Every time it is my turn to submit an article for the wonderful weekly e-newsletter, Happenings, I catch myself thinking to myself, “Which topic would interest most readers?” or, “Which part of the High School should I highlight this round?” Well, after some thought, I decided to keep it simple; let me share with the world what some of the struggles are in education today, and more specifically, what’s been on my “desk” (or mind) lately?
A new program which was started during my first year in the High School called “Debate Midrash,” has had some interesting moments, but more importantly has challenged me to think about difficult questions. It started with a topic which I brought to the table about a month ago, where the entire high school entered into a debate about “Gender Equality” and phrased with a question - Do we have a Gender Equality issue in our High School? The debate was impressive. Students on both sides of the coin debated respectfully about a delicate topic. I was enjoying the sight of the entire High School sitting in a circular formation, listening to one speaker who had the microphone and raising their hands patiently in order to contribute their respective opinions. I will admit many opinions expressed by our student body concerned me, but the fact that we have established a forum for open debate with respectful boundaries eased my temptation to react. However (and it's a big however), this only confirmed what I think I already knew - we have a social problem. We have a boundaries problem. We may even have a gender equality problem. I think we have a “lack of tolerance” problem. We have NOT done a good enough job having these open forums to educate our students on the importance of learning how to disagree and how to debate delicate topics. Acceptance of something that is different than what we are, this is what our next debate was about only a short three weeks after our gender equality debate, and again, I found myself tempted to react.
Our recent debate had to do with religious freedom in our country, and how it applies to Jews and other religions. We broached some delicate topics - abortion, Nazism, and same sex marriage (based on the recent Supreme Court case and the bakery case). While most students stayed within our guidelines and debated respectfully, there were some remarks that reminded me of how much work we have in order to improve. Being an Orthodox school, we always stipulate the position of the Torah, and how much it shapes our views, but in many of our debates, different people focus on different points within the Torah, and what they feel is most important to G-D!
I end my article with this closing thought and statement which I made at the end of the most recent Debate Midrash. In the movie Wonder, there is a scene with one of my favorite actors of all time, Mandy Patinkin (Mr. Tushman), the school Principal. The scene is in his office where he has called in the parents of the child Julian, who is the “bully” in the movie. After he does a back and forth shuffle with the “not so receptive” parents, he makes the following point, “Auggie (the bullied student) cannot change the way he looks, he is this way and he will stay this way. Although he wishes he can change a few things about his appearance, he cannot! But your child Julian, can change the way he sees Auggie! He can view him and accept him and treat him like everyone else, if he chooses to change the way he sees others.”
This thought has been on my “desk” for a long time, and it is something I work on everyday in school. I welcome and appreciate feedback.
Rabbi Aharon Assaraf
High School Co-Assistant Principal