Why I Skipped the Fourth Night of Chanukah

CW: abuse, graphic moment of PTSD

Last night, I wrote a Facebook post. I started writing it as a brief post, because I had planned to share my menorah-lighting each night of Chanukah this year, and I wanted to explain why I wouldn’t be sharing the 4th night’s lights. But it turned into a long post, and I decided to share here on my blog as well.

This is the first year I’m lighting Chanukah candles. Growing up frum, I didn’t light, because only the boys lit. There was no real prohibition against girls lighting, but it wasn’t “done.” (see this story where I got excited thinking I would light but then didn’t…) And for the first few years after I left, I had no desire to engage in this ritual.

This year, I bought a menorah and candles, and was excited to have my own little lighting ceremony. And that’s how I learned that the association of Chanukah with the brother who abused me is likely never to go away…

I don’t think I’m going to light menorah tonight. I’m still on the train to the ferry, so I’ll be getting home pretty late and I’m really tired.

And also… it’s the 4th night of Chanukah. The night when my father would sit us all down to dole out Chanukah gelt from my parents and grandparents to each of us. The night when we celebrated the birthday of my oldest brother.

He’s been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t help but be aware of when his birthday is coming up, tied as it is to a holiday.

Every time Chanukah comes around, I think of him. This year, I feel a vague sort of… disinterest when I think about him.

I remember that dream I had about him four years ago, when I first started dealing with the memories: I dreamt of standing over his open casket, taking out a large kitchen knife, and slicing his stomach open down the middle.

I was so filled with rage against him for so long.

You did this to me! You betrayed my trust! You were my big brother, you claimed to love me, and you used my body for your own gain! And you knew all these years, and said nothing! And when I confronted you about it, you didn’t apologize! You! You did this to me!

I don’t feel rage against him anymore.

For a while, I pitied him.

You poor miserable creature, you never grew up and became a man. You disgusting being, enveloped in your own brand of jovial desperation. Your own life was messed up, true — but it’s your choice that you didn’t take responsibility and become an adult. It’s your fault that you let your wife turn the blame on me, but I pity you for having no spine or backbone of your own.

I don’t pity him anymore.

I feel… disinterest when I think of him. He has no bearing on my life anymore. My life is my own. He cannot harm me any longer.

It took me a long time to achieve this distance, disinterest, dispassion. But I’ve done it.

Tonight I will not light Chanukah candles. I will light my small candle on my altar, and I will watch the flickering flames, barely casting any light at all, and I will sleep in the darkness.

In the comfort of the home I made for myself, in the life I made for myself.

Embracing all the bright shadows that make me who I am.

I call this my vagina menorah. (It’s supposed to be a rimon, a pomegranate.)

Support a College Student

A frum girl is having trouble paying for her college. Help a yid out?

The GoFundMe description:

Ahuva (not her real name) is a student at a public college. She paid for her first two semesters of college using money she had saved throughout high school from babysitting jobs and summer jobs. She continues to work now while in college. She has applied, and continues to apply, for merit-based scholarships. But her school and department offer primarily need-based scholarships, for which she does not qualify, since she is a legal dependent on her financially-secure parents – even though she is paying for her own college.

It’s almost time for her to pay for her Spring 2019 semester, and she is $1000 short. So we turn to you: 

Will you give some Chanuka gelt to help Ahuva stay in college?

Why Ahuva needs and deserves this:

1) She graduated from a Bais Yaakov, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish all-girls school in which students are actively discouraged from attending college. Throughout high school, she voraciously read to support her passion for learning on her own, and she asked the school administration for enriching classes (though the school did not provide them). She graduated high school with straight A’s and received an Advanced Honors Regents diploma.

2) In her first few semesters of college, she attended six classes each semester. In her first semester, she was still attending seminary in the mornings. She received straight A’s in her first semester of college (in fact, three were A+ grades) and maintains a 4.0 GPA.

3) She is part of the Honors Program and is taking rigorous classes despite being ineligible for Honors Program scholarships – just because she likes the rigor! She frequently describes challenging classes as “so much fun!!!” She visits her professors in their office hours frequently and reads books they recommend or lend to her, and then goes to their offices again to discuss her ideas.

