Posts by slapin

Censored Cilla

December 10th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 2 comments

Hoop skirts and petticoats went out of style before my time as did butter churns. Nonetheless, I am two generations closer to a time when those items were in general use than my grandchildren are. And while I love sharing classic books with the young ones in my life, I also look out for writing situated in current times.

With this in mind, I was delighted to meet the fictional protagonist Cilla Lee-Jenkins, a spunky and funny eight-year-old aspiring author. Like the author, Susan Tan, Cilla’s family is composed of both “white-bread” American and Chinese immigrant grandparents.  The first two books in what may well become a long-running series were almost entirely a pleasure to read. (There is a third book I have not yet read.) Aye, there’s the rub.

In the second book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, Cilla’s aunt gets married, providing a pleasurable peek into both Chinese and Korean wedding customs. The sour note comes as Cilla’s aunt’s friend, Jane, is introduced along with her own girlfriend and soon-to-be spouse, Lucy. Sigh.

No big deal is made of the relationship, which suggests to me an assumption that children growing up today should not question two men or two women getting married any more than they would question people from different states getting married. The norm has changed and the expectation is that only someone still in hoop skirts would even think that an explanation is necessary.

Reading books where single-sex relationships are treated as matter-of-fact, of course, promotes exactly that result. Yet, consigning children to only read books written decades or centuries earlier doesn’t seem to be a solution. I turned to my daughter with this dilemma to find out how she would handle it with her ten and eight-year-olds. She had an easy fix for this particular book, consisting of a black marker and a pen to write in an alternate fiancé’s name.  It does mean that my daughter would read the book on loan from the library and then, if she decides it is worth her daughters’ attention,  would need to purchase a copy that she could edit.

When I asked what she would say if her daughters questioned the edit, her response made me smile. Her children are used to edited versions of all sorts of material, including finding paper clothing pasted in her teenage son’s sports magazines. The general concept, that mommy and daddy believe that what you read and see shapes your character, has been present since birth and raises no questions.

I realize that “progressive” parents, teachers and librarians would most likely be aghast at this close censorship of reading materials. Yet, they too monitor media for children extremely carefully and write and read with goals in mind. That is precisely why homosexual relationships are  put into so many children’s books and shows these days. We aren’t differing in the concept of supervision as much as in what we are choosing to present.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

Pearl Harbor, Chanukah and the Greatest Generation

December 6th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and continues for eight days. Because its date depends on the lunar rather than the solar calendar, in some years, Chanukah overlaps with Thanksgiving while on others it coincides with Christmas. This year, the fifth day of Chanukah lines up with the anniversary of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In a special prayer we say each day of Chanukah we thank God for handing victory to a small, dedicated group who went to battle against the mightiest empire of the day. As part of that battle, they also faced internal opposition from the Hellenists, who were Jews who succumbed to the appeal of Greek culture.  These Hellenistic Jews wanted their faithful brethren also to abandon God.

An unusual rule surrounds the lights of Chanukah that are kindled each of the eight nights of the holiday. Before you can light the flames, there must already be light in the room. The Chanukah lights cannot be used for utilitarian purposes. The menorah beckons us to have vision, not to limit ourselves to what is within our sight. Before we can tap into the miracle of oil that burned beyond its physical ability, we have to prepare the room.

Winston Churchill recognized the tragedy at Pearl Harbor as the turning point in efforts to beat back a Nazi regime that was spreading darkness and evil across Europe. Like so many of their generation, President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, who came to honor him this week, answered the call to defend their country and its ideals. Comrades who did not survive the war were not granted the same opportunity for sterling careers, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Veterans likely felt the need to be worthy of the blessing of life so many of their peers were not granted.

Whether we think of the Maccabees 2,179 years ago or Americans joining the Allied forces seventy-seven years ago, war takes a devastating toll. Later generations reap the rewards of victory, frequently not only taking those rewards for granted but often despising them. This year Chanukah and December 7th overlap and our focus has been drawn by the funeral of President Bush to the ‘Greatest Generation’.  Let us resolve to provide whatever light we can in what often seems like a dark world, as we keep in mind the greater vision and ask God to redeem us once again.

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Differentiated What?

