The best day I had at school

I hated school. And I often wonder if homeschoolers self-select because they wish they had not gone to school. So I want to tell you about the day in school that I would not have missed for any homeschooling agenda. Except it wasn’t regular school. It was Hebrew school.

Mrs. Zak was my Hebrew school teacher. She said, “A v with a dot inside is a b.”

On every day, no one is listening. On this particular day Barry Rosenthal raises his hand, and says we can’t concentrate today because last night the Brady Bunch got stuck in Hawaii, and we need to leave class early so we don’t miss the beginning of tonight’s episode.

We are all embarrassed for Barry’s bad behavior. But we are quietly waiting for Mrs. Zak’s answer.

Mrs. Zak is quietly waiting, too. She is looking at us.

She tells us to close our books, and she passes out licorice to the class. This is a big deal, because you can’t make the guttural sounds with food in your mouth.

Then she tells us she was at Auschwitz. She says she will tell us a story about it. She folds her hands on top of her desk, and she tells us from the beginning, from the time when she was a fifth grader, too. She tells us her mother didn’t let go of her hand for three days. That’s how scared her mother was of being separated. But they were separated anyway, and Mrs. Zak never saw her mother again. I think about if I never saw my mother again, and I can’t believe Mrs. Zak isn’t crying. Her hands are shaking, though.

She lets us touch her tattoo, and it is black and bumpy. Then she lets us out of class early.

I don’t tell my son this story. But when my son says it’s stupid to learn Hebrew, I tell him I don’t care. He’s learning it. And we open the book that Mrs. Zak’s hands closed in our classroom that day.

It’s a drill book. No whole language learning. No self-directed learning. We are using the Hebrew equivalent of memorizing flashcards. It’s terrible pedagogy but I don’t care. And for a moment I feel like I understand that parents who can’t give up the system that made them who they are today.


11 replies
  1. christy
    christy says:

    I love it when you tell stories like this. I honestly don’t care what the story is about; I love your craft of the telling.

    Thank you.

  2. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I have those moments sometimes with the kids I teach. There are times that I’m teaching a musical concept, and I’m teaching it in a way that is a little too dry for them (such as if I didn’t have enough time to plan a more engaging method of instruction) to latch on to. It’s easy to get angry when those you are teaching seem spoiled, untrusting and disrespectful of what I feel is important, and unwilling to move their ass 5% for every 95% you adapt to them. It really is when we “close the book” and tell the back-story of why something is important that things start to click.

  3. Mel
    Mel says:

    What a moving story. It goes to show that knowing why you are learning something makes all the difference. Most of us, and are kids, are willing to do the hard work if we know there is a reason behind it.

    I homeschool my kids, but not because I didn’t like school. I got straight As, and really liked school. It was set up perfectly for my learning style. However, I don’t think it benefitted me in the long run. I cop out when things get to hard- when things don’t come easily. That’s why I homeschool my kids.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    I always wonder if I will shun the system that made me who I am completely. I mean, I read because of school. And I have lots of spiritual beliefs because I didn’t like believing what the church taught me. But if the church hadn’t taught me something that felt suffocating I would’ve never sought something different. Maybe I would have. I don’t know.

    But anyway, I wonder how much I am going to do away with.

  5. Stef
    Stef says:

    I really enjoyed this story. I also feel like I first leaned toward homeschooling because I never really liked school (except for the one awesome day a week where I and a few other kids were in a different class to have our gifted program–I’d wish every day could be like that day; it was structured so differently than regular school).

    I think context for any subject is so important. What’s the harm in touching on some Jewish history in conjunction with Hebrew lessons? It seems like that is what got you interested, the human stories. There must be a less-rote program to learn Hebrew than the way you learned it, to have your sons learn Hebrew and preserve the things you feel are important while embracing the learning methods you know will work best.

    Or…maybe find a hot Israeli au pair to stay at the farm. ;-)

  6. Gwen Nicodemus
    Gwen Nicodemus says:

    Occasionally, I force a topic on my children. I explain why to them beforehand, and explain that I expect them to learn whatever it is to the best of their ability.

    The Hebrew is important to you. I think you should tell the kids exactly why it is important to you. Maybe it would even be good to watch a few documentaries with him.

    My kids are much more amenable to learning things they don’t want to learn if they realize there’s solid logic behind it and/or what’s in it for them.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, that’s a great point, Gwen.

      One of the biggest challenges of homeschooling is that the parent has to be able to verbalize why something is important in order to force it.

      I can force math just by sending the kid to school. Then the kid does math. But to get my kids to do math at home, I have to connect it to something that matters. So I have to know, really clearly, why it matters to me.

      Homeschooling forces me to understand my own stories better. Once I do that, then I can tell the kids. That’s a big benefit of this blog. So, thank you.


      • Gareth
        Gareth says:

        In my experience, this cuts both ways. My son expects me to be reasonable, and will call me out when I’m not. This means I have to be able to make a good argument for why he should do something in order to push him that way. It also means that if he can make a good argument for why he shouldn’t have to do something, I usually have to concede. And that right there is a pretty good thing to learn.

  7. Nova
    Nova says:

    Oh my god! So many of the letters have the exact pronounciation as Persian/Arabic alphabet. I’m sorry that this comment is not related to the content of the post but I was so surprised to see that and learned something new.

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