My 2-year-old grandson Aaron was accepted into the yeshiva day school of his parents’ choice. He’s adorable and smart (naturally) but my daughter actually seemed worried until she got the acceptance letter. I couldn’t imagine under what circumstances he would be rejected. Not only is the kid a real star (naturally) but we know the administrators for decades and it’s my own alma mater. Which reminds me of something Judith Rodin, then the president of UPenn, said at my child’s graduation, “Remember, graduates of Penn, it is not who you know (long pause)…it’s whom you know.” Very true (and great delivery.)
Anyway, everyone is in a tizzy over getting into school–over whether the school wants their kid. Well, when my kids were little, I was more worried over whether I wanted the school. I can not speak about public school or “private” school since it was a given that the children in our observant, “Modern Orthodox” family would go to yeshiva day school. We had a choice of several different neighborhoods, each of which had maybe two appropriate day schools. But I knew, especially as a product of such schools, that each and every one was imperfect. And I also knew that ultimately, the education of my child was my and my husband’s responsibility. And as far as I was concerned, those teachers worked for me (after all, I paid their salaries.)
So I became very involved in the school and with the teachers and principals. They knew me and I knew them. And, ask my kids, my “notes” are legendary.
Okay, maybe I could have been a little softer on the lovely young fifth grade teacher. I once sent my son Andrew’s composition back, as required, with my signature–but also with the mistakes she had missed circled in blue (to distinguish them from the mistakes she had caught, circled in red.)
The most important part of the day was bedtime. After reading, we’d talk- about the kids’ day, about what was on their minds. Everyone had “private time” with Mommy. It seemed innocent, but actually, like any general of a small army, I was getting “de-briefed” by the troops. At night, relaxed, their guards down, they could free-associate their thoughts. And that’s how I’d learn what damage control I had to do. I could, and did, counter prejudiced remarks and beliefs presented as someone else’s ideal. I emphasized kindness, tolerance and the concept that different people do different things, but our family does things our own way. Even at the age of 6 or 7, a child can be taught some critical thinking. She/he should be able to recognize something that is not consistent with her/his family’s belief system. And she/he should feel secure enough to discuss it with a parent, should want to discuss it.
It’s harder for young parents now. There seem to be more cultural assaults on decency and goodness, much more “yucky stuff” (euphemism!) out there. The world does seem more dangerous–not only physically, but spiritually.
I wish I had some better time-tested advice. But I don’t….just make sure to schedule de-briefing sessions as often as you can.