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Tuesday
Aug132013

EVERY CHILD NEEDS SPECIAL EDUCATION

Rabbi David Klapman speaks about children with learning problems and says: Every child needs Special Education, i.e. education that meets his needs.

Interview by Nosson Avrohom

WARNING: CHILDREN ON VACATION!

I’d like to begin with a relatively simple question, one that is practical now during vacation. Parents are faced with children who complain they are bored. Should parents solve the problem or have the children decide on their own what to do with their free time?

Saying “I’m bored,” is a request for help and a parent needs to find out what’s going on. If a child in Crown Heights would say that to me, I would understand him because there aren’t any open areas to play in and options for play in the neighborhood are limited. But in many Chabad communities in Eretz Yisroel and the world, this isn’t a problem.

A parent needs to ask the child: What would you like to play? What do you like to do? And then help the child out. Many parents are rattled when a child says he is bored. There is no need to be rattled; just take action. If a child loves to read, provide him with books. If he likes playing ball, buy him a ball.

Another complaint that parents hear during vacation is when a child says he has no friends. What should a parent do?

That’s complicated. What does the child mean when he says that? Is it –“They all hate me and don’t want to be my friend?” Or – “I have no friends because I’m looking for one good friend and haven’t found one yet?” Or is it – “I’m on the outside of the social circle because of the way I dress, the way I smell, or because I lack social skills?” Each of these underlying issues will have another solution.

If a child doesn’t know how to act in social situations, I would teach him social skills. I would show him how he himself would react if people related to him the way he relates to others. If it’s a situation in which a child is rejected due to external factors, then it is the parents’ responsibility to see to it that he bathes and is dressed respectably. If a child is looking for one special friend, I would teach him how to identify a good friend; it’s the advice of Chazal, “acquire a good friend,” but in the meantime, I would teach him how to develop his social skills with the rest of the children.

This is even though I don’t think it’s the parents’ job to find friends for their children. It’s a natural process that needs to happen through our children themselves and we should not be directly involved.

In general, if a child is approaching us, that means he is asking us to get involved and help him. So help him, but don’t get overly involved.

Summer vacation is more unrestricted. There are fewer time constraints than during the school year. We hear a lot about setting boundaries. Why is this so important and how can we go about this properly?

One of the astonishing terms the Rebbe coined was, “Lights of Tohu in Vessels of Tikkun.” Vessels are the foundation which contain the Lights and enable them to be expressed. Vessels are limitations. Demonstrating the setting of boundaries is vital. If the adult does not set boundaries for himself, then the attempt to do so with a child won’t work. A parent needs to think about what their red lines are.

The best way to impose this is when the child understands that the parent is serious about the matter. Take Shabbos as an example. Why won’t a child consider desecrating Shabbos? Because he knows that this is a red line he cannot cross. We need to convey our other red lines in the same way, and demonstrate that we seriously mean it. Respecting those limits will cause us to respond in a positive way. We always need to look for the positive; it’s been shown to work. If we love the child and treat him the way he ought to be treated, he won’t try to break the rules (and there will be less need to resort to punishments in the event that he does cross the line).

When you talk about a parent setting an example, what do you mean?

When we want a child to do something, learn Torah for example, he has to see us learning and loving Torah. If a child hears about Ahavas Yisroel but sees his parent acting in the opposite way, it won’t work. A child copies his parents.

You mentioned love. Is that only between parent and child or also between teacher and student?

Definitely between teacher and student too. A teacher must love his students. No less important than learning with the students is loving them. If a child feels he is loved, he is less inclined to disturb in class and more willing to listen. Ahavas Yisroel is a Torah obligation. A teacher must love his students. If he doesn’t, he has to think about whether he is in the right profession.

A lot is said these days about personal empowerment of the child, based on the belief that this is one of the most effective ways of helping him. How is this done?

It is important that every child experience success. A child cannot be allowed to undertake something that we know he will fail at. We need to give the child tasks that are challenging but which we can be quite sure he can master. We cannot lie to a child and make believe we are really trying hard in a game, when he knows that we are letting him win; that’s not empowerment.