4) She holds herself to extremely high standards, and has goals of pursuing a PhD.

Sorted: Educators’ Praise as Evidence of Their Ideologies

According to one theory about the Hogwarts Houses and the Sorting Hat, students are not sorted by what they are best at. Rather, they are sorted by what they value most. Most of the characters in the series contain multiple traits from each of the four houses, but the house they are sorted into indicates which traits they value most.

As I continue to work on my dissertation’s central question (what is education, according to different cultures?) I have been asking what each system of education values. It stands to reason that the traits praised by educators are the ones they see as the goal of education.

My own report cards from elementary school provide an interesting window into this question. I was usually an excellent student, with some notable exceptions. But what exactly each teacher praises is telling.

Some teachers who wrote my report card comments value academics, self-discipline, and effort. Some don’t mention academics at all, and instead focus entirely on personality. Most are a mix of the two. 

Many talk about my contribution to the class, and many mention a wish that I provide nachas to my parents – as if the purpose of my excellence is to benefit my parents and community, not primarily to help propel my own future.

My favorite of these is my eighth grade Secular Studies report card. Mrs. Mitnick was my favorite teacher in elementary/middle school, because she so obviously valued intelligence and academic success for personal benefit. And her comments reflect that. Thank you, Mrs. Malky Mitnick ❤

Below are images and transcriptions of my Jewish Studies and Secular Studies from Pre-1-A through 8th Grade (missing a few).

Pre-1-A: Esther Shaindel is doing very well scholastically and is a pleasure to have in class.
Jewish Studies Grade 1: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a sweet and smart girl. She enjoys learning and participates nicely in class." Term 2: "'All good things wrapped in one.' Esther Shaindel is one gem of a student. She makes every day a happy day." Term 3: "It was a pleasuring [sic] to have Esther Shaindel as a student. She was a great asset to the class. May you continue to see much nachas from her. Have a happy and healthy summer."
Secular Studies Grade 1: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel shows great interest in learning and is doing very well. Keep up the good work!" Term 2: "Esther Shaindel's enthusiastic attitude is a big asset to our class! She continues to do very well! Keep it up!" Term 3: "Esther Shaindel was a great pleasure to teach this year! Her enthusiasm and fine midos should always stay with her! Have a wonderful summer!"
Jewish Studies Grade 2: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is doing very nicely. She adds so much to our class. Esther Shaindel is really a pleasure to teach! Thank you for all your cooperation at home." Term 2: "Esther Shaindel is a gem! Shep nachas! K"ah! [kein ayin hara, no evil eye]" Term 3: "It was a pleasure teaching Esther Shaindel this year! May she continue to be a source of Nachas! Have a nice summer!"
Secular Studies Grade 2: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a very sweet girl. She is well behaved at all times. She is a fine student." Term 2: "Esther Shaindel is a fine, well-behaved child. She is doing above average work. Shep Nachas!" Term 3: "It was a pleasure to have Esther Shaindel as a student this year. Good luck in 3rd grade!"
Jewish Studies Grade 3: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a good girl and excels in her studies!" Term 2: "Esther Shaindel continues in her excelling studies!" Term 3: "Esther Shaindel is a dear girl and an excellent student! May you continue to see much nachas from her!"
Secular Studies Grade 3: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is doing good work in a most conscientious manner. Keep it up!" Term 2: Esther Shaindel continues to be a very good student in all areas." Term 3: Esther Shaindel is a lovely girl and has been a pleasure to have in class. Have much nachas and a nice summer."
Jewish Studies Grade 4: Term 1:  "Esther Shaindel works hard and succeeds thank god in her work. She has a good heart and is always ready to help her friends." Term 2: [blank] Term 3: "It was very pleasant to teach Esther Shaindel. May it be god's will that you see much nachas from her."
Secular Studies Grade4: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel's good work is a reflection of her fine attitude and effort." Term 2: "Esther Shaindel continues to do her work in a most conscientious manner." Term 3: "It was a pleasure having Esther Shaindel in my class. Have a nice summer."
Jewish Studies Grade 5: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a bright student and has added nicely to our class discussions." Term 2: "Although Esther Shaindel went through a difficult stage this term she was still able to pull through with good grades -even without the effort. I would like to see her new attitude and behavior match her intelligence." Term 3: "Have a wonderful summer!"
Jewish Studies Grade 6: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a bright student, who excels in her studies. She is a clear thinker and grasps new ideas readily. I hope to see improvement in completion of her homework assignments. Term 2: [blank] Term 3: "It was a pleasure having Esther Shaindel in my class. Have a wonderful summer!"
Secular Studies Grade 6: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is doing wonderfully in all areas! A pleasure to have!" Term 2: "Esther Shaindel continues to enhance general discussions with her participation. Well done!" Term 3: "Esther Shaindel has done superbly in all areas! Have a wonderful summer!"
Jewish Studies Grade 7: Term 1: [blank] Term 2: [black] Term 3: "Esther Shaindel's quick wit, sense of humor and midos tovos really added to our class!"
Secular Studies Grade 7: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a tremendous asset to our class. Her effort and participation are truly a pleasure." Term 2: "Esther Shaindel continues to do nicely in her schoolwork. She is a pleasure to teach." Term 3: "Esther Shaindel has added to our class tremendously. She has been an absolute pleasure to teach. Have a nice summer!"
Secular Studies Grade 8: Term 1: "Esther Shaindel is a confident and intelligent student. She performs her best academically and is a strong participant." Term 2: "Esther Shaindel continues to succeed scholastically. She appreciates challenging work and handles her responsibilities maturely." Term 3: "Esther Shaindel was a consistently diligent and cooperative student. Her maturity and knowledge enhanced class discussions."

