Monthly Archives: January 2012

Guiding teens without a moral compass

English: A HTC Desire S showing a compass app

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Picture this: a class of freshly minted teenagers, not even a year after becoming b’nei mitzvah, who attend an optional Jewish education program.

Ostensibly they come from homes where the parent/s place an importance on Jewish values. Yet, despite that, they seem to have internalized society’s penchant for abdicating personal responsiblity.

Over 90% of high school students cheat. Entire schools have been accused of tampering with test results.

These incidents reverberate beyond charts and stats–and I felt the tremors last week.

I presented this scenario to students taking a class in Jewish values and ethics:

Your teacher asks you to take home and complete a unit summary without looking at notes, any textbooks, or the internet. What would you do?

I value their openness with me. Only one student in the class said that he would not cheat. One out of 15 students. Eighth graders.

What did the other students say? Most nodded enthusiastically to this response:

It was the teacher’s fault….she shouldn’t have expected us not to look at anything. Did she think we wouldn’t cheat?”

So, what they were saying is that the teacher should have known better. She should have known not to trust them.  For them, there is no such thing as an honor system.

When I was in middle school, cheating also occurred. It’s just that we knew who would cheat and who wouldn’t. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

In fact, what was the kicker to my question? Three students said that their teacher just gave them a similar assignment–to complete a worksheet at home–and when they came back to school she revealed that she expected them to look things up even though she asked them not to.  So this lack of trust goes both ways.

This is the world we are all living in and this is what we’re up against. 

There were other comments by students toward the beginning of the lesson that didn’t surprise me; comments about whether ‘to tell’ on a friend who cheated or stole. That was pretty predictable. The peer pressure is so intense they admitted, that no one wants to be labeled as ‘the kid who tells’.

When I discussed their reasoning for what they shared with me, they said that it’s okay because in “middle school you don’t have to worry about anything yet” (i.e. high school then college). They  continued trying to convince me that their choice was okay: “what you do in school doesn’t really matter until you get to 9th grade, or even 10th.

I wanted to teach them a different course of action and there were many topics to explore, but the clock was ticking with little time left in the period.

I could have espoused other teachings from sages and scholars who have been grappling with these issue throughout our tradition. I didn’t think this would resonate.  Instead, I briefly mentioned the perspective of Jewish law regarding personal responsibility.

Then, I told them they are like onions. Their character has layers, and everything they do, every action they take, forms who they are.  Those layered experiences are part of them, much like the peels of an onion that won’t just disappear when they get to another grade.

And if they make choices that they will regret, those choices will be there, under the surface, but there none the less.  And it will affect them.  Guiding teens through these perplexing situations is what we can do as Jewish educators and parents. How do we begin the process with our teens?

A good place to start is by opening the door to these types of conversations. Allow your teens to share what their school environment is like, and what ethical challenges they face. Listen to what they say. They are our very sweetest onions.


Five Things Jewish Parents Should Know

Imagine that you’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean in a thunderous storm. Waves are coming fast and furiously.  Water is splashing inside and out, and luckily you’re still afloat. There is no fast escape.

How do you survive? What is the best strategy?

Just hold on–and be as steadfast as you can.

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You’re experiencing what it’s like to be a parent of an adolescent. I can relate to your worries, concerns, problems, and fears.

You just need to hold on to your values and principles so you can stay the course.

How do I know?

I was once there.

From the many comments and responses I’ve exchanged with parents over the years regarding this period of rowboat rocking, and particularly how it pertains to continuing Jewish education, here are five points I’d like you to consider:

#1. you will have push back. Teens are hard-wired to rebel. It’s what they do. Don’t expect them to act differently.  You just need to stay the course and don’t take it personally, but see #2.

#2. the push back will most often be in the areas that coincidentally are important to you. This will make you feel bad and start to question your judgement. You may feel that everything you’ve deemed important will be disregarded. Are you active in the Jewish community? Are you a Jewish educator? Guess what, your teen may give you the hardest time when Jewish education is up for discussion (it shouldn’t be). You’re in for a ride but again, hold on and stay the course. As parents, we are like farmers planting seeds for the future. Teens are into instant gratification. You can see the challenge.

#3. be glad that your teenager is rebelling now, which is better than later, when he/she is in college and faces so many more challenges. Plus, if that happens, you will not be there to set limits, be a supportive ear, or lend in-the-moment advice.

#4. being an authority figure doesn’t mean being authoritarian. Just because you are asserting your right to make decisions for your child, doesn’t mean that you’re ‘bossy’. Parents might be too afraid of taking a strong stance, but your teen will respect you for it, even if that realization comes years later.  Remember the planting metaphor (see #2).

#5. I’ve never met anyone who said to me: I wish my parents didn’t ‘make me go’ to Hebrew High School. Granted, I interact with a select group, but I’ve heard this from both adults and teens. More education is a worthwhile pursuit. As Jews, we believe in the inherent value of study. It’s what has helped us survive through the millenia and it’s up to you to continue that tradition.  Be strong and steadfast.


The Twitter Connection

Follow me on Twitter logo

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The world-wide web (wow, I actually enjoy writing those words as it makes me focus on this mini miracle machine that allows me to enter that world through this blog) was once a static platform.  Interactivity was minimal.

Now, web 2.0  is for the prosumer, and is an active-oriented, creative and interactive platform where even the smallest voice gets heard.