I will teach him strategies in the game so he can win. As a teacher, I won’t give a test to a child that I know he will fail. I would rather give him a worksheet instead. I have no interest in implanting within him a sense of failure. This is true in every area. The more experiences of success a child has, the greater his confidence, which will lead him to making more of an effort in his learning and what we ask of him.

SPECIAL EDUCATION AND ITS RAMIFICATIONS

When we say “Special Education,” what do we mean?

Special education is geared to that specific child. I really dislike the label “Special Education,” because I think every child is special; every child has his strengths and weaknesses and we should know what they are in order to help him progress. In a way, the principles of Special Education should be applied to every child. The Rebbe writes in the HaYom Yom that a person needs to think about the chinuch of children for at least half an hour a day. The goal is to match the type of chinuch to the child’s nature. This is not just a parent’s obligation, but the teacher’s too. I don’t ask a teacher to spend a half hour on every child, but at least half an hour about his students in general.

By what yardstick do we decide which children will get Special Education and which children will be in a regular classroom?

First and foremost, I think we need to be wary of labels. I hear, for example, a teacher saying, “This child’s problem is ‘organic.’” A term like that removes the responsibility from the teacher because if the child is that way, what he does won’t help and therefore, he is excused from trying.

I saw a letter from the Rebbe about children who are mentally retarded. The Rebbe writes that in working with these children, one must assume the problem can be solved, even if the medical means have not been discovered yet. Thinking this way affects how we work with a child.

We are not talking about retardation here, but about problems with concentration and learning which are far easier to resolve.

You asked about classes. I am a big supporter of mainstreaming children. I think that if a teacher in a regular classroom is guided properly, this kind of classroom will do a lot both for the “regular” kids as well as those with special needs. When all kinds of children are in one classroom, they learn from one another. If we put all those needing help in one classroom, who do they have to learn from? Is there any logic to concentrating all problem learners in one class?

Are you saying there should be no Special Ed classrooms?

Under the current circumstances, that approach would fail, but if we allocated the right resources, it could benefit everyone. In mainstream classrooms they would learn to accommodate every child, even those who are different, and the children labeled as “special” would not be set up to learn only from other “special” children and remain with the sign of Cain all their lives.

You speak about combining Special Education with regular education, but our demands of a child with learning problems will always be less, so won’t he feel different regardless?

True, he will be different. Nobody is just like someone else. Children without deficits will learn to grow and be more accepting of these differences. Nobody is perfect. Rashi says that the mitzva of tz’daka means we provide the person with everything he lacks. What does that mean? For one person, it means a loaf of bread. For another person, tz’daka would mean buying him a new Mercedes (or as the Rambam puts it, a servant to run before him).

The child who is different is part of the Jewish people. The interaction will contribute to Ahavas Yisroel on both their parts. The younger the age in which we mainstream them, the more successful we will be.

What should alert a parent that his child has a problem learning?

A parent usually knows. Those who are not in denial will see it immediately. The child comes home from school feeling sad. He doesn’t know what was taught in class, he doesn’t go over the review sheet because he somehow “forgot” it. A good teacher will inform the parent about the child in the lower grades. A parent with older children can easily compare what her older children were like to this child and see that there is a problem.

Can you differentiate between a child with emotional problems that were acquired for various reasons (environmental etc.) and a child who has a learning problem he was born with?

It is very hard to differentiate. A child with learning problems who is frustrated by his lack of success in the classroom will more readily develop emotional problems. Conversely, a child with emotional problems will have problems listening in class. There are professional evaluations which test for this.

There can be endless causes, even if it doesn’t seem as though the child went through anything in particular that contributed toward his problem. There are children who underwent traumas during birth or in utero. The birth could have been complicated or during the pregnancy the mother may have suffered the loss of a family member.

When you identify an emotional problem in a child, is it important to treat it immediately or can you wait and hope that things will sort themselves out?

This is a situation of safeik pikuach nefesh (a possible danger to life). It is possible that a child will overcome his difficulties, but it is also possible that he won’t, and then we are talking about no less than a safeik pikuach nefesh. This question can be asked regarding chilul Shabbos too. Why desecrate the Shabbos for a sick person when he might get better without our desecrating the Shabbos? We know that the Torah does not accept this reasoning. It is not the Jewish approach.

