Around three weeks from now, I will observe my mother’s 23rd yahrzeit, the annual acknowledgment of the (Hebrew) date of her death. It is, of course, impossible to know for sure how my mother would relate to today’s events, but I think that I have a pretty good idea.
My mother had a sunny disposition. She was not prone to outbursts of temper. This meant that when she was vocally unhappy about something, I paid attention. And she was vocally unhappy about being called a hero for her struggle with the cancer that eventually claimed her life. In her view, a hero voluntarily confronts a challenge, such as a fireman entering a burning building, and she did not choose to have cancer. If I wanted to quibble, I might have pointed out that she did choose how to respond to her illness, and that every day that she smiled and carried on with her obligations, she was behaving heroically. I stayed silent because I thought I knew what was prompting her ire.
You see, my mother’s life may have ended with cancer, but it began with polio, a disease she contracted while still a baby. I know little of her experiences; she was not from a generation that talked endlessly about itself. I do know that she spent many months of her childhood in the hospital, and that her parents were severely restricted in how many times per week they were allowed to and could visit. Her sister, my aunt, told me that, when home, my mother spent even more days looking longingly out the window as her brothers and sister left for school or actively played on the street.
Perhaps it is this history that led me to be unreasonably upset at a podcast I heard this week. The topic was the disastrous failing of American schools at teaching reading. (This educational catastrophe is one of the many reasons sentient parents should doubt anything the country’s educational establishment tells them.) The podcast had many flaws, but what had me fuming was a repeated reference to the “disadvantaged.” After all, it is so hard to help the “disadvantaged” reach a point where they can compete in society.
My mother would have hated that terminology. She was born into the Depression. Her immigrant parents picked up English as they struggled to feed their children. They had no generational wealth or large family to help. My mother was physically disabled. She never, ever, thought of herself as disadvantaged. And, in return, she wasn’t.
She had a loving mother and father, siblings who looked out for her, a public-school teacher who came once a week to the house and instead of pitying her, demanded excellence in rigorous academic based studies. She had access to books at the public library. She had a faith-filled home complete with traditions and celebrations. She came from a home that always had room for one more refugee to sleep and for one more guest to eat, even if there were no extra beds or enough food. Disadvantaged? Not at all.
My mother and her sister graduated college, something none of their brothers did because they were working to bring in income and then fighting in World War II. They too, would have scoffed at seeing themselves as disadvantaged.
Disadvantage is caused more by absence of values than it is by income or by any other factor. That isn’t a problem that the government or the teachers’ union can fix, though they can stop contributing to the damage. They have done enough harm already.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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Purim, the Feast of Esther, is approaching. It is a time of joy, celebration, and sharing a meal with friends and family. What a great time of year to up your baking skills and learn how to bake the traditional Sabbath and holiday bread known as Challah! Join Susan Lapin and have some fun as she walks you through each step of the process in this video tutorial (including her favorite recipe).