The following piece of news made me cringe:

A complaint of age discrimination by the mother of two 10-year-old twin boys has been dismissed. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint was filed by Wendy Foster against the University of Ottawa after her boys were removed by the school from a course on “science and social activism” about a month after they began attending classes in 2006. They had been initially allowed into the class as “special students,” but the school later decided that they could not attend because they did not meet the entry requirements.

It is very disturbing to see parents who rob their children of a childhood because of their own abysmally low self-esteem.

When I was in grad school, there was a woman who kept bringing her 12-year-old daughter to our graduate-level literature classes. Her position was that the girl was a prodigy and would benefit from participating in courses where the average age of students was 30+. The mother wasn’t a student, she just knew some people who pressured the professors into letting her in.

A grad course in Contemporary Latin American literature is a place where adult topics are often discussed. We talked about violence and quoted passages with explicit sex scenes. Imagine how the poor 12-year-old suffered as she sat there with all these adults discussing mature topics on the one hand and her helicopterish Momma on the other. The kid’s misery was palpable, especially when the mother prodded her to make comments. I have no idea whether the girl was a “prodigy” (I don’t even believe that child prodigies exist). What I do know is that she was not properly socialized for her age. Her general behavior was more like the one you can observe in an 8-year-old. This is not surprising with such a hyper-protective parent.

It is true that some kids are intellectually ahead of their peers at school. I spent most of my school years feeling intensely bored in class. However, as I said many times before, school years provide an invaluable and an irreplaceable opportunity to get socialized (not to be confused with becoming sociable) according to one’s age level. A smart kid will have plenty of time to go to the university and become as much of a genius as s/he wants. Childhood and adolescence, however, should be dedicated to taking one’s time to grow. There is absolutely no value whatsoever in pushing a kid into adult situations ahead of time.

There are parents who believe that their child is too smart to “waste time” in playing and hanging out with kids his or her age. However, the time spent playing with teddy-bears and toy trucks is never wasted. These activities develop a child psychologically and provide him or her with life-long coping skills. Parents who push their kids into the role of wunderkinder would be better served finding their own professional and social realization and letting the poor children mature at a normal pace.

Are Textbooks in Israel Biased?

Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli academic, has published a study on the anti-Palestinian bias in Israeli school books:

Everything they do, from kindergarten to 12th grade, they are fed in all kinds of ways, through literature and songs and holidays and recreation, with these chauvinistic patriotic notions.

You can read the entire discussion of the book at the link I provided. I only wanted to mention that the discussion would be more productive if its author mentioned that this happens in every nation-state in the world. Nationalism operates by falsifying history and promoting an emotional allegiance to an imaginary entity through music, sports, and intense patriotic propaganda.

It always looks very funny to me when the Americans, the Russians and the British (to name just a few examples) righteously excoriate Israel’s patriotic propaganda without even mentioning that they have been engaged in the same thing for a very long time.


Israel: In Search of a Safe Place for the Jews

In 1993, my grandfather left Ukraine and moved to Israel. Before he retired, he had been a very well-known doctor in our city. I remember how, as a child, I didn’t really like to take walks with him because we would be stopped every two minutes by grateful patients who wanted to thank him, hug him, or shake his hand.

My grandfather founded several hospitals in the city, which, in the Soviet era, required incredible organizational skills and perseverance. He started a health facility where women could give birth in the water and where little babies were provided with a special swimming-pool. Every time when he opened a new hospital, though, he would soon be removed from it. He was a Jew, so that was to be expected. He never complained but simply laughed and started a new hospital.

By 1993, he felt he had had enough of anti-Semitism and moved to Israel. Ten years later, he came back to Ukraine. Living in the environment of constant fear and terrorist threat proved too much for him.

As we all know, Israel was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust when Jews were slaughtered in an act of horrible genocide, as the rest of the world stood by and watched. The idea behind Israel was that if Jews had a country of their own, they could feel safer in an anti-Semitic world. I think that today we can conclude that, as of now, this goal has not been reached. There are few places in the world that are as dangerous for a Jew as Israel.

Creating a national identity for people who, initially, have very little in common always requires a lot of violence. (Look at the US as another example of this). In such circumstances, a peaceful creation of Israel was absolutely impossible. The sense of being a beleaguered nation surrounded with enemies is indispensable for the creation of a strong national identity when we are talking about people who came together from very different countries, cultures, linguistic backgrounds, etc.

Jewish diaspora was a great tragedy for the Jewish people but it was simultaneously the root of great achievements both for the Jews and for the countries to which they dispersed. It isn’t a coincidence that so many great thinkers, philosophers, writers and scientists were Jews. When you are placed in a position of being a perennial outsider in a society where you live, you end up seeing things clearly. It is easier to resist the accepted ideology from the margins than from the center. This clarity of vision came at a great price. I don’t need to narrate the history of Jewish suffering in the course of 2000 years because we all know it well enough.

In no way do I condemn the Jews who decided to move to Israel and create a country for themselves. However, I don’t see that plan as something I might be interested in. Nationalism, in my opinion, always takes away more than it gives. Since I don’t value the sense of belonging to a community and don’t seek to dilute my individuality in a group, nationalism has pretty much nothing to offer me. The path I have chosen is one of seeing how one can make a country where one lives less anti-Semitic. When I tell my students about the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, I often see that they are really shaken. Granted, this is a small contribution on my part, but out of such small contributions, a sense of acceptance is born little by little.

Beware, Montrealers!

For those of my readers who are lucky to reside in Montreal, I have to issue a warning: there is a bad virus going around. Several people I know caught it and then I also succumbed in my last two days there.

The virus first gives you a very sore throat, then it clogs your ears and your sinuses. I never even knew what the sinuses were and where they were located. I do now. Then, the muscle soreness and general weakness overcome you. And the worst part is that the initial symptoms don’t disappear, so you get new symptoms added on top of the old ones.

And, of course, I have to drag myself to a committee meeting today and a faculty meeting tomorrow. I hate meetings as it is, and in a very sick state they will be even more painful.