Furthermore, we know that generally, things do not work out on their own. On the contrary, when a child is frustrated, it only gets worse and the chances of it resolving itself are minimal. Anyway, we are not supposed to rely on miracles and for a child to overcome his problems on his own, a miracle must occur.

When should we ignore a child’s negative behavior and when not?

In principle, ignoring is negative. A child interprets it to mean you don’t care. Sometimes, ignoring is in a child’s best interest but that is only when we thought it through and concluded that it is a good idea. To make it into a way of life is a big mistake.

If the premeditated disregard is made by an informed decision, that’s another story. That’s not a matter of “I don’t have the strength, so leave me alone.” Ignoring when you’ve thought it through means, “I am sure you are all right on your own; I rely on you.” The child feels good with this kind of disregard. 

There is a certain type that every teacher, and certainly principals and guidance counselors, have dealt with. After years of a child being a “red flag” to their teachers, he is diagnosed as having attention problems. The doctor recommends medication and the parents refuse. What should be done?

It’s a complicated situation. First, the decision to give medication belongs to the doctor and not the teachers. I sometimes hear a teacher say that a child needs this or that medication. What makes them qualified to say that? What medical knowledge do they have? And yet, I understand the teachers who are having a hard time teaching a lesson with a hyperactive child in the classroom.

As for the parents, they need to be understood too. What parent is happy to put their child on daily medication?

Personally, my approach is to oppose medication. I would try all kinds of other things, but if we really tried everything and nothing is working and the doctor says to give medication, then the parent has to realize this is pikuach nefesh. The child cannot progress without the medication and will continue to slide.

This must be said very gently; this is not Tylenol but a powerful drug. You absolutely cannot approach a parent aggressively about this. I sometimes find it hard understanding parents who, after trying all possibilities, still refuse to provide the proper care. It is neglectful and they should not be surprised if the results are severe, even dropping out. When a child drops out it comes from a lack of caring for a child.

CHILDREN IN THE ERA OF GEULA

You work in a yeshiva now and many parents consult with you. We know that yeshiva is not an easy place to be for a child who is having difficulties, and many of these children end up dropping out. Does a child with problems belong in yeshiva?

It depends on how much frustration the child has accrued over the years. You can’t compare one child to another. I would check to see what a child’s strong points are and check out the yeshiva to see how many students are in each class. I would look to see if there are other children with similar problems. If there are too many students like this in one class, the teacher will have a hard time handling it. I would also check to see how experienced the staff is with problems like these.

This is all if the student comes with some study habits. If he has no study habits, after having been neglected for years and he did not learn a single daf Gemara in his life (there are children who spend their school years out in the hall or in the principal’s office), it will be impossible to include him in a mainstream yeshiva program. It’s not because of his problem, but because of the neglect. It’s not his fault. It’s a situation that could have been prevented if they had addressed it properly.

If, from the time the child was five, the parents helped him or gave him a tutor, or sent him for treatment, he would easily fit into a yeshiva despite his shortcomings. It all depends on the parents.

To summarize my answer: a child with learning problems who is handled correctly, can generally fit into the yeshiva system.

The Rebbe said the Geula is already here in the world and we merely need to open our eyes to see it. How do we teach a child to live with Moshiach and in the atmosphere of Geula?

It is easier for children. “These are my anointed ones,” i.e. the schoolchildren. As long as we don’t ruin them, they get it. In order to instill it deeper, we need to do as the Rebbe said and learn inyanei Moshiach and Geula. Today, there are plenty of books that speak to children. There can also be contests in school on these subjects. The main thing is for a teacher to “live” with it and be a role model for the students.

