Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich

This contribution toward education undermines the traditions and models of the current "educational industrial complex".  The book encourages parents to take control over their children's education and take advantage of the explosion of new technologies and social networks.  It attacks traditional school as antiquated, inefficient, and too expensive.  According to the book, traditional school caters to the common denominators and not to the individual, tests don't work, and homework is a waste of time that could be utilized for 'real learning'.  The concept being a "drop off" parent can be devastating to a child's development and the author encourages that care givers be those that love the child like a grandparent instead of a hired nanny.

The author is a believer in observation and discovery and informal outdoor education (one learns so much more at a summer camp then during a whole year at school).  He believes that observing animals as microcosms is more valuable than listening to a teacher drone on about societies.

Mr. Aldrich encapsulates and conceptualizes learning to three directions: Learn to be, learn to do and learn to know.  These three concepts will guide anyone's curricula of study.  We want our children, for example, to be good citizens, morally and ethically aware.  We want our children to be able to do things, developing skills to succeed.  Knowledge is required for both.  If one would use these three concepts as their guide one will discover traditional school is not at all necessary.

Mr. Aldrich claims that our grandparent's generation got it right when the core learning consisted of 'reading, writing and arithmetic'.  Those three areas are essential to success in life.  One needs to be able to research a subject of interest, one needs to be able to correspond socially and one needs to be able to make purchases and balance a checkbook.  He encourages projects likes creating a business or creating or planning an event to replace classroom learning because that is what happens in real life! The amount of time spent learning literature is waste for most and should be only be encouraged to those that LOVE literature.  Calculus should be part of History and only a math subject for those that show LOVE of mathematics.   Math should include 'the spread sheet' as a requirement because it is essential in every business.  He claims the ideal classroom size is 5 students not 25.  The interaction of 5 is so much more intimate and real then organizing 25 people.

This book is really for those committed to homeschooling, those willing to devote much time to the development of one's child's growth.  Those parents willing to remove their child from the common educational industrial complex and allow the child freedom to explore the world on one's own terms. [My wife and I pulled our children out of their elementary school one year to homeschool them until we were satisfied that the school changed sufficiently.  That year we connected with an accredited Charter School, homeschooled them and admittedly our children learned more in one year then their previous years of schooling. Socially, however, our children felt they suffered, they felt isolated from their friends and missed the school culture to which they were already accustomed and they were happy to return to their school.] Although Mr. Aldrich would like to see a major change to traditional school, he understands that the majors changes he encourages are not going to happen in the near future.  His ideas nevertheless should be taken into account by every educator.

I am personally taken by his three concepts of learning (to be, to do and to know) because they immediately remind me of a Torah education of the most traditional kind.  A Torah observant person learns to Be a good Yehudi, he learns to Do the mitzvos and is devoted to (as the Rambam says) KNOW Hashem.  The traditional Yeshiva model fits perfectly into Mr. Aldrich's conclusions about education.  Traditional Yeshiva students are actually well educated for success because they have mastered the skills behind learning to be, learning to do and learning to know!  With the conclusions of Mr. Aldrich, one should not be so quick to dismiss traditional Yeshiva education.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Crowd by Stephen Birmingham

This richly researched study of an American Jewish aristocracy shows that the USA is truly a land of opportunity, and reinforces the idea that assimilation, the disappearance of Jewish identity is associated with its high society and culture.  Mr. Birmingham traces the fantastic rise of some prominent 19th century German Jewish immigrants from poor beginnings to astronomical wealth.  It is a study of timing and opportunity, being in the right place at the right time with the appropriate ambition and talent.  The family names of Seligman, Lehman, Guggenheim, Schiff, Loeb and Warburg are highlighted in this very readable study.

The Lehmans started out in the South as cotton brokers and survived the Civil War to eventually develop a commodity trading house that evolved into the investment house of Lehman Bros.  The Guggenheims started out peddlers and sold successfully copper polish and eventually developed the mining business in states like Colorado.  Jacob Schiff as a young German immigrant joined the investment banking of Kuhn, Loeb and eventually eclipsed the founders' success as a result of his vision of the railroad industry and representing one the most successful railroad barons.  Joseph Seligman and his brothers started out as pre-Civil War peddlers, yet developed an investment banking house that practically mirrors the famous and most powerful Rothschilds by placing brothers strategically in European cities.

Jacob Schiff's leadership in the Jewish community is so profound that he becomes the address for philanthropy during the wave of massive Eastern European immigration of 1880's through almost the first quarter of the twentieth century.  His rigid principles and integrity serve him well.  WWI, however becomes a curious dilemma for him when he makes a stipulation that his loan to Britain and its allies may not in anyway be utilized by Czarist Russia.  Schiff, angry at Russia's treatment of Jews had loaned money to Japan to successfully win its war against Russia earlier. He can not bring himself to see that such a hard line stipulation would be interpreted as German sympathies.  He is falsely accused of hoping for a German victory.

Otto Kahn, also a partner of Kuhn, Loeb, is an example of opulence and the culture of New York City because he nurses to health the NYC opera company.  According to the book, the street, 5th Ave. of NYC basically begins as a row of Jewish built mansions.

In most of these cases Jewish identity becomes blurred or becomes unimportant with the generations that inherit the incredible wealth.  The lure of materialism and hedonism along with the desire for social acceptance seem to ravage these once religiously identified orthodox Jewish families to become a secular almost Protestant group - when asked about her Jewish identity, one heiress replied that perhaps she was once married by a rabbi.

This book, nevertheless, demonstrates that the USA has been a tremendous land of opportunity open to all and lacks the profound anti-Semitism of European history.  This book shows that some prominent Jews play a key role in building up its cities and developing the culture of America.