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting 2 comments

When a friend of mine chose to homeschool her daughter, it greatly agitated her sister. This sibling didn’t raise the usual bugaboo about socialization. Rather, she was horrified at the idea that “just anyone” felt capable of teaching a little girl to read. 

Her consternation made more sense when my friend shared that this sister was a reading specialist, who had invested years and money in training. No wonder my friend’s confidence in her own abilities, despite a glaring lack of credentials, upset her sister.

I am full of admiration for teachers who can take a group of children with disparate interests, maturation and skill levels and coax each one to do his or her best. I deeply respect the skills and dedication of those who teach children who, for one reason or another, don’t respond to regular methods of instruction. However, I don’t appreciate spreading an aura of complexity around areas in which most caring and intelligent parents and teachers are already perfectly capable.

For this reason, I raised a skeptical eye when I saw an announcement for teacher training in differentiated instruction. One way to make parents feel inadequate and to prop up the idea that children need trained teachers is by introducing new and esoteric language. How can one possibly teach one’s own when you don’t even know what educational terminology means ?

I looked around a little and discovered that differentiated instruction is a convoluted way of describing the way that any good parent or teacher has always taught. Recognizing that children may respond to different techniques, constantly assessing a student’s strength and weaknesses, guiding children to understand broad concepts and knowing to vary individual instruction with group instruction are some of the not-very-groundbreaking notions of differentiated instruction. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun. Only a highly educated specialist who left common sense and mentorship at the door and mindlessly swallowed the latest educational textbook theories would have ignored any of these ideas previously.

If your child is thriving in school and has an excellent teacher, I hope you express your appreciation. If your child is doing little more than logging hours in school, I encourage you not to be intimidated by fancy words. We can rephrase Confucius’ words about life to refer to much of today’s educational theory: “Education is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”   

My Personal Rebellion

December 3rd, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 5 comments

I have a somewhat competitive nature. At those words, I hear my children guffawing and saying, “somewhat!!!.” Despite their convictions, I sometimes did manipulate the cards  to let them win Candyland. However, I do prefer winning to losing even when I’m only competing against myself.

Most mornings, during breakfast, I do the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. I derive satisfaction from seeing all the boxes filled in. This morning, I left the spaces for the first clue down blank. 

The clue reads “human’s cousin” – three letters. I know they want me to write a-p-e, and that would complete three other clues in the across section. I won’t do it. It may not be the equivalent of storming the Bastille or standing against the tanks in Tiananmen Square, and it may even be silly, but it is a fist in the air to myself.


This Agenda May Be Harmful to Your Health

November 28th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 52 comments

I originally started writing this with the intention of posting it on our website as a Practical Parenting column, but then I realized that the problem I’m describing actually affects all of us. While the examples I mention have to do with children’s literature, every detail of the culture surrounding us impacts us, often in ways we don’t recognize.

Some years ago, a member of the California synagogue that my husband and I led worried that she was exhibiting tendencies of paranoia. She revealed that she had multiple locks on her apartment door, wouldn’t open the door to accept packages, and was constantly looking over her shoulder on the street. After a bit of discussion, it became clear to us that she lived in a high-crime neighborhood and rather than being paranoid, she was simply being realistic.

Whenever I see the news, women’s magazines, children’s books or many other media, I find myself hyper-sensitive to underlying agendas. In Stalinist Russia, young students were told to place their heads on their desks after praying to God for candy. Not surprisingly, when they lifted their heads their requests had gone unanswered. Then they were told to ask Stalin for candy and once again lay down their heads. Not surprisingly, candy seemed to rain down as their teachers distributed it while the children’s eyes were squeezed shut.

That approach may have lacked subtlety, but the message was clear. In some ways, more delicately delivered messages can be more dangerous. We don’t even realize that our minds are being directed and our beliefs formed.

One of our granddaughters attends a Jewish elementary school. She and her classmates were assigned a book report on a famous personality. The teacher distributed biographies and our eight-year-old brought home a book detailing the accomplishments of Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space.

Thankfully, our wonderful daughter, the young student’s mother, looked through the book, Who Was Sally Ride? by Megan Stine before her child did. She wasn’t surprised by the feminist emphasis as that was to be expected and relevant to the story. However, the final paragraphs made her send the book back to the teacher with a note explaining that this was not suitable for her daughter or, indeed, for anyone in the school.

