I was still in elementary school when Adolf Eichmann was put on trial in Israel. As I remember, it couldn't have been long after Anne Frank's diary had been published and made into a well-publicized movie. I knew nothing of the Holocaust until then. I lived in Bell Park Gardens, Bayside, NY, a garden apartment development for United States military veterans. Over 90% of the residents were Jewish. None of the parents had European accents, as I remember. Only our grandparents did. Maybe other families talked about the Holocaust, but mine didn't.
I learned of the Holocaust from the media and the Oakland Jewish Center Hebrew School. I was starving for information and decided that I just had to read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. So, I went to the Hebrew School Library and asked the librarian for it. Remember, I was just in the Sixth Grade at the time, not even twelve years old yet. Even for a (possibly) precocious eleven year a book of 1,245 pages is too much. The librarian, very wisely, steered me away from it and suggested I try a different book, Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story (by Zwy Aldouby and Quentin James Reynolds), Viking 1960. So I read it for an oral book report that was coming up. I'll never forget the day. I stood up, as I had been taught, and proudly and clearly stated that I was doing my book report on "Minister of Death by Quentin Reynolds." The teacher immediately interrupted with:
"A Sixth Grader couldn't have read a book by Quentin Reynolds. You're lying. You get a zero."I was so shocked that I just sat down and didn't say a word about it for years. It took me decades to even mention it to my parents. I didn't expect any support for my obvious "peculiarity," making the teacher angry by reading a book that interested me.
Looking back fifty years already... Maybe I hadn't understood every word, nuance, concept, whatever, but I did get the basic narrative. Obviously, the Hebrew School Librarian had taken more time to get to know me than my teacher, who taught me full-time, five days a week. And my parents didn't see their role as my advocate to represent my needs to the education system. At least it never occurred to me to ask for their help.
That scene has come back to haunt me, and still does. A decade after graduating the Sixth Grade I became a mother and I promised myself and my children that I'd do my best to represent them, as their advocate as they each made their ways through the school system.
From the difficulties I had as a child and student, I learned that being a parent requires many skills. Helping my children get what they needed from schools and librarians to reach their full potential was always a challenge. Each of my children is very different and had different needs. I had to be creative, diplomatic and sometimes very forceful.
As a teacher I had always enjoyed meeting with the parents, especially when I found kindred spirits, those who were willing to fight for their children, those who didn't lie to themselves and others about their children's strong and weak points, in terms of learning. One of the reasons I felt that the time had come for me to leave teaching was that no parent came to see me during my last Parent-Teacher Meeting. I had always made a point of systematically meeting with each of my children's teachers and frequently came armed with lists of things to speak to them about after consulting with my kids. It's not enough to just speak to the homeroom teacher.
Even if your child is very bright and gets good grades, it's important to speak to the teachers. I'll never forget the time when the teacher of one of my kids said:
"- doesn't have to work hard to get good grades."He apologized, and then when I saw him again at the next meeting he said:
I reared up in shock:
"- works very hard to get those good grades. Just because - doesn't seem stressed by it doesn't mean that great efforts hadn't been made."
"Now I've paid more attention to -, and I can see how hard - works. Thank you for pointing it out."My parents did the best job that they could, but it was a very different generation. Their parents entrusted them to get through school without complications and without help. My grandparents didn't have the English skills to deal with the New York City Public Schools of the time. I never expected help from my parents, but my generation took parenting differently. Many of us became very involved parents. It didn't matter if our kids were "too gifted," "too bright" for the system or if they couldn't keep up, due to "learning problems," like dyslexia, lower intelligence, personal problems with the teacher or any combination plus.
I took the pain and embarrassment of that day in the Sixth Grade and made it a very important lesson for me as a parent. That's what we must do. We must learn from everything that happens to us and convert it into something good.