World Trade Center. We all craned our necks and took pictures of the magnificent building and I realized that the kids had historical context from their own lifetime with which to understand the Holocaust. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 4 2014

Q&A with the Founder of the New Jewish Day School for Kids with Learning Disabilities

By at 2:50 pm

interview with ilana ruskay-kidd

This September, the Shefa School, a new pluralistic Jewish community day school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, welcomed its first students. Founded by Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, the former director of the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC in Manhattan, Shefa is the only Jewish Day School for students with language-based learning disabilities. Shefa currently has 24 students enrolled in grades 2-5 and will ultimately enroll children in grades K-8.

What does “language-based learning disabilities” mean?

Shefa addresses learning difficulties connected with language, which includes challenges in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading disabilities may make it difficult to sound out (or decode) written words–often called dyslexia–or comprehend a written passage once it is decoded. Dysgraphia, or writing disability, interferes with one’s ability to express ideas in writing.

Can you give our readers an idea of how Judaic studies and the arts have enhanced the special education curriculum at Shefa? Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 9 2014

What If I Don’t Want to Go to England With My Son?

By at 2:20 pm

Boy using computer at school

In those halcyon days when I knew everything about parenting (i.e. before I had children), I worked as a television researcher for figure skating. Because figure skating is a sport where potential Olympic contenders have to start intensive instruction at a relatively young age, a good percentage of the athletes I worked with were forced to move away from home in order to work with a championship coach at an elite training center. Some did it while of high school-age, while others were as young as 12 or even 10. Most ended up either living in dormitories or with local host families.

As a childless parenting expert, I knew exactly what I would have done in their mothers’ places. If I ever had a kid who I sincerely believed would benefit from living away from home, whether in the name of athletics or academics or what have you, then, without a doubt, I would relocate with them. (Which is exactly what 1994 Olympic Champion Tara Lipinski’s mother did, leaving her husband behind in their home in Texas, while she and Tara lived in Delaware and Detroit.)

As of this writing, I do not have a future Olympic champion on my hands. Nor do I have one of those kids who enrolls at Harvard or MIT at age 12.  Read the rest of this entry →

May 5 2014

News Roundup: The Academic Gap Between Boys and Girls is Growing

By at 1:49 pm

 All the parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this weekclassroom

-The learning and behavior gap between girls and boys is growing even faster than the gap between rich and poor children–with boys falling far behind. This has some scary implications for boys’ future earning potential. But the reasons for this trend are unclear. (New York Times)

-On a related topic, the number of stay-at-home dads in America is once again declining. One writer speculates the short-lived rise in hands-on dads was mostly a result of the bad job market during the recession. (Slate)

-Tennessee is a terrible place to be a pregnant woman. First the state declined to expand its healthcare program, and now women can be criminalized for their birth outcomes. It’s a catch 22. Seriously, ladies, stay the hell away from Tennessee. (Salon)

-Oops, your kid’s in high school and you’ve saved nothing for college! No worries. Here are eight great tips for giving your kid a great education on the cheap, from Ron Lieber, the New York Times’ money columnist.  (New York Times)

-Not all mohels are the same! This great new series interviews eight of America’s most popular mohels, highlighting their humor and individual styles. (JTA)

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May 2 2014

Celebrity Parents Blast Common Core on Social Media

By at 1:08 pm


Louis CK has been all over the news lately after he took to Twitter to blast the Common Core (a controversial new curriculum that has been adopted by more than 40 states), posting photos of his 3rd grade daughter’s most confusing math problems.

The tweet that started it all: Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 28 2014

What I Won’t Teach My Kids About The Holocaust

By at 3:19 pm


In 1938, my grandfather escaped Austria on the kindertransport. He was sent to England, where he lived with a family who sponsored him. His parents were sent to the Isle of Wight, where they were prisoners for most of the war. Eventually he made it to the US, where he lived briefly in Ohio before being conscripted into the Army, and sent back to Europe to work as a translator.

The Holocaust is very much a part of my family narrative. It’s part of my history, and it’s important to me, but as I build my own family, I’ve started to think about the ways I want to address this issue with my kids. Here’s what I won’t do:

1. I won’t teach my kids to fear anti-Semitism around every corner.  Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 26 2014

Facebook “Likes” Are Great, But How Can We Help Children like Colin Make Friends?

By at 11:42 am


I have been watching the Happy Birthday Colin movement on Facebook for the past couple of weeks. I have been both fascinated and touched by the outpouring of compassion and generosity that seemingly millions of strangers have expressed towards Colin, a boy with special needs who has trouble making friends. After Colin told his mom not to bother with a birthday party since he doesn’t have any friends, his mother, feeling awful, took to social media, built a Facebook page for his birthday, and shared it, hoping some messages would help to lift the boy’s spirits on his birthday.

The thing has gone completely viral; more than 2 million people have liked the page and offered messages. Based on the photos that Colin’s mother posts every few days of them picking up what looks like carloads of birthday cards and gifts that are arriving at Colin’s PO Box, it looks like Colin will have the surprise of a lifetime on his birthday (and he will probably be opening cards every day until his next birthday from the looks of it).

It’s really been great to see that people recognize the need to make every kid feel good on their birthday and to reach out to this boy. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 25 2014

I Find Myself Defending Teachers at the Hair Salon (and Everywhere Else!)

By at 3:58 pm


The next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I plan to say that I’m a dental hygienist. Maybe a carpet salesman. A baker? Hmm… that’s an idea. Who doesn’t love cookies? It’s too bad that I’m a terrible liar.

I was mid-haircut the last time the question was posed to me. “I’m a guidance counselor,” I said, with a smile. I glanced around the salon and waited for the inevitable commentary to come. That train is never late.

“Well, you scored an easy gig!”

“Teachers have such nice hours. It’s like working part-time!”

“You have your own office, right?” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 17 2014

Jewish Day School Made Me Appreciate Diversity & Now I’m Choosing the Same For My Kids

By at 9:59 am

Diversity and the case for day school

I was recently prepping a meal to the soundtrack of my new favorite song, “Some Nights” by the indie rock band Fun. Suddenly, I realized the breakfast-for-dinner eggs were burning, and I was transfixed by the YouTube video streaming from my nearby laptop.

What was it about lead singer Nate Ruess that drew me in? Sure, he’s conventionally attractive. And his voice is a force—at once strong and lovely. But it was something else. How different he looked from anyone I knew. With those defined cheekbones, blue eyes, slightly upturned nose; he’s no Yeshiva boy.

It only made me want to know him more. Read the rest of this entry →


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