Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shelach 76 - 9th Av - Giving up on children

The evil report of the spies convinced the whole nation including the elders and the Sanhedrin- the High court to abandon their journey to the land of Israel, because the Holy Land was a dangerous place that 'devours its inhabitants'. This led to dissention, national hysteria, despair, anguish, and a helplessness etc. Numbers 14:1 says and they cried and wept that night – the eve of the 9th of Av. ויבכו העם בלילה ההוא –God declared that since they cried for no reason on this night, therefore in the future, I shall provide you with plenty reason to cry on this night, for I will destroy the Temple on the 9th of Av. The physical destruction of the Temple and the exile of the nation among the peoples of the world was just a physical manifestation of the underlying spiritual condition of the people.  R' Isaac Sher explains it was the loss of Da'at , a deep understanding and perception that touches the depths of one's heart , that leads to a belief , trust and faith in God. It is a commitment to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving up one's life and using all one's senses and feelings in the service of God. We declare this faith- emunah in God and our commitment in the She'ma Yisrael prayer.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְדֹוָד אֶחָד:  (ה) וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ:
And according to the Midrash on the verse Eichah – Lamentations I: 15  ' It is on these things that I weep ' R' Yehudah says because of the removal and loss of Da'at and the Divine Presence, which are essentially the same thing as R' Ela'zar says, that any man who has de'ah – knowledge is as if the temple has been built in his days.                                      
על אלה אני בוכיה רבי יהודה אומר על סילוק דעת ועל סילוק שכינה   ואמר רבי אלעזר כל אדם שיש בו  דעה כאילו נבנה בית המקדש  
A person who has Da'at – deep understanding and perception will have faith and trust in God. He will declare in the Song – A'don O'lam, והוא נסי,   that God is my banner and source of miracles. No situation can cause despair and helplessness because in God's reality, things can change at any moment.  In the bleakest and darkest moments during the Holocaust people who had great faith experienced miracles when death was a certainty and survived . Others who did not survive managed to achieve eternity by giving up their lives and sanctifying God's name with the great dignity and purpose with which they approached death. Over the centuries families and even communities have suffered great hardships and tragedy that evoke tears and weeping. But these tears are offered to God along with prayers, which signify hope and personal empowerment.  The symbol of positive tears is the matriarch Rachel. Rachel is buried on the roadside, and on route to the Babylonian exile. The  nation will pass by there and she will come out upon her grave and weep and plead for mercy for them, and God says that there is hope for your future . . .' that your children will return to their own borders’ .

As parents and educators we have many children who are faced with many challenges both academically and behaviorally. The starting place is our prayers and tears in the hope that God will provide guidance and help needed. We also need to display a lot of patience like that of R' Freida who would teach a challenging student with a learning difficulty 400 times until he understood the lesson. But what about kids with challenging behavior. What about kids who don't abide by school rules, have a hard time getting along with other kids, don't seem to respect authority , don't seem to be interested in learning , and are disrupting the learning of their classmates ? The traditional view of these kids is that they are attention seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, coercive, or unmotivated and what they need is discipline which is firm, consistent and contingent with lots of rewards and consequences to make kids 'wanna ' behave.  So we have many kids who are paying frequent visits to the principal's office, getting detentions, suspensions and even being expelled and finally end up in juvenile prison evidence to the existence of the school-to- prison pipeline. The tragedy of the situation is that teachers and principals aren't even aware that these methods (besides promoting the most primitive form of morality), are identical to ' giving up on these kids ' and making their situation and future worse. There are some teachers and principals who admit that they are not helping the challenging kid, but the punitive consequences are needed as a deterrent and disincentive to the other kids in the classroom and school - למען יראו וישמעו  , The truth is that according to the American Psychological Association – APA, these zero-tolerance policies which were intended to reduce violence and behavior problems in schools have instead achieved the opposite effect with increased behavior problems, drop- out rates while schools dole out millions of detentions, suspensions and expulsions. Giving consequences is not needed because kids already know how we want them to behave and actually would like nothing better than to act in a more flexible and adaptable way and be able to handle the social, emotional and behavioral challenges being placed upon them. Many have been getting into trouble for so long that they have lost faith that any adult will ever know how to help them.

Dr Ross Greene in his book Lost at School  suggests a different approach based on what we know from the neuro-sciences that these kids have a developmental delay in areas of flexibility and frustration tolerance and often act out when the demands placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to act flexibly and adaptively.  They often are lagging in skills such as executive functions, language processing skills, emotional regulation skills, cognitive flexibility and social skills etc. The mantra of his CPS – collaborative problem solving approach or now called collaborative and pro-active solutions is ' children do well if they can' and not' children do well if they want to'. The CPS process in a compassionate way promotes the various cognitive and life skills, nurtures the relationship between student and teacher and supports the child's autonomy. It helps kids come up with a better plan, and engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and doing Teshuva. Teachers who aim to control student's behavior – rather than helping them to control it themselves – undermine the very elements essential for motivation – autonomy, a sense of competence and a capacity to relate to others.  And when teachers need to enforce control by using punishments and consequences, they are certainly not addressing the underlying problems but worse – they are actually giving up on these kids.

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