Tough Subjects

by Joel Lurie Grishaver

It is tough to be a Jewish teacher. It is tough to be a Jewish Parent. It is tough to be a Jewish Educator (principal or whatever). And, it is tough to be a Jewish publisher. There is more than enough toughness to go around. Not everyone gets the chance that we do to put our feelings and insights into print. We know that.

Wendy Mogul wrote a best selling book on parenting called, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. Her central point is that we do our children a disservice when we over protect them—and we need to celebrate their facing of basic challenges. There are times that I wish we had Wendy on staff.

There is a standard story we go through at Torah Aura. We publish a set of materials and then receive a letter from a parent or principal telling us that we have exposed children to material that is inappropriate. Among the offending pieces of content are sex, death, politics, war, current events and even religious choice. We have been told (on occasion) that these subjects have no business being covered in a Jewish school—or at least they have no business being taught in a Jewish school at whatever tender age the given child happens to be.

We live in a post-Monica Lewinsky world. This week beheadings are the lead story on almost every news report and newspaper. The real world is a genie that will not go back into the bottle. We all wish it would. Life would be easier for all of us. But in this crazed world, difficult topics are the ones that need to be talked about in Jewish places. We need to help kids and parents to face the things that scare them with the wisdom and the solace that our tradition provides. It is our job, to bless these first struggles with the difficulties the world offers, much like a skinned knee.

This is not an argument for violating age appropriate standards, for confronting students with that which will traumatize—but rather, an attempt to remind educators and teachers that our tradition provides not only beauty but also strength. This is something we need to remember and something we need to share with our parents. We need to help them understand that war and violence, natural disasters, and even terrorism are Jewish topics—just the things we need to help students face.

All good education is a dialogue—one between teacher and student, content and class, classroom and home. Parents need to be part of the curricular dialogue, but we should involve them using our own sense of what is important.