I love teaching, and I’m privileged and blessed to work in a wonderful school. But I still can’t escape the feeling that there’s something deeply wrong with a system that needs to deaden a child in order to succeed with him.

It’s a sensitive and complicated topic, and 300ish words (including a tie-in to chapter 33) can’t do it justice, but hopefully gross generalizations can be refined and inaccuracies sharpened in later discussion. I’ll try to break it down like a piece of Talmud.

Problem: Many kids have a hard time paying attention in class, for many reasons.

Solutions: There are three primary solutions I see in the field, and another I want to suggest we think about more.

Solution #1: Take drugs.

Solution #2: Better classroom control.

Solution #3: More entertaining instruction.

A great teacher of mine, Dr. William Kahn, taught me that “it’s always sometimes”.  These solutions all work, sometimes, for some kids. The first demands the heaviest price, both financially from the parents, and, more painfully, from the student, in the form of side effects which can seem like they’re sucking the life right out of vital, lively children. Why pay this price? The cynical answer is because it’s the easiest, certainly for the teachers, from whom it demands nothing. But as a hard working teacher, I can testify that, try as I may, I fail to adequately provide solutions 2 and 3. I’m a teacher, Jim, not an entertainer, and certainly not a policeman!

What all these solutions share, though, is that they are responding to the attention deficit itself as the problem, and solving it by making it easier for the child to be attentive. But sometimes that’s not the problem. Sometimes it’s a symptom.

Which brings us to chapter 33. We suggested yesterday that the Jewish people’s sin was brought on by their restlessness. But why were they restless? Because their spiritual lives were too dependent on Moshe; they were, as God says, ‘Moshe’s nation’. They were addicted to their leader like our kids are addicted to their screens. Without them/him, they’re lost, bored, restless. But God’s vision was of a kingdom all of priests, each one of whom hears God’s voice within himself, in his own voice.

The root of the sin of the golden calf was thinking that God is not within them, an understanding that becomes concrete reality in chapter 33.

Sometimes, the deepest roots of the problems our children face is the thought that all the answers lie outside them. The above solutions all reinforce this misunderstanding. So the question we must also ask is: how do we help our children gain ownership over their own spiritual and academic lives, to understand that God’s voice, that at least part of the solution, lies within them?


This blog is my own little daily insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation

What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il