Flailing in Day School

Flailing in Day School

Moderated by Rachel Stein / rachels83@gmail.com

“I hate school!” Josh’s voice thundered inside our Toyota Corolla, and I shuddered, waiting for the windows to crack from the impact.

“Did something happen today?” I asked, stunned by his vehemence. I knew Josh didn’t love school, but this was way behind his typical attitude.

“No!” he barked. “It’s just boring, and I hate it.”

Oh, that clears things up.

Josh attended a well-reputed Jewish day school that was supposed to avail him of a well-rounded Jewish and secular background. But as he grew older and his scholastic struggles increased, my doubts flourished.

“Is there any homework you need help with?” I asked. Maybe I should get him a tutor.

“I don’t have homework,” he muttered. “I just hate school.”

I sighed, skeptical about the no-homework piece, and turned on a music CD, hoping it would soothe our frazzled nerves.

A few weeks later, I attended parent-teacher conferences. In previous years, Josh’s lackluster performance wasn’t given great attention. “He needs to apply himself more and study more” was a typical message I had heard.

Expecting more of the same, I was unprepared for the icy gust that walloped my sails.

“Mrs. Schwartz,” Mr. Fin began, his brown eyes gazing intently into mine, “I believe Josh should be tested. There is a strong possibility that he has a learning disability which is holding him back. The sooner we understand what we’re dealing with, the faster we can get him the help he needs. Are you open to getting him tested?”

“O-of course,” I stuttered, a frisson of fear fluttering in my heart. What wouldn’t I do to help my child?

When I met with the psychologist to discuss the results of Josh’s testing, my heart plummeted.

“Josh has a language processing disorder,” Dr. Rocks said.

Would you be this stoic if this were your child? I wondered, nodding and struggling to keep my emotions in check.

“I strongly recommend that Josh attend a school without a dual curriculum. With his deficiencies, the Hebrew subjects are a source of additional frustration for him, exacerbating his belief that he is stupid and incapable of achieving. Surely you understand that if he continues in this vein, we can lose him. It is very unhealthy for a child’s self-esteem to be eroded by continued failure. And as he gets older, the scholastic requirements will become more intense and a source of greater dissatisfaction.”

I could feel the blood draining from my face.

“Mrs. Schwartz, I know this is a lot to take in.” Oh, so he is human, I realized, noting a flicker of sympathy in his expression. “Go home, speak to your husband, and feel free to contact me for any additional assistance or questions.”

I got up in a daze and headed to the parking lot. Put the car into gear and drive, I directed my zombielike persona, flicking the windshield wipers to deal with a downpour. It took me a few minutes to realize why the pane wasn’t clearing. It wasn’t raining outside.

Could we, should we take our child out of a Jewish day school and toss him into public school? We can’t afford the cost of specialized private schools geared to kids with disabilities. If we take the public school step, how will he get a complete Jewish education? And what about the polluted atmosphere he will be exposed to?

On the other hand, it’s not as if he is absorbing Torah in his current situation. There is a good chance he will be turned off to Judaism and even to life in general if we continue having him plod through the system.

I stepped into another meeting with his teachers and principal at the day school. “What about modifying his work?” I asked, reaching for a lifeline. “Or a shadow? Why does it have to be all or nothing?”

“It’s not just the work,” Mr. Fin said. “The lessons are sailing above his head. His body may be in class, but his mind is orbiting another atmosphere.”

“So you want to just give up on a Jewish child?”

Suddenly every pair of eyes managed to find a riveting spot on the wall.

I was on fire. Wasn’t it their obligation to make this work for Josh? Were they just taking the easy way out? Or was I simply terrified to face reality while they, the experts, knew that public school was the only viable alternative? Perhaps they had tried using every tool and had reached a dead end.

If Josh were your child, what would you do? Thank you in advance for your time and assistance,

Jean Schwartz

Please send your suggestions to rachels83@gmail.com by Monday, Nov. 21.

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