Herbert J. Cohen
Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: Like Stars on Earth/Taare Zameen Par

Many years ago, I heard Harry Chapin, the celebrated folk singer, perform one of his signature songs, “Flowers are Red,” at a concert on the Fox Theater in Atlanta. The song tells the story of a young boy who draws pictures of flowers with many different colors. The teacher informs him that he is coloring the flowers incorrectly. He should paint them in hues of red and green “the way they always have been seen.” The teacher refuses to recognize that students learn differently and, in effect, stifles the child’s creativity. Years later, the student moves to a different town where his new teacher encourages creativity. Unfortunately, the student is still stuck with his previous teacher’s rigid mindset and can paint flowers only in red and green.

Like Stars on Earth, a film from India, recounts the story of eight-year-old Ishaan Awasthi, who is perceived by his teachers as lazy, mischievous, and intellectually weak. Ishaan is constantly day dreaming instead of paying attention in class. He even cuts school to wander about the city and observe people and phenomena that interest him.

When it becomes clear to his parents that Ishaan has no academic future at his current school, they send him to an expensive boarding school with hopes that the school will discipline him and make him into a solid student. Regrettably, the same problems that existed in his previous school follow him in his new environment, until a new teacher comes on the scene.

He is Ram Shankar Nibumbh, an art teacher possessing great joy and optimism. He sees the latent intelligence and creativity in Ishaan and works with him to overcome his learning problems. Nibumbh is patient and discovers that Ishaan’s main problem is dyslexia. Once that problem is defined, his parents and the other staff in the school begin to view Ishaan’s lackadaisical school persona differently. When Ishaan’s hidden talents are revealed, his destiny as a student changes. People then see him as a success, not a failure.

Tali Davis, a Jewish educator and mother of a dyslexic child, shares her parental frustration in coping with a child who presents unique educational challenges. She observes: “School is a nightmare for my boy. And it goes something like this –‘Please read out loud from the top of page 42.’ The teacher points to him. His body begins to shake, he feels his head tighten as he tries to focus his eyes on the words at the top of page 42. Minutes pass. The teacher wants to give him a chance. She really means well. The other kids begin to rustle their papers. Now, she can’t wait for him. My son can’t read or understand the instructions, so he stares out the window. The he gets bored and scribbles all over his textbook. The teacher, noticing his graffitied book, sends my son out of the classroom for failing to follow instructions and for damaging his book. My son sits out for fifteen minutes and misses half the science lesson. When he returns, he’s lost so he begins to make paper airplanes. During English, he throws the airplanes at the white board but one accidently hits the teacher in the nose. The whole class laughs. And by the end of the day, my son is in the principal’s office for detention.”

Thankfully, Davis found professional help and then her son’s behavior began to improve. The critical moment of change was when she began viewing her child differently, not by the same standards that she used when relating to her other children. She sensed that for her dyslexic child, success in life would be defined differently. He would still make a positive impact on the world, but in his own special way. The key for her was developing patience and a positive outlook for the future. The Bible tells us that everyone is created in the image of God. Just as God is unique, so is man, and the uniqueness of every child has to be both respected and nurtured.


About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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