June 27, 2019 My Hasidic Report Card versus My Son’s Public School Version
School ended for New York City’s public middle school yesterday, and my son brought home his report card. I won’t go into that rascal and his grades, but I was struck by how different his report card looks from what mine looked like as a student in the Hasidic school system.
Here’s a sample New York City Middle School report card. Students are assigned courses, and each course gets one grade per period.
My son was graded on:
- ELA (English Language Arts / Reading Comprehension in Hasidic Schools)
- Physical Education / Gym
- Social Studies
There are no behavior grades, although I assume those are calculated into the grade. I know that a student gets penalized in their grade if they forget their stuff because I once got an angry call from the gym teacher about proper gym equipment. She made it clear to me that the risk of grade penalty is high and dire and almost life-threatening. Ha. But from my view as a parent required to sign off on the report card, all I see are grades ranging from 0-100%.
Hasidic girls schools have two “schools” within the system: Yiddish and English (called “aynglish” by the girls). The Yiddish department teaches religious subjects, the English department teaches the secular subjects like math, science, history, and yes, reading comprehension.
Before I moved to Brooklyn I threw out almost everything I had in my endless suburban garage, but I found this scan of my 2001 Yiddish report card – among a few similar scans. I don’t have any English report cards – although they are fairly similar. That picture on there is of our school, which by the way doubled as a wedding venue and was where I got married. (This factoid will be on the test and calculated into your GPA :).)
I believe this is the corresponding inside.
The report card had two parts: Studies and Character.
Here is what I got graded on.
- Translation of prayers
- laws of shabbat
- something-something-something. I obviously didn’t always pay attention because I don’t know what this is.
- meat and dairy
- Yichud (the study of men and women being alone in a room, which is generally forbidden but the rules can get complicated.)
- History of various periods of Jewish history
- Again something-something-something.
- The study of the book of Koheles (I think?). Apparently, according to Wikipedia, that’s Ecclesiastes. Who knew.
- The study of the book of Mishlei, which again, I am now informed by my friends at Wikipedia is the book of Proverbs. We learned all these morality tales orally and out of order, so I can’t be blamed for my ignorance. Anyway, I got a 98 and 99 respectively.
- The history of the Jewish Prophets – this period alone was always a subject. Why oh why did they insist on teaching various periods of history at the same time and totally confusing the chronology!
- Pirkei Avot, prophets of the sages. This was a different kind of prophets from the book of prophets and different from the history of prophets. Are you starting to get numb with the minutia yet?
- The prayers “Ani Mammin”
- Truth and Faith
- Wonders of the World
- Attention during class
- Dedication and responsibility
- Interactions with friends
- Behavior during sewing
- Dedication during sewing
Notice I didn’t do so great at sewing. But which of my classmates went on to transform their sewing binders into an internet blog post, right?
Here are some thoughts. I’ll help myself to some editorializing because I have a lot of opinions.
When I look at my own report card and at my son’s, I have no warm regards for those endless morality lessons and the hard work involved. But I also see Hasidic report cards as much more innocent and harmless. We all wanted to get great grades and we competed with each other, but we weren’t constantly informed that a forgotten gym shirt would result in a point off, which would affect high school admissions and then college would be out of the question and then the future is over, finished, chances missed. That’s no joke: public school kids are indoctrinated in the inherent risk of a bad report card, to the point of inducing an insane amount of stress. This is especially true in New York City Public schools that serve predominantly low-income students, like my son’s. At Ditmas Junior High the students don’t have high odds of making it to an ivy league high school, because they come from many disadvantaged backgrounds. But there is a huge push in the city to level the playing field and create equal opportunity, or as I’d say in a more cynical moment, to provide wealthy elites with the illusion that they earned their seats in these top schools and positions, so these kids are constantly told to try to get into good high schools. The grades are the key to the door, and if your key doesn’t fit, you can spend life at the bottom of the ladder cupping your hands for crumbs and facing the worst of global warming. It’s a scary future for those who don’t figure out how to get a foot through the elite doors, so good grades are all these kids have. It’s a huge weight on their shoulders.
Would I rather my child study in a Hasidic school, where history is ahistorical and blind faith is a critical subject to master? Nah. But I’d like for him to bring home a report card that reflects an effort to raise more of a mentch than just a corporate wannabe, and it could borrow some ideas from the Hasidic report card.
Meanwhile, what not to borrow? This 9th-grade Hasidic test on the dangers of “Mockery”. I only have the answers, no questions.
Here are some quotes from my profoundly disturbing answers:
What do you learn from this subject?
Answer 1: “We need to have faith in the sages and believe with simplicity in their words…”
Answer 4: “…to rebel and sin by using mockery”
[What is the punishment for mockery?] “Suffering in the physical world. Not to be able to join everyone in their trip to Israel when the Messiah arrives. Losing your piece of the afterlife.”
[What does a mockerer do?] “He makes fun and makes everyone around him mock with him and laugh with him.”
[When is mockery allowed?] “If it keeps someone from idol worship then mockery is allowed.”
I believe this is how I looked when I wrote these answers and proudly aced the test:
Oh, the mockery!