Monday, June 11, 2012

You have the right to...

Remain silent? Nah, it's a blog! You have every right to comment. In fact, I really, truly, deeply, Jewish star my heart and hope to fly you do!

You have every right to think. In fact, I hope you're using at least 12% of that gray matter.

More than that, you have every right to read and learn and search for information.

This past shabbat was a study in culture shock and in information. I went to shalosh seudot in a Satmar community.   The point, though, is that family and myself wound up talking with this nice Satmar family about the Internet Asifa.  Yep, we wound up on opposite sides of the argument. I think we managed to connect with the analogy of clothes.

If a store is selling some clothes that are objectionable, do you completely avoid it? No, you have to be able to tell which clothes are to be worn and which are not. Similar to the internet. You have to be your own filter. If you rely on the filter of others, you will just lose out on some really good information that the filter screens out by mistake.

Even more than this, books. "Where they have burned books, they ultimately will also burn people." (Heinrich Heine). Forget the burning.
Where they have banned books, they ultimately will also ban people. And it's a short step and a slippery slope from the banning to the burning. Look at the Rambam.

Now, it's fine if you want to say: this book is no good, and it has things no good person should be reading about and I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole!
But once you start to say: this book is no good, and no good person should read it, so how dare you read it!
You can get: This book is evil and we should completely prevent others from reading it!

 For those who say, "well, what about in school? Should kids in school be reading books like this?" I have to say, maaaaybe. It depends on the mission statement of the school. It depends on the background of the kids. It depends on the parents of the kids. ZP recently brought home to me that teachers aren't usually able to teach what they'd like.

 Now, ZP mentioned the other week in a comment, " The important thing is if a topic is being introduced, it needs to be presented and addressed properly. I am all about encouraging questioning and critical thinking, but answers need to be provided for."

Here's the problem, though. It really is only a short step from banning books to banning people. Some of the brightest apikorsim I've met are the ones who got kicked out of the yeshiva for asking questions. Now, as far as I know, those minds are lost to Halacha. And that's a crying shame.

If you're a teacher please, please, please don't shut down the kids asking questions you don't like. Ask to talk to them about it after class if you don't want it in the classroom, but don't shut them down. You may be shutting them down from being religious.

Another problem? When you try to say something doesn't exist because you find the content offensive, it just keeps popping up more and more strongly. The forbidden fruit tastes sweetest. Not only that, but blocking others from access just leads to rebellion.

So what happens if the answers reached aren't the ones you were trying to teach? What do you do then?

What do you do if your child is reading something very inappropriate? What if your child is trying to take that book out of the library? What if they're on an inappropriate website? What if they're saying something on a blog?

 What do you do?  Why?

- Sparrow


  1. I just wasted 2 and a half hours on TV Tropes thanks to you ;)

  2. They tried to ban the printing press, the camera, the radio, the television...

  3. Let me explain what I meant since the latter part of the post has nothing to do with what I intended.

    One of the things that I'd like to iy"H fix in education is exactly that. I think students should be encouraged to question! And the teacher can guide them in finding the answer and if the teacher does not know the answer (which does happen) then you acknowledge their point, look it up, and follow up with them. That is what I try to when I teach.

    What I meant by critical thinking is that in so many schools the goal is to memorize instead of internalize. It is not about looking at i.e. pasukim and questioning, but rather just memorizing. For example, after my students do bekius on their own, we go thru the pasukim and literally ask every single question that comes to their mind about grammatical issues, questions, vagueness and so forth. Then we look at mefarshim to answer THEIR questions.

    I am all about reading and as I mentioned before, I have found many (secular) books to be very enlightening and inspiring. But students, specially at a young age, cannot be given books that have certain material, without being prepared to answer certain questions. i.e. Jane Erye mentions a lot about xtianity and their concepts of hell and whatnot. The Crucible talks about witchcraft, infidelity, and so forth. So if a school uses these books, then they have to be ready to discuss these issues, allow the students an open space to discuss them, question and reason, but also provide them with sources and further readings to be able to answer their questions.

    I agree that some of the greatest minds have been lost to halacha. The first one that comes to mind is one whose story has always intrigued me: Elisha ben Abuya. The book "As a Driven Leaf" is great and I highly recommend it. But even here, thru his story, we see the danger of exposing people to certain things without being able to provide answers.