Announcing: The Bais Yaakov Project!

I am overjoyed to announce that I am part of a brand-new project, The Bais Yaakov Project. The website is still being built, with support from The CUNY Graduate Center’s New Media Lab, and will hopefully go live in early 2019.Bais Yaakov Project CFM

The Project:
The Bais Yaakov Project is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and digitization of historical material related to the Bais Yaakov movement from its founding in 1917 to the 1970s. The Bais Yaakov Project has no affiliation with any Bais Yaakov school or educational organization. It begins as a collaboration by two Bais Yaakov graduates interested in this history, but we hope to expand to include others who share an interest in the movement.

The People:
Dainy Bernstein is a Ph.D. candidate in medieval and children’s literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. She attended Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, Bais Yaakov High School in Boro Park, and Yavne Seminary in Cleveland. Her focus of study is education and childhood as represented in literature.

Naomi Seidman is the Chancellor Jackman Professor of the Arts in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. She attended Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, Bais Yaakov Academy, Michlala, and Bais Yaakov Seminary. Her book, Sarah Schenirer and Bais Yaakov: A Revolution in the Name of Tradition, is forthcoming from Littman Library. An exhibit of Bais Yaakov material, and a concert of Bais Yaakov songs through the decades, will accompany the book launch, to be held at the Center for Jewish History on March 17, 2019.

The Public:
We are presently collecting and digitizing historical material in preparation for launching the website in early 2019. We are also interested in the loan of physical objects for display at the CJH exhibit.

Items we are looking for include:

  • Yearbooks and autograph books
  • Textbooks, newspapers, and other school publications
  • Photos and videos of Bais Yaakov events
  • Report cards and diplomas
  • Notebooks
  • Family archives of Bais Yaakov students or alumnae

All items will be treated with the utmost care and returned to you.

If you have any such material, or are interested in our project, please contact Dainy Bernstein dainybernstein@gmail.com or Naomi Seidman naomi.seidman@utoronto.ca.

All inquiries welcome! Comment below or email me and/or Naomi.

Please share this call for materials widely – the more people we reach, the more material we’ll get for the website. 

Separate images for easier sharing:

 

What Makes a Book a Sefer?

