Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This is not an unschooling post

The vocab in shlishi was so difficult, even though it is short, that Chana began complaining with only 5 pesukim left to the aliya.  She agreed to do 2 more and save the last 3 for this evening.  She said that going through the parshios where they build and make all of the things they are discussing in these parshios will NOT go quickly because she is not remembering this vocabulary.

Maybe if I were a little more flexible about Chumash and thinking in terms of the goal of her understanding the mishkan and not wrestling with the text, I would probably not have her go through all these pesukim and translate them, but instead we would take out a book with pictures.

I read a Marshall Memo this morning with the title: Day schools are not about Jewish Identity, but Jewish Literacy.  I'll post it in the comments.  But it did remind me why I do have Chana grapple with the text and I don't just do pictures.  I don't know if I'm just making her frustrated and just pushing her to do pointless translation that won't even stick into her head.  But I want her to engage with the words of the Torah, the specific words that are used.  I want her to be intimately involved with them.  To spend time reading them.  To have a relationship with them.

Of course, I risk that her relationship with them is dislike.

On the other hand, maybe acquiring skills is painful, and when she comes out the other side she'll be glad she has them.

On the other other hand, maybe I'm making her bang her head against these words, and she's not relating to it in a meaningful way, nor will it have a positive impact long term.

(Yep, since we homeschoolers are completely and 100% in charge of our children's education, we agonize about ponder these things.)

One of the pesukim was so fascinating.  It says the kohen gadol will wear the Tzitz (crown), and it will be on his forehead "l'ratzon" for the jews before Hashem.  First Chana asked what "l'ratzon" means.  I said shoresh "ratza" and it will be something desirable.  She didn't understand.  I said it was like the pair of shoes that she keeps asking me to buy.  The shoes are "l'ratzon" to her.  So she understood, and then she asked what that even means in Hashem's framework because He has no needs.

So I got all excited because we never did finish those brachos in shemona esrei and there is a bracha "retzei" that asks for our prayer to be desirable to Hashem.  So my brain is already creating this awesome little lesson about what makes a prayer more "desirable" than others (e.g. kavana), meaning there's a qualitative difference and that's described as "l'ratzon" or not, and I'm showing her the bracha... and she tells me she's not interested.

So we closed the siddur and the Chumash.

It is my opinion that because a great deal of Chumash time involves activity that Chana does not enjoy, she is eager to get it over with and not inclined to pursue these questions.

On the other hand, I've always been inclined to leave questions as questions until the student pushes to think about or find an answer.  This question won't go away.


  1. Day schools are not about Jewish Identity, but Jewish Literacy

    Dr. Marc Kramer, Executive Director of Ravsak, writes in the August 27, 2013 issue of eJewishphilanthropy, that we need to educate
    stakeholders that the main reason to send a child to a Jewish day school is not simply to create a Jewish identity. The bar is much higher. Jewish day schools teach Jewish literacy.

    He writes:

    The real argument, I believe, is that Jewish day schools uniquely make possible authentic Jewish literacy. Camp, great. Youth group, great. Israel trips, great. But none of these experiences give our children the skills, tools, role models, information, exposure and positive dispositions to personally engage with Jewish sacred texts – ancient to modern – in ways that leave a lasting imprint on their hearts and souls.

    Too many American Jews have little more than a passing acquaintance with the treasures of Jewish tradition. They can neither read nor write, let alone speak, their national language. They do not
    understand the laws of Judaism and have little sense of the aura of obligation and sanctity that the mitzvot engender….

    And yet, most American Jews still “identify” as Jewish. They encounter Jewish moments and “feel Jewish.” They partake in certain foods and feel they are “eating Jewishly.” They do good and just and charitable deeds and think that are “acting Jewishly.” They don’t go to church or hunt because these are “not Jewish.” In short, they have personally defined a sense of what “being” Jewish is and as such, have a “Jewish identity.”

    Jewish identity is fuel-efficient: Just a little juice and it runs. As such, the small jolts of energy that supplementary schools and camps
    and youth groups and summer trips to Israel provide are enough to fuel “Jewish identity.”

    ….Jewish literacy, on the other hand, is a real gas guzzler. It takes a great deal of fuel to power Jewish literacy, especially when Jewish
    literacy and Hebrew literacy are intertwined (as I believe it must be). The engines of Jewish literacy – engines that drive Jewish citizenship, peoplehood, spiritual meaning, ethical living and
    intellectualism – cannot simply sip from Sunday school and summer camp; they need full tanks and ample refills at the pumping stations we call day schools. Here I think of an atomic power plant: it takes a great deal of expertise, time and energy to make fusion possible, but the result is an ever more powerful, energizing source that can light 100,000 homes. It isn’t cheap, it isn’t easy, it comes with risks, it comes with controversies, yet the results are unparalleled.

    Day schools likewise require tremendous resources and demand sacrifices from parents and the community. But they are capable of generating a Jewish light that no other source can remotely equal. Judaism is a difficult religion, with a great deal to learn just to achieve a baseline of proficiency. It is easy to “feel” Jewish; it is
    just as easy to feel less Jewish. For the hard work of achieving competency, the confidence to take ownership over our heritage and translate it in ways that it continues to be resonant and meaningful for Jews today and in the future – for this, there is no substitute for day schools.

    The full-length article may be found at:

  2. Perhaps skip to an easier part of chumash to work on skills, where the vocabulary will also be more useful (note that even though you have a high level of chumash learning ability you still struggle with the mishkan parshiot). Skills are essential, learning them in the order of the torah is not.
    We go through the torah on a yearly cycle, not everything must be understood this time around. I know it took me a number of years of shnaim mikra before I could consistently translate the reading of the parsha into a picture of the mishkan, and the first few years of going through these parshiot were essentially from the picture books with very little text. I believe you have mentioned that chana is very visual, so let her explore the mishkan through picture books to the degree she wants (she might need a break from the current attempt before being interested in trying the books, which might be more interesting after a few months, maybe when the parsha comes around) and maybe try learning the vocabulary after a few image and big idea based cycles.