And Even If Parents Are Present …
Elli Fischer discussed Yitzhak using the frame-of-reference of a rabbi’s child and the set of overwhelming expectations that may be brought to bear on such an individual. Zev Eleff followed up with a discussion of how professionally-engaged parents, like rabbis, doctors, and lawyers, are often unavailable either physically or psychologically to their offspring. Yet another level of complexity is added by R. Samson Raphael Hirsch in his discussion of why the twins, Yaakov and Esav, turned out as differently as they did, despite—or possibly because of—receiving the same type of upbringing in the home of Yitzhak and Rivkah.
The Torah relates: “And the boys grew up, and Esav was a man familiar with hunting, an outdoorsman, and Yaakov was uninitiated (in the ways of the world), a dweller in tents” (Gen. 25:27). How might we account for the inconsistency between Yaakov and Esav? R. Hirsch insists that the educational principle stated in Proverbs—“Educate the youth in accordance with his way” (22:6)—was not adhered to by Yitzhak and Rivkah, particularly when it came to dealing with Esav. R. Hirsch states:
They paid no attention to the hidden inclinations (of their children) … a single Torah and a single type of education was provided for both of them …
The great Jewish mission is singular and unique in its essence; however, the way it manifests itself is multiple and variegated, like the multiple personality traits in people, and the varieties of their manner of living …
Requiring Yaakov and Esav to sit upon a single “school bench,” employing the same routines for educating them concerning a life of learning and thinking, was guaranteeing that one of them would be “ruined.” Yaakov drew from the spring of wisdom with an ever-increasing desire, whereas Esav only looked forward to the day when he could throw the old books “over his shoulder,” and along with them this entire approach to life, which he was led to understand in only a single-sided way to which his specific nature could not relate.
The importance of individualized instruction is usually thought to be a modern idea, so it is of note that a nineteenth century thinker advocated such an approach. But whereas professional educators are currently trained to take into consideration as much as possible the different personality traits and learning styles that they are likely to encounter in their classrooms, parents usually lack such preparation.
My wife, Joan, has often remarked that whereas one requires a license before she or he can drive, or provide complex services—there is no such prerequisite for being a parent. (Ironically, in day schools, general studies teachers must all be licensed, but this is often not the case with respect to the Judaic studies faculty!) Consequently, even if a child is fortunate enough to have parents who deliberately and self-consciously interact with him or her, whether that parent will be capable of or interested in addressing the child’s individual needs is highly questionable.
Children will experience the luck of the draw in their upbringing. Some will benefit tremendously, some will suffer, and still others will only succeed if they are capable of and motivated to overcome the limitations of the home-life and education that they will be given.