Fun little memory that pops into my mind every so often, and now because I’m reading this blog post (still – it is a very long post and I am reading it with care and attention!), and the author discusses Josephus in quite some depth:

At the family Chanukah party, when I was 18 years old and visiting from seminary in Cleveland, the women played a game based on Scattergories. We were on teams, though the teams were large and basically the loud, vocal cousins were the main players while the rest of us shy or disinterested cousins sat toward the back and watched. Each team would pick a piece of paper with a letter on it (a Hebrew letter), and then someone would call out categories, and the team would have to name something in that category that starts with that letter.

At one point, my team had picked “yud.” And then one of the categories was “seforim.” Now, being chasidish women, most of my cousins couldn’t think of any seforim, let alone one that starts with “yud.” (There aren’t that many words that start with “yud.” EDIT: As the cousin of the sitting-in-the-corner part of the story said to me after hearing this story now: “Uh, Yirmiyah? Yeshaya?”) They joked and laughed, and time was running out, until someone said “hey, Esther Shaindel! You’re in bais medrash! You know seforim!” (The common joke because Yavneh called the study hall a bais medrash, of all ridiculous things! Who ever heard of a girls’ study hall being called a bais medrash! Sigh…)

I wasn’t very happy with the attention turned to me, where I sat squeezed into a corner with one of my cousins, my back to the bookshelf and half-turned away from the festivities.

“Yosifun,” I said, and there was a moment of silence as most of the cousins tried to think if they’d ever heard it before, and then my mother laughed and said, “Well, that isn’t quite a sefer, but it can count for now.”

I took a moment to think about that before turning back to my conversation with my cousin. What counts as a sefer, after all? Does Josephus not count because he wasn’t a rabbi? Wasn’t he? Is it because he talks about history and not theology? I had thought of this book because I could picture it on my father’s seforim shelves – doesn’t that make it a sefer?

And then I dismissed this ridiculous categorizing and looked back at my cousin, who rolled her eyes and laughed, and we ignored the game entirely after that.

The Dangers of Critical Thinking

It’s sukkos now, and though I no longer go to my parents for the holidays, many of my formerly-religious friends do. And when they go home, they often pick up the frum magazines their parents got, flip through them, and then steal away to surreptitiously snap a photo so they can share their horror with friends via social media.

Yesterday, a friend sent these two snapshots of part of an article to a group, and with that friend’s permission, I’m sharing those photos and a transcription. It’s astounding how blatantly this piece says “let’s not teach our children to think, okay?” And yet rather than being horrified by this, I was amused. Because as my mother would say (in Yiddish), if I don’t laugh, I’ll definitely cry.

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Image description: part of a page, topped by a yellow traffic sign with an arrow, and the title: “Hold that Thought?” Text beneath the title:

In general society, “thinking for yourself” is encouraged and applauded. But is independent thought a Jewish value? How can we raise children who won’t blindly follow the herd – but will follow gedolim (great leaders)? Who will ask crucial questions – but won’t challenge mesorah (tradition)? A thoughtful look at complex conundrums.

Elisheva Appel.

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Image description: Part of a magazine page. Visible text:

Safe thinking.

Thinking, of course, can be dangerous business, which is why so many educators are hesitant to encourage it. “To think critically is always to be hostile,” said political philosopher Hannah Arendt, and hostility is hardly a value we want to perpetuate. “Out of the 10 or 20 high schools I knew, only one, maybe two, would teach the girls how to think for themselves,” says one young woman in her twenties. No one advocates raising automatons, but there are inherent challenges in teaching children to think deeply. Rabbi Yehudah Jacobs, mashgiach (supervisor) in Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, points out the potential risk in applying reason to Torah. “This has to be done very carefully. You’ll get a child into the mode of thinking…”

Incidentally, I also stumbled across this (very old) blog post from 2005, at the height of the skeptics’ blogosphere activity. It is a very, very long post, and I am chipping away at it bit by bit. It is revelatory. It is particularly satisfying to me to see the whole “heard it at Sinai” argument torn to shreds, because my mother used that to beat me over the head (figuratively) with my “intellectual dishonesty” when I left.

