Monday, July 7, 2008

Jewish Parents

Two words which often strike fear into the heart of Jewish educators.

“Jewish parents.”

If you ask a group of teachers what comes to mind when you say, “Jewish parents,” these are some of their responses: “Pushy” … “Arrogant” … “Uninvolved” … “Don’t care” … “Sense of entitlement” … “Irresponsible” …”Don’t discipline their kids”

Teachers-who-are-parents are often as harsh in their comments as non-parent-teachers.

When did parents become the enemy? And who benefits when we keep categorizing them as the enemy?

Joel Grishaver takes a long, thoughtful look at parent-teacher relationships in his 1997 Jewish Parents: A Teacher’s Guide. He reminds us that most Jewish adults stopped their Jewish education after bar or bat mitzvah. He says that when they look at us, Jewish educators, they come face-to-face with three things:
  1. Their own ambivalent or even bad memories of Jewish schooling…
  2. Their own sense of Jewish inadequacy.
  3. Their embarrassment over their children’s forthcoming Hebrew School failure (for which they feel ultimately responsible).(pp 20-21)

No wonder it’s so difficult to communicate with our students’ parents! When you add that to the likelihood that the reason we’re probably contacting them in the first place has to do with a problem (behavior, attendance, academic difficulties), the hostility we often encounter makes sense.

Here’s something to think about: How often do we pull a parent aside to tell them something we appreciate about their child? About a kind thing we overheard their child say? About a great point the kid made in class?

Grishaver goes on to ask,

“So here is the question (again): Why would a generation of Jewish kids who hated Hebrew School and who swore that when they grew up they would never subject their own children to the same kind of torture, become parents of the kids who now claim to be suffering in our classrooms?

The answer in one word: “ambivalence.” Ambivalence does NOT mean not caring. Ambivalence means feeing two different ways…. the truth is that most of the parents we work with do care a lot, but they care in different ways than we [emphasis added] want.” (p 23)

To summarize the rest of the section, this is how Grishaver articulates what parents want and don’t want.

They want their kids to

  • have a sense of Jewish history, culture and values as one piece of their identity;
  • feel good about being Jewish; and
  • their kid to be regarded as authentically Jewish, so they can call upon their Judaism when they need it.

They don’t want to 1) have to force their kids to be Jewish; and 2) be embarrassed by their own Jewish inadequacies.

Many parents, Grishaver adds, have three additional desires of which they may not even be fully aware:

  1. They want their Jewish past healed.
  2. They want a family bond which can keep their family together and provide stability.
  3. They want to belong.

That's a lot to think about.

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