So how did the concept of a Twitter “Follow” ever stick?

I’m surely not the first person to think or write about this. I haven’t googled this to find the endless number of blogs about this topic, but for me, this has become an issue when I try to acknowledge people who are (choke)  following me.

My aversion to this word is in direct disproportion to how I feel about the platform itself, which exists on people following other people.

I am a twitter follower. I’ve been on twitter since March and have learned so much from so many well-respected and talented educators who constitute my PLN.  I’ve learned about resources, websites, tools and received ideas and encouragement.

Hashtags, chats, bitly, tweetdeck, hootsuite, twuffer, are tools that I could not do without. RT’s, MT’s, HT’s are de-mystified as I go about my tweeting.

Why then, do I literally crunch up my shoulders and cringe when I check my account to see who my “Followers” are?

Here’s my dilemma: I certainly ‘Follow’ people on Twitter.  Yet when I find out that someone has  ‘followed’ me I just can’t do what others have done.

I can’t thank them for “following” me–it feels absurd and I just can’t get the word out.  So, instead I thank them for connecting.

So much more comfortable. So much more web 2.0.


Jewish Teens: Lost?

"Adolescence"

"Adolescence" by Giacomo Manzu Image by Ko:(char *)hook

 

Let’s play a game. Read the quote below and try to guess who said it.

Ready?

No peeking.

“…..we are not preparing today’s teens and young adults for the kinds of pressures they actually face.”

Okay, to make sure you’re testing yourself honestly write your responses, and then share it with me here. Just hit comment at the end of the post.

It will be interesting for us to compare results, no?

Here’s the lead-in sentence to the quote above:

“We hope young Christ followers develop a faith strong enough to last and to influence those around them. However, for too many, their faith does not survive in the real world. Simply put, we are not preparing today’s teens and young adults for the kinds of pressures they actually face.”

Responses?

First, I’ll share more about the quote. It’s from an e-mail I receive from the Barna Group, announcing a new effort to share information, resources, and offer training on this topic to better equip those working with teens. 

They also revealed a new book, called YOU LOST ME,  which is the result of a five-year study about the “spiritual journeys of young Christians, especially how much our culture has changed and what it means for your efforts.”

So, I’d like to unpack this piece of news.

First is the feeling that maybe our Jewish teens are reflecting a greater spiritual need that is felt in other communities. In that case, we shouldn’t berate ourselves so much for our failures.

But the next thought that comes to mind is actually a bit of envy.  The Christian community is marshalling its resources to work on this challenge—and they’re tackling it as a community.

This group thought it important enough to invest FIVE YEARS of time, effort, and money into this issue. Imagine the interviews, focus groups, surveys it took to gather this data. So you’ll forgive me for the jealousy, since I’ve written about this plenty before.  It seems like many posts ago when I wrote that Jewish teens were underserved.

Though I am so very heartened by the URJ‘s new focus on youth engagement, it is a denominational response to a communal problem,and doesn’t create data about this population. And I am appreciative of the new study on Youth Engagement by the Jewish Education Project about teens in New York.

So, until the Jewish community decides that it is important to fully figure out broader solutions to the issue of teens who are ‘spiritually lost’ (without the piecemeal approach of a unique program here, a special grant there) I guess I’ll turn  my envy to respect for how the Christian community is going about this.


Jewish Teens:The Young and (thankfully) Restless

English: The Young and the Restless, logo of t...

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With a nod to the TV show, I recently encountered a unique version of the restless young; amazing and energetic young adults staffing or attending an International Youth Convention. They are eager to change things up in the world of Judaism.

I needed this dose of inspiration because sometimes being a Jewish educator can slowly gnaw away at one’s naturally optimistic nature.

The people I met are committed to doing some great work.

Harvard graduate, now in Israel attending rabbinical school, is the Rabbinic Intern at a synagogue south of the Lebanon border.  He’s chosen this career over countless other opportunities.  He leads parent and teen educational sessions, capitalizing on upcoming b’nei mitzvot as a natural interest builder. The parents are highly curious and very engaged in learning.

Jewish future? Score one win!

A graduate of our Jewish community high school who is now a college senior happily told me that beginning in August, he plans to make Aliyah to Israel. He will be joining Garin Tzabar, the organization that facilitates this process. He sees this as his next step after college. I also met up with the daughter of a colleague, finishing day school this year, who also plans on making aliyah through this organization.

Jewish future? Score another win!

Then I briefly met a young Rabbi of a synagogue in central New Jersey who I remembered from my days at Camp Ramah, interested in dynamic ways of reaching out to congregants and whose wife is working professionally in informal Jewish education.  What a young  power team.

Jewish future? Score!

I suddenly felt as if I was attending a Jewish education movie preview where I was on the red carpet, interacting with our team’s all-stars.

I then met that Rabbi’s brother, also in Rabbinical school, serving as kitchen kashrut (kosher) supervisor (mashgiach). He made sure that he connected and made friends with the kitchen and hotel staff because they need to know that in Jewish practice, everyone is important.

Jewish future? I’m still counting wins!

I forgot to mention that the college senior’s sister, also a graduate of our program, is now spending the year in Israel. On my way out, just when I felt that it couldn’t get better, I met another graduate of our program, who is teaching in a day school.

Wins? For sure. It seems from my small vantage point that the collective we are doing something right when just these few young adults have been inspired to change things up.

They are young. They are restless to get started. Let the Jewish future begin!

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