And it encapsulates exactly why the “gedolim” want to make sure people can’t think for themselves, and exactly why it is imperative that we make sure future generations can think critically and for themselves.

Say it with me: critical thinking is only dangerous to those who want to keep the oppressive status quo!!!

What’s In a Name

Step 1: Get birth certificate from parents’ basement. Fill out form. Go to courthouse. Find out this is not enough because my parents never actually filed the name after my kiddush, although my father wrote “Esther Shaindel” in – and that does not count legally, much to everyone’s surprise.

Step 2: Request certified copy of birth certificate from Vital Records. Redo name change form reflecting current legal name of “Female.” Submit to clerk’s office along with $65 processing fee.

Step 3: Wait a week.

Step 4: Receive mailed notification from the courthouse that the judge signed the order. Go back to the courthouse, get copies of the order with instructions to mail them to the Social Security Office and the Passport Agency and to have it published in a specific newspaper.

Step 5: Mail out the orders. Pay $5 each for certified mail receipts. Realize that in the excitement I forgot to include payment when I sent the order to the newspaper.

Step 6: Call the newspaper once a day for a week and never get through and never get a call returned. Finally get through, they say they’re processing it and I should wait for their call and they’ll get payment info then.

Step 7: Continue waiting another week. Call back and finally get assurance it will be published the next day. Cost appears on my card: $120. I don’t understand why it’s so expensive, but I just want this to be over, so I take the hit and move on.

Step 8: Check the classifieds the next day and stare at that notice for a while, happy that this is almost done. Wait for the affidavit to arrive in the mail.

Step 9: After ten days, get frustrated and call the newspaper office. Get told to wait another week before calling back.

Step 10: Find the affidavit in the mail that evening.

Step 11: Take the receipts from mailing and the affidavit of publication back to the courthouse. Get told I got the wrong kind of receipt from the post office. Try not to cry (it was a bad day to begin with). Clerk is nice to me and reassures me, prints out more orders for me to re-mail.

Step 12: Mail the orders, get the correct receipts that cost $1.50 each.

Step 13: Back to the courthouse again, submit all the receipts, ask for 5 certified copies. Need exact change, so a quick trip to the nearby deli to break a 20, back to the courthouse to pay $30.

Step 14: Submit certified copy to one of my workplaces, excited to get new IDs. They tell me they need my new Social Security card before they can do anything.

Steps 15, 16, 17, 18, please no more: Plan to go to DMV and Social Security offices, get new passport photo taken (more $$), get new passport ($110). Submit certified copies of name change order and documents to all my workplaces, my bank, health insurance, doctors.

It’s been a headache (which is not yet over) but I am finally legally

Dainy Esther Shaindel Bernstein

Hallelujah.

Comics as a Tool for Summarizing and Understanding Essays

Sherman Alexie’s essay “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” includes a paragraph about paragraphs:

I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph… I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside the paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States…

As the first assignment in The College of Staten Island’s English 111 Essay Sequence is a reflective narrative, this essay was perfect for my students to read and discuss. Not only is it actually a reflective narrative so that we could analyze the components of this genre; it also explicitly addresses the form of writing! I used this paragraph to discuss how and why we use paragraphs, the function of this element of an essay, when to start a new paragraph, etc.

I assigned Alexie’s essay for the week after my students had written a first draft of their reflective narratives. Last week, we had read two reflective narratives from the textbook Language Awarenessand we had discussed the genre and the essay assignment. They had submitted a first draft (with encouragement to “make it a shitty first draft“) on Tuesday, which gave me enough time to read and comment on their drafts before Friday. One of the major issues I noticed in their essays was a tendency to write their whole essay as a single long block of text – or at the most with an introduction, a very long body paragraph, and a conclusion. So in fact, the Alexie essay was perfect for this moment, when they would read my comments and prepare to revise their drafts.

