The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
How can you improve on perfection? As a basic curriculum, the universal prescription for the foundations of a successful life, what could be better than “the three R’s”? Make sure that schools teach Reading, ’Riting, and ’Rithmetic, and kids will have what they need for the future. Simple, basic, and alliterative, in a “butcher the language for a higher purpose” kind of way.
That formula would seem to work as a guide for teachers in a classroom. But what about parents? What should their curriculum be? The goal of teachers in school is that their pupils should end up, well, schooled. So if they give the kids the basic tools, they’ve done their jobs. Parents have a different goal in mind. Parents want to raise children who will become successful adults, something much broader and comprehensive. I’m not foolish enough to write a column claiming that there’s a simple formula that parents can use to reach that goal. But what about one segment of it? Raising a child towards a successful life certainly includes doing whatever will help that child become a successful breadwinner who can support a family. Is there a formula, a set of guidelines, that can help a parent do that? Through my work in Pathways to Parnassa, I have come to believe that there is. And I believe that it can be summarized as the three R’s. With no verbal meat cleaver needed.
Last week I wrote about the myth of aptitude tests, which imply that certain divinely endowed individuals can do certain jobs, and the rest of us can’t. I asserted that the aptitudes that really count are the willingness to work hard, learn constantly, take risks, and follow through. I would like to propose that parents can have a real impact on the likelihood that their children will develop these vital skills by emphasizing these three R’s throughout their parenting years. These three R’s are Reading, Responsibility, and Relax.
Reading is the only one of the school-related “three R’s” that is absolutely vital, and where the parents have as much, or more, of a role to play as the school. Reading can be a major part of a child’s life, long before arriving at the schoolhouse door, and it should always be emphasized as a part of life regardless of any assignment or requirement. That means that parents should be reading as well. Reading is the activity of an active, growing mind. Reading builds language, mental constructs, and imagination. The sophistication of our thinking depends on the sophistication of our language. It all traces back to our reading. Business guru and entrepreneur Ricky Cohen advocates a minimum of two reading projects as part of a daily routine, one in your field or favorite subject, and one in something totally random, to introduce your brain to new areas and concepts. There’s no need to worry about writing—all writing grows out of language, and all writers start as readers. Arithmetic, or mathematics in general, is a tool that is useful, but it can be learned whenever needed. Only reading is critical; if it isn’t developed early it will be lost.
Responsibility means making sure that, from earliest memory, each child is aware that there are things that are “my job.” Putting away toys, putting clothes in the hamper, later taking out the trash, helping serve at supper, taking around the pushke in shul, and growing ever more substantial, every child needs the feeling that there are things in the world that need to be done and that won’t get done unless he does it. Employers love to open facilities in farming states, because workers who grow up on farms have a terrific work ethic. Just because there aren’t cows to milk and a chicken to feed doesn’t mean that our kids don’t need that same sense of obligation. It does mean that we as parents have to be more creative in making sure that it happens.
I have to admit that “Relax” probably isn’t the best word for the third part of this formula, but I’m sure I can be forgiven for wanting a third alliterative “R.” What it means is the need to relax the programming and academic structure that so many parents think kids need and give them the chance to be kids. I’m advocating something akin to what has become known as the “free-range child movement.” We need to give our kids time to dig up the backyard, explore the neighborhood, take stuff apart in the garage, etc. No goal in mind, just the curiosity and creativity of childhood. Several writers have noted that Lego used to come as a box of assorted bricks, leaving the kid to do all of the work—including the work that doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. It gave a chance to feel the joy of creating something new and the chance to deal with the frustrations of projects that just flop. Now Legos come as theme-based kits, each made for building exactly what the picture on the cover shows. Follow the carefully mapped-out steps and success is guaranteed. Well, Lego success, which means that the company will make a fortune. But your child will lose out. Give your child every chance to create and every chance to fail. That way he’ll grow up with the approach expressed by Thomas Edison, who asserted that throughout his efforts to invent the light bulb, he never failed. He had learned about a thousand processes that won’t result in a light bulb, and one that will. So relax. Your child doesn’t need to build a light bulb tomorrow. Learning how not to build one is a great way to spend a day. ϖ
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.