Discussing Dr. Ride’s death from cancer in 2012, the author mentions the astronaut’s desire for privacy concerning her illness as well as about her relationship with her long-time friend, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  The penultimate paragraph cites the ubiquitous and anonymous “some” who were disappointed that Sally Ride was not open about being homosexual.  While the book could have sparked many conversations about science, space, physics and women’s liberation, our daughter did not want to be manipulated into a discussion of homosexuality.

To her distress, the teacher acknowledged (in what seems to me to be an admission of having fallen down on the job) not having read the book and replaced it with a biography of Marie Curie from the same series and by the same author. Alas, this was not necessarily an improvement. On page 84, the reader is introduced to Paul Langevin, the married student of Marie’s dead husband, Pierre. According to Ms. Stine, the scientist probably didn’t intend to fall in love with a married man, but she “followed her heart,” leading to great happiness (followed by difficulties).

Once again, our daughter would have been happy discussing many topics including radium, the Nobel prize, science, and women in science with her eight-year-old. She didn’t want to be led into a discussion of adultery and certainly didn’t appreciate the unstated message conveyed to young people that following one’s heart is just something we do. 

In 2002, The New York Times shattered a boundary when they began listing same-sex couples in the wedding section, changing the name of the section to Weddings/Celebrations as same-sex marriage was not yet legal. Today, to most people under a certain age, any hesitation to celebrate these unions seems ridiculous. There is no longer even an agreement that adultery is a reprehensible activity.

My personal moral system on some issues is out of step with today’s dominant culture as well as with a number of things our country has legalized.  I think this is true for many of you as well.  As a mother, I always monitored my children’s reading. However, I used to be on the lookout for things such as calling friends insulting names or rudeness to parents being presented as normative. The ground has shifted enormously today. Those concerns still matter, but only a few decades ago I was able to assume that biographies were relatively innocent. Parents and teachers today need to be even more vigilantly on guard. In fact, all of us would do well to ask ourselves after everything we read, listen to or watch, “Was there anything in here that tried to nudge me away from what I know is right towards accepting what I know is wrong?”

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Thank you

November 28th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

We would like to thank everyone who participated in Giving Tuesday. We are still tabulating the results and will soon announce the recipient of the Income Abundance Set (within the U.S.) or the Genesis Journeys Set download (overseas contributors). All of us at the American Alliance of Jews and Christians appreciate your support.

Giving Tuesday

November 27th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

We always appreciate your support for the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, but today Facebook and PayPal will match contributions, maximizing your support for our work. In addition, we would like to express our appreciation for your help in a tangible way, and anyone who donates today (via any method) will be entered into a drawing to win one of Rabbi Lapin’s most popular teaching sets.

Psst! Want the Secret to a Great Education?

November 26th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

When I was actively homeschooling, I would occasionally see humorous lists citing the top reasons to homeschool.  One that resonated with me (and seemed serious to me even if it lent itself to funny illustrations) was that homeschooling validated hours upon hours of reading. Not only did I get to read in order to prepare for teaching, but there was a practical need for reading books about education and learning.

With that in mind, those of you in the trenches of parenting whether you are homeschooling or not, might enjoy reading two books that I recently finished. Lenora Chu is an America journalist whose parents immigrated to the States from China. When she and her small town, Minnesota-bred, blond and blue-eyed husband attain career opportunities in China, she utilizes her skills to explore and compare education in China and her home country. Since the couple has two young children, one of whom they enroll in school, her writing is conflicted, passionate and very human.

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve is a fun read that will make you think. Like Ms. Chu, you may find yourself alternately horrified, envious, curious and forced to analyze exactly what your goals for education are.

The second book I enjoyed was the smartest kids in the world by Amanda Ripley. (Neither the title nor the author’s name are capitalized on the cover though that has nothing to do with the content that I could see.) Like Ms. Chu, Ms. Ripley is a journalist who turns her talents to explore some of the most successful schools around the world. She follows three American high-school students as they respectively study abroad in Finland, South Korea and Poland as well as visiting and interviewing educators, parents and additional students in the United States and abroad.

