Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ha'azinu 74 - Lead by Greatness

In this week's portion-parasha of Ha'azinu Moses tells us to'' Remember bygone days, understand the years of each generation, ask your father and he will tell you, your grandfather and he will say it over to you."זכור ימות עולם, בינו שנות דור-ודור;    שאל אביך ויגדך, זקניך ויאמרו לך." Moses is encouraging   us by his words -  'remember bygone days' to have an appreciation of History and to see God's divine role in shaping history. We also need to remember history as the philosopher George Santayana warns ' Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". The Menachem Zion notes that the next words in the verse – understand the years of each generation – sounds a little redundant or just poetic. He explains that the word 'shnot' – years can be read not as years but as the differences, so we are encouraged to learn the lessons of history but also appreciate the differences in each generation when we apply these lessons. The previous generations  have a sense of history and appreciate these differences and changes.

 The changes and differences are obvious when it comes to children's   education and discipline issues. The use of corporal punishments, other punishments and harsh criticism are discouraged and frowned upon despite sources in the Talmud and the Bible that condone the use of corporal punishment. The world then was a rather different place. It was very authoritarian .Those in positions of authority like fathers and teachers had a lot of power and this power was respected. Women, children, students, and  slaves were expected to be very obedient and submissive. If these expectations were not met, they were punished often with a beating. Women and certainly children accepted this as part of their culture. The educational system demanded such a system. The focus was on learning lots of information, mishnayot, Bible by heart, rote learning and memorizing facts.' Carrot or stick ' techniques work well in getting kids to focus on remembering facts and  learning mishnayot by heart.        
We live in a rather different world where the instruments of control are extremely limited. Corporal punishment and other punishments are totally ineffective. Today it is an accepted fact with so much overwhelming evidence that hitting kids is not only harmful, but also ineffective. There is a tendency amongst religious parenting authors to romanticize the period when corporal punishment was considered effective and not harmful. Kids were considered more resilient, compared to metal, when beaten is hardened and strengthened. Kids were said to flourish under a regime of strict and punitive discipline and high expectations. Today's kids are considered like clay that crumbles when beaten.  They are not resilient and emotionally vulnerable. They don't need punishment but need rewards and encouragement to motivate and control them.  Interestingly when it comes to the treatment of women, they don't say that beating a wife is not acceptable today because today's women are less resilient and more vulnerable  – like clay. And that those women who lived in a culture that allowed a husband to beat a wife in order to educate her were resilient  like metal. We just say that it was culturally acceptable.  We don't hit women because we are concerned for their dignity, safety and emotional needs.  When it comes to corporal punishment a slave is more resilient than a freeman, a donkey is more resilient than a slave and a student is more resilient than his teacher (the principal punishes the teacher with a beating). The more honored the person, the more emotionally vulnerable he is.

These authors see the lack of teacher and parental power and authority as a sign of regression in the education. Harav Kook and others have explained that often spiritual regression as that which took place after the ' enlightenment era' meant that the teaching of Torah needed to be more intellectual and deeper to meet the new challenges of science and philosophy. In the same way, we cannot be authoritarian and use power and status  to control  people, but be powerful because of who we are, become authoritative   and lead people because of our greatness.

 We try to inspire kids to learn Torah because it is relevant, meaningful and exciting and not to get a 'good grade'.  Creative learning only takes place when kids feel safe and not feel being controlled by rewards or punishments. We teach kids not to act inappropriately because they will be punished, but because of the consequences of their actions on other people. We teach them to ask – what kind of person do I want to be, what kind of school or community do we want. When we use power we lose the opportunity for learning and spiritual growth and learning to solve problems in a collaborative way. When it comes to all kids and especially the  challenging kids ,we have the benefit of at least 30 years of brain research that shows that kids do well we attend to their needs for acceptance, respect and other emotional needs and give up trying to control them with punishments or even with  rewards. Kids may have the comforts of life and not be abused physically but today kids in a sense have a more  difficult time . They  have to ' behave and do well at school in order to earn parental love and acceptance. Kids' resilience depends on their needs for unconditional  acceptance , respect, love  and other emotional needs are being met.

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