And because Alexie talks about reading Superman comics before he could read text, I was led to thinking of an exercise that incorporates comics…

We started in class by zeroing in on the paragraph where Alexie talks about seeing the world in paragraphs. I asked students to define a paragraph in simple writing terms, and we then analyzed each of Alexie’s “levels” of paragraphs. We talked about how his reservation could be a paragraph of the “essay” of the United States, how his house could be one paragraph of the “essay” of his community, how each of his family members could be a single paragraph of the “essay” of his family… We talked about the comparison of a paragraph to a fence, and concluded that a paragraph break sets boundaries within the essay, marking the end of one idea and the beginning of another.

Alexie’s essay is particularly suited for this discussion because all of its paragraphs fit the standard description. Many other narratives include dialogue or single-sentence paragraphs for effect, and that would confuse the issue with unnecessary complications at this stage.

After that discussion, we focused briefly on Alexie’s use of the Superman comic, the way he vividly describes a single panel of the comic (Superman breaking down a door) and refers to this image at the end of the essay without actually mentioning Superman. We talked about how a comic strip functions similarly to an essay with paragraph breaks, with each panel serving as its own paragraph. (You could also argue that each panel is a sentence within the “paragraph” of a page or something similar, but I kept it simple for now.)

And then I assigned a group exercise:

There are eight paragraphs in Alexie’s essay. In groups of three, draw a comic strip consisting of eight panels – one for each paragraph. Discuss each paragraph with your group, figure out what the main point or main idea of each paragraph is, and then choose: images; text above the image; speech bubbles; and/or thought bubbles.

The class was at first delighted, then worried, about doing this exercise. But as soon as they started, they began 1) having fun and 2) really understanding the essay.

I circulated while they worked, helping them think through some of the paragraphs. I also had to nudge them along, reminding them of the goal of the exercise, as some groups got caught up in agonizing over how to draw a specific detail or whether their images were recognizable as what they were supposed to be. (Many weren’t! but that was fine because the purpose of the exercise was not to showcase artistic skills…)

The results were magnificent (see images below). In each of my two classes, I asked students to display their comics as a gallery on the desks at the front of the class, and invited them to circulate and read their classmates’ comics. They engaged in a lively gallery visit, chatting and picking up the papers to discuss with each other.

We briefly discussed how this exercise helped them understand the essay better. I explained that I had essentially asked them to write a summary of the essay, but since they were using images rather than words, it was far easier to cut out the unnecessary details. If they had included more details, they would have immediately seen that the images were cluttered. When they write textual summaries, it’s sometimes harder to see how many extra details wind up in there.

This exercise was set aside for a while after this. We switched to talking about their essays, reading one student’s essay together (I got permission before sharing their draft with the class) and talking about specific details to focus on while revising. I pointed back to their comic strips as we discussed how to incorporate reflection within each paragraph, rather than first telling the story and then writing a “here’s what I learned” section. After all, their comic strips contain almost exclusively narrative even though Alexie definitely reflects – because the reflection is embedded within the narrative, and the narrative is dominant in this genre.

To end the day, I asked my students to try drawing their own essays as comic strips. I emphasized that these would be different from the comics they had drawn from Alexie’s essay because their own essays were still in the process of being written and revised. “Start anywhere,” I advised them. “You don’t have to start at the beginning. Just choose an event or a moment and start drawing. You’ll reorganize the panels afterward, once you have something on the paper.”

In both classes, though they struggled to start, within ten minutes the class had fallen silent and the air was filled with intense concentration. I let them work in silence for a while, sitting at my desk so as not to disturb (after first circulating to make sure they were each confident about what they were doing). We’re in a small classroom, so I was able to continually scan the room and make sure they were all working.

Finally, I interrupted them and asked: Is this helping? The unanimous answer was yes. How? I asked. Their responses, with additional analysis from me:

  • Drawing each event or moment as an image forces them to remember details about the event or moment that they can now transfer to their writing. While they struggled to see how each event could be expanded in writing, drawing it made that very clear.
  • Drawing each event or moment as an image also made it very clear when a new paragraph was needed. In text, it’s easy to smash multiple moments together and not see how they each need their own fully-developed paragraph. But when you try to draw the story, sequencing it as a comic strip forces you to see each moment separately, and you can begin to separate the many individual moments and ideas.
  • Sequencing the story as a comic strip made some of them realize how disorganized their storytelling was in their essays. A number of them had jumped back and forth chronologically in their drafts, often repeating themselves because they had written essentially as a stream of consciousness… This exercise helped them see how often they doubled back on themselves, and made it clear that they need to cut and paste parts of their essay for better organization.