 

BIO 
Rabbi David Klapman is an only child who was born in Chicago in 1966. He grew up in a traditional home and attended public school. In the afternoon he attended a Conservative Talmud Torah.
When he finished high school, he attended college where he encountered the Jewish Hillel campus organization and met the shliach, Rabbi Aharon Goldstein. This is when he first got a taste of Chassidus.
He went to 770 for the first time in 5746 as part of an annual Shabbaton with Chabad.
When he completed his degree, he went to learn in the yeshiva for baalei t’shuva in Morristown, Tiferes Bachurim, for two years. Then he went to Eretz Yisroel and learned in Ohr HaT’mimim headed by R’ Shneur Zalman Gafni. There, he completed his smicha. 
He married and settled in Tzfas and continued learning in the kollel Tzemach Tzedek.
When it came time to make a living, he concluded that he was interested in special education. He was accepted to Columbia University where he received a Master’s degree in education. He was given the green light by the Rebbe to pursue these studies which he finished in 5753. 
He returned to Eretz Yisroel and began working in the field of special education while teaching at the Michlalah College for Women in Bayit Vegan and other places.
He is a sought-after lecturer and advises many schools in his area of expertise. This past year he has been heavily involved in the development of the new yeshiva Tomchei T’mimim in Emanuel.
It was hard to get this interview because R’ Klapman is in over his head with work, but due to the importance of the subject and the shlichus he sees in chinuch, he set aside some of his precious time. Those who know R’ Klapman, know that his educational approach is not necessarily conventional, but it is successful.

BIO Rabbi David Klapman is an only child who was born in Chicago in 1966. He grew up in a traditional home and attended public school. In the afternoon he attended a Conservative Talmud Torah.When he finished high school, he attended college where he encountered the Jewish Hillel campus organization and met the shliach, Rabbi Aharon Goldstein. This is when he first got a taste of Chassidus.He went to 770 for the first time in 5746 as part of an annual Shabbaton with Chabad.When he completed his degree, he went to learn in the yeshiva for baalei t’shuva in Morristown, Tiferes Bachurim, for two years. Then he went to Eretz Yisroel and learned in Ohr HaT’mimim headed by R’ Shneur Zalman Gafni. There, he completed his smicha. He married and settled in Tzfas and continued learning in the kollel Tzemach Tzedek.When it came time to make a living, he concluded that he was interested in special education. He was accepted to Columbia University where he received a Master’s degree in education. He was given the green light by the Rebbe to pursue these studies which he finished in 5753. He returned to Eretz Yisroel and began working in the field of special education while teaching at the Michlalah College for Women in Bayit Vegan and other places.He is a sought-after lecturer and advises many schools in his area of expertise. This past year he has been heavily involved in the development of the new yeshiva Tomchei T’mimim in Emanuel.It was hard to get this interview because R’ Klapman is in over his head with work, but due to the importance of the subject and the shlichus he sees in chinuch, he set aside some of his precious time. Those who know R’ Klapman, know that his educational approach is not necessarily conventional, but it is successful.

 

BIO 

Rabbi David Klapman is an only child who was born in Chicago in 1966. He grew up in a traditional home and attended public school. In the afternoon he attended a Conservative Talmud Torah.

When he finished high school, he attended college where he encountered the Jewish Hillel campus organization and met the shliach, Rabbi Aharon Goldstein. This is when he first got a taste of Chassidus.

He went to 770 for the first time in 5746 as part of an annual Shabbaton with Chabad.

When he completed his degree, he went to learn in the yeshiva for baalei t’shuva in Morristown, Tiferes Bachurim, for two years. Then he went to Eretz Yisroel and learned in Ohr HaT’mimim headed by R’ Shneur Zalman Gafni. There, he completed his smicha. 

He married and settled in Tzfas and continued learning in the kollel Tzemach Tzedek.

When it came time to make a living, he concluded that he was interested in special education. He was accepted to Columbia University where he received a Master’s degree in education. He was given the green light by the Rebbe to pursue these studies which he finished in 5753. 

He returned to Eretz Yisroel and began working in the field of special education while teaching at the Michlalah College for Women in Bayit Vegan and other places.

He is a sought-after lecturer and advises many schools in his area of expertise. This past year he has been heavily involved in the development of the new yeshiva Tomchei T’mimim in Emanuel.

It was hard to get this interview because R’ Klapman is in over his head with work, but due to the importance of the subject and the shlichus he sees in chinuch, he set aside some of his precious time. Those who know R’ Klapman, know that his educational approach is not necessarily conventional, but it is successful.

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