Got together with Kika and Rivka this week, and it was an opportunity to discuss an issue that I’ve only recently discovered, as a result of my post, a couple of weeks ago on education.
I’ve heard people describe happiness received from their offspring, when they see their children or grandchildren following in their footsteps. In my case, I can say that my children bring me great happiness, not because they followed in my footsteps, but because they continued from where I’ve gotten, and continue quite a bit further. Rivka is a good example. I had a lot of criticism about the way I was raised, and studied a bit about education when I grew up, so as not to make the same mistakes that my parents had made with me. This was not for the purpose of entering into the profession of education. I just wanted to understand this area of activity. As I learned, I developed certain attitudes and principles which helped guide me in the raising of my own children… and discovered along the way, that even with the best intentions, we all make mistakes.
My daughter Rivka, having gained success in another profession, returned to this subject herself, after having children, and observing the methods of different schools. She realized that she wasn’t really satisfied with the standard schooling, and began studying the Montessori method of education. After finishing her studies, she opened a Montessori kindergarten, and went on to study numerous methods of communication, which she now teaches to different age groups. She has continued to study, and to teach in a number of different frameworks. Her best friend, Kika, also a married woman with children, has joined her in the quest for better education and communication. They are partners in the management of the kindergarten, and encourage study seminars with employees, and the parents of those children who attend their kindergarten.
When I first heard of some of their theories on education, I was quite skeptical. It sounded to me as if they were too optimistic about what children could do on their own; that it was too idealistic. But then, I had the pleasure of visiting their kindergarten, and getting to know some of the children and teachers, and my impressions were very positive. The kindergarten has been working now for about ten years, and has had great successes. When I’m thinking about education, I often consult with them. I find I have learned a lot from their opinions and experiences. Having said all of that, I think that if I had young children again, I would not choose to send them to Montessori schools, but would prefer a traditional Jewish education. Still, I respect their work and methods.
When speaking to them about the subject of self-esteem, they did not recognize the concept. Of course, we were talking Hebrew. And we looked for some parallel in our language, to see if this idea had penetrated our culture. The closest we were able to get, was the concept of ‘recognizing one’s own worth’. I learned that this was considered a valuable ingredient in the education of the young, according to ‘modern education’ in our country. I prefer this name to the term self-esteem, because it is more modest, and more realistic. But listening to these two educators, I soon realized that though the term was different, many of their ideas on what a child needed in order to become a good student and a healthy person were quite similar to the principles espoused by the ‘self-esteem’ proponents in the US. Since this school of thought is so popular in the west, I see no need to explain it further. But let me say, that thanks to my two friends, and examples that they described to me, showing how negative feelings about one’s self could discourage a person from studying, I felt that I was able to understand the issue better than I had understood it at first.
Esteem is described in the dictionary as ‘a high regard’, admiration, and even reverence. Self-esteem first became popular as a psychological term. It comes from a Greek word meaning ‘a reverence to self’. However, in reading psychological articles on the subject, it seems that the healthy objective is accepting one’s self for whom we are. Unfortunately, the whole push for self esteem is seen as a remedy for an inferiority complex, which is without doubt, a personality aberration. But is self-admiration better than an inferiority complex? I think not. I would consider that, an aberration no less damaging than the first complaint. Narcissism makes a person less sensitive to others, less aware of one’s potential and possibilities. And it distracts a person from work and accomplishment. My friends described ‘ideal’ learning situations in which there was no failure, and no frustration. But what is the true learning experience? For that matter, what is the creative experience all about?
It is about pushing yourself; holding yourself steady, aimed at the objective, as a pilots steers his ship through a stormy sea. It is work and struggle. It includes countless failures. And what is learned along the way, is that one has to take risks, and be willing to take a dive or a fall… and then must pick himself up, and continue the work despite the humiliation, the bruises and the scratches… and even broken bones on the way to the destination. The artist is a tightrope walker, who usually has a lot more scars than victories and successes. And where is that student, that hasn’t picked himself up after failure, and another failure, and another… sometimes more than he can count. Where do you climb a mountain without getting bruised and banged. I’ll tell you where. At Disneyland. Or watching a movie. Real life isn’t like that at all. And in real life, so often, the strong help the weak, as they climb together, or as they learn together. The students themselves, have compassion for their weaker members. They encourage them to overcome difficulties, and help them to reach the almost inaccessible ledge.
A good student has humility. He knows his limits, and still tries to surpass what he’s already done. He knows that many of his advantages are not to his own credit, but that he was born with a little more intellect… or maybe had a slightly better background, growing up. He is aware of how many know more than he does. And all of this tempers the feeling of exultation when he does succeed. And a poor student should aspire to emulate the behavior of those better than him. And yes, some are better than others. And there is no need for shame over this. Some are taller than others, and some throw a ball faster and more accurately than others, and some learn easier than others… but as long as you’re working at it, you may taste the ecstasy of learning.