Not surprisingly, she finds that some of the most successful school systems run on systems that diametrically conflict with the systems of other successful schools. There is no secret formula to be followed, but rather a variety of methods and ideas that each have their positive and negative sides.

Depending on your personality and confidence level, both these books can be supportive or threatening. They can reassure you that your personal parenting and teaching techniques can breed success even if they conflict with those around you or set you on a futile journey to incorporate a mishmash of ideas that will leave you and your kids exhausted and dejected. If you can avoid the potential pitfalls, relax and enjoy getting input from a variety of places, both these books deliver thought-provoking insights on education wrapped in a good read. 

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

Abundant Gratitude

November 21st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 15 comments

I hope that you are too busy preparing for a grateful Thanksgiving with relatives and friends to have time to read a long Musing. We are looking forward to welcoming two of our grandchildren (5 and 8) from out-of-town who will remain with us for the weekend after joining us for a Thanksgiving feast at the home of gracious friends.

Like many Jews around the globe, I utter a formal prayer of thanks for the privilege of living another day as soon as I open my eyes every morning.  Additionally, I have also been trying to highlight one aspect of my day for which I am  grateful before going to bed at night.

I would like to share three events in my life from the past week that illuminate why I am so grateful and humbled to live in this wonderful country.  My Musings often focus on problems, but I do believe that the number of Americans whose values I share is still larger than the number whose values I see as dangerous.  That’s why I am optimistic about this country continuing to flourish as a beacon of goodness around the world.

  1. On Thursday night, my husband and I were privileged to be invited to a house-warming for Pastors Liz and Larry Huch’s new home in Texas. These courageous and visionary  leaders of New Beginnings Church, along with the people who surround them, give us hope. Their guests, of course, represented many races and nationalities, unlike the stereotype I read about in the mainstream media, but don’t recognize. Strong in their Christian faith, on the following Sunday, members of this church donated their fourth ambulance to Israel’s emergency medical response organization, Magen David Adom.
  2. On Sunday night my husband and I were guests at a banquet for B’nai Zion, an Israeli organization that funds a major hospital as well as a number of other charitable initiatives in Israel. The honorees were two couples, both devoted Christians. One of the couples, Pastors Cyd and Ricky Texada, are long-time friends of ours and we look up to them and their senior pastors as examples of loving-kindness and steadfastness.
  3. While we were traveling, our office received a phone call from a man we have not yet met.  Pastor Mark J. Pudlowski was calling with a sense of urgency to ask for my husband’s advice. It seems that near where he lives in Pennsylvania there is an old Jewish cemetery that is no longer in use, is somewhat hidden, and that has been neglected for many years.  He wanted to know if it would be offensive in any way for a group from his church to go in and clean up the cemetery. Not only is it not offensive, but it is a warm and loving action to take.

A few weeks ago, a lone and bitter man killed eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue while shouting his hatred for all Jews. Many of the doctors and nurses who treated him for his wounds at a nearby hospital were Jewish.

The murderer’s vision of America is not the America that I know and love. The hate-filled college campuses that spread resentment and violence are not the America that I know and love.

There will be many days in the year ahead to fight for certain ideas and against others. The United States is in a tug-of-war for her soul. For one beautiful American day, let’s focus on what is good and right and much more common throughout the land than we often realize.

I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving and may you always have much to be grateful for in your lives.

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The Man in the Glass

November 20th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 6 comments

I’ve written about how Justice William C. Goodloe set our family on a path of appreciating poetry. One of the first poems he recited for us, and set our children to memorizing, came to mind when we were answering an Ask the Rabbi question. I thought I would share it with you. (This is the version I saw. Pelf is an archaic word for money. I’m not sure if there was so little punctuation in the original.)

The Man in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf
and the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
who judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts the most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass

Some people may think you a straight-shooting chum
and call you a wonderful guy
But the guy in the glass says you’re only a bum
if you can’t look him straight in the eye

He’s the fellow to please never mind all the rest
for he’s with you clear up to the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous difficult test
if the man in the glass is your friend

You may fool the whole world down the pathway
of life and get pats on the back as pass
But your final reward will be heartaches and
tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass. 

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