A few students commented that when they think of “telling a story,” they think of images more than text. I asked them if they meant comics, or if perhaps they were thinking of movies. They agreed that it was movies they were thinking of. I suggested that this is another method they can use when revising: think of your essay as a movie (with a voiceover if necessary – they enjoyed that) and make sure it makes sense that way.

I wrapped up for the day by pointing out that this drawing method is something they can use to annotate as they read for next class as well.

The whole exercise was a fun activity, took a lot less time than I had expected, and was immensely beneficial.

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(Images out of order – I’m not that expert at this! But it gives you the general idea, I hope.)

The Day Mommy Ran Away From Home

It was a typical spring evening. The kids all sat around the kitchen table. Two of the boys fought and argued and burst into tears, as per usual. The baby cried. The toddler repeatedly shouted for Mommy to help her with her food. The older sister helper the toddler with her food. The middle sister (that’s me) spooned her food into her mouth on autopilot, using only her right hand, eyes focused on the book propped up in front of her plate by her left hand. Mommy moved back and forth from the stove to the sink to the fridge to the table, getting food and drinks and dishes for everyone and making sure the seven of us were all fed and satisfied, breaking up fights when they got too intense.

Finally, Mommy snapped.

“I can’t do this anymore!” she shouted, and stormed out of the kitchen, opened the front door, and slammed it behind her.

We all got quiet and stared at each other. I even looked up from my book at my silent siblings. Well, besides the baby. She cried louder. My older sister picked her up and held her in her lap.

A minute or two passed. The baby grew quiet in my sister’s arms. Another few minutes passed. We were all frozen in our seats.

My brother got up and walked to the kitchen doorway, peered down the hallway at the front door. He looked back at us, his brow furrowed, then crossed the threshold and went to the front door. He opened it, and we all strained forward in our seats to see and hear what was happening.

A few moments later, he came back inside, accompanied by my mother. She was laughing.

“I was just sitting on the porch!” she said. “I just needed some air and some peace and quiet. What did you think, that I would run away? Where would I go?”

I’ve been thinking about this evening a lot lately. Where would she have gone? Where could she have gone? Where could a woman go, when she has seven children at home and two more who are at late-night seder in yeshiva, when her husband will come home shortly, when she’s responsible for all these people and is bursting with frustration at not having time or space to herself, is bursting with pent-up desires and has to constantly push them aside so as to serve others?

Where could a woman like that go?

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Syllabus Creation: A Nightmare Within a Dream

When I was offered a course on Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature at Lehman College for the fall semester, I was super-excited to get started on my syllabus. There’s so much I can do in a course like that! And then as I started putting it together, I got more and more frustrated with it: there’s so much I can do in a course like that…. How will I ever figure out which books to use and what issues to focus on?

It took quite a while, but I’m pleased with the final results. Just for fun (and because I kept exclaiming on social media as “things are falling into place!” and as they fell… out of place), I’m sharing a few drafts of the syllabus in various stages, including versions where I was going to require that my students read chapters from a textbook in addition to one children’s book each week (what on earth was I thinking??)

What I’m not showing here: the many lists and configurations of books and assignments. What you see here, in the images below, is just a sample of how I played around with the structure of the semester. (Links to screen-readable PDFs above each set of images.)

child lit schedule draft NOT USING

Note: The purpose of this draft, and the next, was to figure out the trajectory of the semester. I was never going to assign this much reading!!

syllabus playing around 1

child lit schedule draft NOT USING 2

syllabus topics 1

syllabus topics 2

child lit schedule draft 2

syllabus 1 - 1

syllabus 1 - 2syllabus 1 - 3

Bernstein_English 335_Fall 2018_syllabus

syllabus final 1

syllabus final 2syllabus final 3