This is the first time I’m writing in to a column so please bear with me. I have an issue with homework. My kids are coming home and have to immediately begin doing work and It’s ridiculous. I don’t remember getting this much work, and I can’t allow it to continue. My children are growing up in a generation that has a poor work ethic, and yet we expect children to attend nine hours of school, not even counting the 45 minutes on the bus each day. When he finally arrives home he gets a quick snack, and then begins working again, and It’s just not healthy. They also expect the kids to search information online which requires supervision and I can’t be with him. I did read your article about this subject, I just didn’t feel that it answered my issue. I want to tell the teacher that homework is wrong. I’m siding with my kids. How can I do that? R.K. – Far Rockaway
Homework has become an issue for many families, and I think you hit the nail on the head. Our generation is extremely lazy, and yet we demand non-stop work from the kids. I’ve been in houses where the father comes home after a long day at work, and he sits back and relaxes. In the meantime, his children are frantically doing their many homework assignments. They also had a long day. School is work.
My initial response is that I agree with you. As a Rebbe, I do the work in class, and if any boys do not complete the work, they finish at home while learning with their Chavrusah. I actually encourage parents not to help their children with the work. I’m fond of telling parents, “If your children don’t understand something, it’s my job as an educator to help them.” Once parents start helping their children with the homework, it’ll never end. Additionally, teachers should want to see where students had difficulty with the work, in order to review/explain the material in class the next day.
Let’s take a step back and try to understand the point of homework. In school the kids learn a lot over a relatively short amount of time. There may be nine hours of school, but your son can be learning Gemara, Chumash, Halacha, Navi, Math, Science, History, English and much more. That’s not including Davening, recess, lunch and breaks. The Rebbe or teacher wants to reinforce the material that was learned, so he gives a little work at home to review. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Realistically speaking, many Rebbeim and teachers have a certain amount of material they need to cover. If they don’t have enough time, some simply assign it for home work. In these instances, the kids come home with a lot of work, and they usually require assistance – which can be tough on parents as well. When my 1st grade son came to me for some homework help, I quickly realized that I cannot do first grade math using Common Core.
I have spoken to many parents who feel that the constant strain of homework is destroying their relationship with their children. They put pressure on their children to finish up, and both the kids and parents become tense. As one mother wrote, “A foul mood descends on our house nightly because of the homework situation”. That’s not acceptable.
I cannot come up with a simple answer for the schools. This is definitely a serious issue, and they need to have some internal meetings to come up with a viable solution that fits their curricula. I can however, give you some advice for your home. I do suggest that people first read the homework email I wrote a few years ago, which gives solutions to help manage the workload. My suggestions below are more focused on coming up with viable solutions on a permanent basis.
Have a great Shabbos.
Dear Rabbi Ross. My name is (Redacted) and I feel like a bad kid. Here’s why. I love peanut butter. Chunky and plain. My parents used to always give it to me for lunch and snacks when I was a little boy. Now I’m in 7th grade and I still can’t have it in school since the school is nut free. What’s next not having meat? Why can’t the boys with allergies go into one class for their grade, and the other classes can have nuts? I know I sound mean, but I’m just frustrated. (Redacted)
I don’t think you’re a bad or mean person. I think you are a bit confused about what allergies are, but that’s understandable. We spend a lot of time educating adults about the dangers of certain foods, but children are just told they can’t have them. I’ll try and make it clearer for you.
Let’s start with the difference between allergies and dietary habits. You mentioned not having meat, and there are people who are vegetarians and therefore don’t eat meat. There are also people who are vegan which means that they don’t eat meat or animal products including eggs, milk and so on. Those people made a decision to change their dietary choices, and we respect their decision. We are not obligated to hide the fact that we eat meat, nor do we have to stop eating meat (or eggs) in front of them.
Allergies are a completely different ballgame. Nobody chooses to have an allergy, and it’s a life-changing event. I know some children who have such severe allergies that if they even smell peanuts, they can become seriously ill. These kids are unable to attend any events that might have nut products present and need to carry an EpiPen with them at all times.
An EpiPen is a special shot that can save the life of someone having an allergic reaction. This reaction can be from a bee sting, eating certain types of fish or even smelling a peanut, depending on what the person is allergic to. During this allergic reaction, the person’s throat can swell up so badly that they will be unable to breathe. The EpiPen reverses the allergic reaction, giving enough time for this person to get to a doctor or hospital.
The obvious question is, which children get allergies? Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to that. Scientists and doctors have been testing theories for a long time, but as of now, it’s still unknown. In other words, it could be a neighbor, a relative or a close friend. It’s absolutely terrifying to have an allergic reaction, not only for the person having the reaction, but even for the people watching. There was one time that I had to inject a boy with an EpiPen, and it was not a pleasant experience.
What does this have to do with you? Well, there are even adults that have asked this question. “Why do I have to stop eating peanuts in front of the other people? Let them go somewhere else!”