    (I hope my answer was somewhat coherent, It has been a very long and busy day, but I wanted to add a quick response)

    1. UZP: your answer was awesome! Clearly put and good reasoning. Thank you so much for explaining- I'm sorry I misunderstood and so misrepresented you.

      Wow, I wish I could take one of your Tanakh classes.

      About these questions though, it's not just Jane Eyre, so much classical literature has references to other religions that it's really hard to teach classic lit without some kind of understanding of other faiths. I see what you mean about needing other sources, but do you think there is a difference between books that can be taught in the classroom because of these questions and children that will pick up these books on their own?
      What about a kid who is a really advanced reader and is bored with the YA section?

      I think I like the book a bit less than you do. It's slated for a book club post, so I won't say any more about that right now.

    2. Sorry, ZP. Typing from phone and having some issues with typos.

    3. Thank you! Ulay one day you'll be there when I give a shiur and be like "hhhmmm do you have a blog?" lol

      I also forgot to mention that I encourage them to try to answer the questions. They actually love that because then you can be like "Well, Sforno says the same exact thing" and you have just validated their own thinking process. One of my favorite forms of "assessments" is to have them write out a journal entry from the viewpoint of a character in Tanach. I sometimes let them do it freestyle, using what they think they felt etc but other times I specify that it has to follow i.e. Rashi's view or Sforno's view, in order to "assess" their understanding of their parshanut. I love education and Tanach so I could really write a lot about this lol

      I liked the book precisely because it allowed me to understand, to a certain extent, how someone who could have been a "Rabbi Akiva" left is ALL for an intellectual angst. It allowed me to understand friends who because of their intellectual questioning (and lack of answers) have doubts, which have translated into going farther from Judaism...

      I don't think that there is anything wrong with discussing other faiths, understanding where there beliefs stem from, as a way for them also to know how to respond. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has a whole book on a defense to messianic xtianity not so much for xtians but for Jews to be able to answer back and really understand why their belief is wrong.

      I don't really understand this question: "do you think there is a difference between books that can be taught in the classroom because of these questions and children that will pick up these books on their own?
      What about a kid who is a really advanced reader and is bored with the YA section?"

      I'm very into DI, you can google that lol it allows for a teacher to teach simultaneously different levels in a classroom. It is pretty cool and amazing if done properly.

    4. ZP: I'd probably be too shy to ask you that in person, but I'd probably come up after the shiur to ask questions.

      I'd love to see your take on teaching Tanakh. One of my favorite exercises was writing a piece in the style of a navi like Yishayahu.

      I just don't like angst very much. Or whining. Or country music. ;)

      Ler me try to rephrase: do you think that kids should have resticted reading lists even outside the classroom?

      I did google it. It sounds fascinating and like it allows you to really focus on each kid. You sound like a really dedicated teacher. Kol hakavod.

    5. I like country music lol

      Hhmmmm, who is making these restrictions? Teachers or parents?

      Obviously part of life is learning a balance and though I encourage freedom in children, there also needs to be restrictions. Perhaps certain things will be read at a certain age etc.

      Iy"H when I have children I'll decide which books and at what age. Truthfully I haven't put much thought into actually determining which books for which age because I don't have kids and in teaching, it is not applicable, I teach limudei kodesh, not secular studies.

      lol, thanks. Well I'm about to begin my first year of teaching. This past year was student-teaching (works kind of like an internship).

      DI IS pretty cool. I love it!

  4. I came from a household where no books were restricted. Maybe I read things from time to time that I wasn't ready for. But so what? Kids should learn that there is a bigger world out there, there are different types of people, yes, even Christians. Even as a child Christianity made no sense to me, so how is that a threat?

    As for questions without answers? It comes up a lot in Jewish study, (ie "Teyku.") No one died from an unanswered question. The point is, we have to teach children that not having an answer is ok. Providing one has faith, it's fine.

    The problem is when a teacher is threatened by a question. When a teacher acts threatened, then a student picks up on that. Christianity does not allow for questions. We do, and that's what makes us different.

    1. Princess Lea: good to hear from you!

      Me too! This is why I reread books now- they grow with me - and I was definitely reading age-inappropriate lit.

      To be fair, I can see it being a bit of a threat to those who don't think about what they read.
      As far as I can tell, a lot of the problems happen when people come up with good questions and then won't look for an answer.

      I think of this questioning as one of Judaism's main strengths.


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