The answer is, that allergies affect all of us. We’re one nation, and when we stick together we bring Moshiach closer, which is our ultimate goal. Sticking together means more than just wishing each other “Good Shabbos”, it means actually taking care of one another. If your best friend was unable to be in a room with peanuts, would you stop being his friend? Of course not! You would learn to adapt. Not only that, you would make sure that no one else is eating peanuts around him.
We have an obligation to be sensitive to the needs of other people. Instead of thinking about the fact that you are being inconvenienced by not being allowed a PB&J sandwich in Yeshiva, you should be focusing on the fact that these boys are never allowed to have one. You need to understand that when you want to go to a ballgame, you just go. Many of these children cannot go to a game. They can’t go to concerts or even some amusement parks. They have it much harder than you!
What if no one in your class is allergic, but the school has a “No nuts” policy? Can you bring in nuts? The answer is still, “No”! We don’t want to risk a different child’s health (or life C”V), so a different child can have a chocolate bar with nuts. I once had a parent ask me, “What are the odds that a child will get hurt if my son eats a PB&J sandwich?” I told him, “There are no acceptable odds when we’re talking about someone getting hurt.”
It’s completely normal for you to be frustrated that you can’t have the foods that you enjoy in Yeshiva. However, you need to keep things in perspective. You can go home and have these foods, the boys that are allergic can’t. Focusing on the feelings of your friends is a great way to improve your own Middos.
Have a great Shabbos!
Hi Rabbi Ross. I’m a ten-year-old girl writing this letter with help from my mother. My parents want me to dress in a way that they say is Tznius, and I’m unhappy with these rules. Some examples are the length of my socks or skirt or even the color of my sweatshirts. My friends all dress the way they want to, and I feel different than everyone else. My mother said if you agree with me, she’ll rethink her rules. Please agree with me. I’m not giving my real name because my mother won’t let me. Estie
Hi, “Estie.” You sound like a bright young woman, and I’m going to be very straight with you. There are two separate issues that are in your email, and I don’t want to confuse them. The first issue is the one regarding “Tznius.” You feel restricted and wish you could dress the way you want. Your friends seem to wear whatever they want, and you don’t want to be the odd one. The second issue is that you seem to feel that your parents are overly protective, or overly strict. That’s not something I can discuss in this article, but it will be discussed in a future issue.
Tznius is an overused word that I’m not so fond of. Many people have been using it to describe the way people dress, but it’s so much more than that. Tznius is a way of life for all Jews. It’s not about being restricted, it’s about living life as a Torah Jew. Limiting it to just a method of dress is wrong. It also describes the way people should speak and act, in public and in private. I know people who dress extremely conservatively and yet don’t act B’Tznius, and others that don’t dress as carefully but behave in a much more Tznius manner. In other words, you can’t judge people just by the way they dress, and it’s actually a dangerous thing to do.
That being said, there are times that people need to dress in a specific way. For example, you wouldn’t go to a water park in a suit and tie, and you probably wouldn’t go to school in a bathing suit. Why not? Because there are certain times that you need to dress in a suitable way. As a Yid, that holds true all the time. We need to dress appropriately all the time.
Getting back to your letter/question, how should you dress? That’s not a question I can answer. Using Halacha and/or Rabbonim to guide them, parents try to educate their children regarding the importance of being “Tznius.” Some people have certain customs that others don’t have. There are no specific guidelines that every person follows, rather we follow our family custom. I’m sure your parents understand and appreciate the importance of looking like a Bas Torah. Their job is not to tell all the girls in your class what to wear, rather, their only responsibility is to help you and your siblings. It’s unfair to compare the way your friends dress since they come from different families and backgrounds. Besides, let’s be fair. I’m sure there are girls that have parents that are even stricter than yours.
When girls complain about dressing appropriately, I tell them to look at pictures of the Queen of England. Why does she always seem to be dressed in a dignified way? It’s because she’s royalty! She understands that she is different, and how important it is to be more modest. Well, you are also royalty – you’re a Bas Yisrael!
Here’s what I suggest. If there is one aspect that is really frustrating to you, ask your parents if you can ask your Rav or Menahel their opinion. It can’t be a general, “I don’t like to dress this way”, but you can focus on one aspect that is difficult for you. For example, there is a family I know whose daughter wanted to wear pink sneakers, and her parents felt it was inappropriate. The parents agreed to ask their Rav who said that it wasn’t a problem, and this girl is now the proud owner of a neon-pink pair of sneakers.
I understand that you want me to agree with you, but unfortunately, I can’t agree or disagree with you. What I can tell you, is that your parents are not trying to make you miserable, rather they’re trying to guide you. It’ll make more sense when you’re a mother IY”H. Interestingly enough, I received a similar question from a mother’s perspective a few months ago. I think you’ll enjoy reading that answer as well.
May you have the strength to grow into a true Bas Yisroel in all aspects of your life and be Zoche to fulfill the mitzvah of “Hatznea Leches Im Elokecha” wherever you go.
Have a great Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.