Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Adar 5759 - Feb 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















Home and Family

It is not long since the first term reports were given out, and plenty of time before the next ones. Time to take stock and effect positive changes.

When a Child is Afraid to Bring Home his Report Card
by R. Gil

What is the importance of report cards to parents and children? How should parents behave towards a child whose report card doesn't meet their expectations? An educational counselor encountered cases where parents hit their children because of low grades. She speaks of the parents' responsibility and of grave educational errors, when there is too much focus on grades.

The following story took place in a suburban school. About two weeks before the end of the term, a 5th grade pupil came over to his teacher and asked in a pleading voice: "Please Mr B., maybe I don't deserve it but I beg of you, have pity on me when you write out my report-card. If not, I'm lost!" The teacher wasn't surprised by the incident. He was used to pupils asking for changes in the final mark at the last moment. However, the way the pupil phrased his entreaty and his fearful tone of voice caused the teacher to consider this pupil's request more seriously. The pupil's achievements ranged from average to low. He had never before shown the slightest interest in grades. The teacher's sixth sense was awakened and he decided to probe. "Since when are you interested in your report-card, it's just another piece of paper!"

"It's not me, it's my father," the pupil said in a low voice. "If I come back this semester with another bad report-card, who knows what will happen to me! All my brothers do so well, that he's sick and tired of my terrible grades. I'm very afraid. I don't think I'll go home if I have too many low marks." "I was shocked by the boy's remarks," the teacher told us. "Until then I had no idea there were parents like that. I'm not naive and of course I know that parents sometimes punish their children for a bad report card, but this seemed an unusual case."

Q. What did you do? Did you raise his marks in order to protect him?

Actually, that's not a good policy, and it doesn't solve the problem. I picked up the phone and made an appointment with the father. I found a very tough person who had been through a lot of failures and disappointments in his life and who pinned all of his hopes in his children. I explained the situation and told him that his threats were only causing his son to regress and to contemplate drastic steps. I also suggested that he speak to his son alone and not in any way use aggressive measures. The father has a great deal of respect for the school system and for teachers in general and he accepted my suggestions. The marks stayed the same but I hope there was a change in the father's attitude towards the son's achievements.

This might be a special case but it's not as unusual as we might believe. There are parents who value the report card above and beyond its actual worth. It's the actualization of all their hopes and expectations, for their children and for themselves. Often, an unsatisfactory report card can lead the parent to outbursts of anger, frustration and disappointment at himself, and at his children who are following in his footsteps.


A.S.R., an educational counselor for schools and a guidance counselor for parents, is familiar with both sides of the coin. Through her wide experience in education she was confronted with the less sympathetic side of certain parents who have a `low frustration threshold' and use physical force to show their impatience towards `lazy children.' Often the demands are totally out of proportion with the child's capabilities, and only frustrate him more. Parents can sometimes apply undue pressure: "You'd better watch out and not bring another bad report home this time," or: "We expect a much better report-card this time; you know you can do it," when in fact the child is not capable of getting higher marks.

"People have no idea what the effect of these threats are on the child, especially those with a fertile imagination. Contrary to adults who figure things out logically: "What's the worse that can happen to me? What can they do to me, already?" The child's vivid, active imagination might lead him to conjure up all sorts of terrible things.

On the other hand, many of the complaints she receives are from frustrated teachers who try to give logical grades but find it difficult afterwards to put up with the parents' lack of confidence in them and their claims that the marks are unfair. Some parents unjustly behave as if the sole responsibility for the pupil's lack of brilliance lies with the teacher. The main complaints are: the grades don't express the child's personality. If you had invested more time in him you would have seen the full expression of his potential. You never gave him an opportunity.

Actually, A. claims, the parent himself has an awesome responsibility concerning the child's success or failure. He shouldn't be surprised at all by the results on the report card if he put in maximum effort and kept up regular contact with the teacher. If he is surprised at the results, it shows that he wasn't involved enough, that he had unreal expectations, or was just building castles in the air.


Parents who exaggerate the importance of the report card and its value are faced with a difficult conflict. Every parent, and this is completely natural, wants their child to be, if not the best, then at least one of the top in the class. He also sees the child as a continuation, an extension of himself. Some parents expect the child to make up for what was lacking in their own education ("If I couldn't succeed in life, at least my children can make a go of it"). Other parents burden their child with high expectations by wanting them to succeed as they did, and Heaven forbid if their offspring doesn't reach the same high level of success ("Don't dare ruin the family name"). If there is too much undue pressure on the child, he will be afraid of coming home and facing his parents with the incriminating evidence. This is an unhealthy situation which is detrimental to the child's development.

A. tells us emphatically: "A child who grows up in a tense household will return home depressed and sad, and will sometimes try to soften the blow to himself by saying: `Here is the report card. I couldn't care less what it says.' In most cases, failure bothers the child a lot and this is his way of expressing it."

Q. Ideally, how should the parent react towards the child when his report card is not up to par, and he must buckle down and improve his grades?

Many parents have to face this dilemma. Obviously one cannot overlook a poor report card. Apathy only makes the parent a partner to the child's failure and gives him the message that it's all right to continue on this way. On the other hand, is it fair to make a tremendous fuss over some low grades and give the child the feeling that his good midos are less important? Certain important character traits are not even mentioned on the report card. Therefore, it is very individual, A. tells us. The parent must know his child and act accordingly. Some children are so sensitive that a small remark is enough to help one improve his grades significantly. (For example: "With marks like these, maybe we'll have to wait with that new bike we thought of buying you" - with the emphasis on the `maybe'.) Other children need an iron hand and definite limits set for them. Some work well with the `carrot & stick' method and any harshness will just make them lose all motivation.

In my opinion, the problem doesn't start with the giving out of report cards, but much before. Parents should realize that the end of the quarter is not the time for arguments, criticism and discussions about his situation - present or future - in light of the grades he just received. They need to be aware all along the way. If it looks like the child isn't reaching his full learning potential it is imperative to examine all the reasons which might be at cause.

First of all, outside and technical factors have to be checked. This includes physical problems such as sight, hearing etc. which might interfere with concentration and motivation. Often intelligent pupils suffer from some sort of dyslexia which keeps them from advancing. There are also social problems which prevent development. If a child is not accepted by the group, for example, he will waste energy worrying about his problems and the lessons will be that much harder for him. Children are also affected by pressures at home. For instance, an eldest child might be overburdened by too much responsibility and this can be detrimental to his learning. All these are aspects to consider. Often it suffices to suppress the technical cause in order to solve the problem: to remove the pupil from a friend who is disturbing him in class, to sit a child closer to the board, to get him a pair of glasses, to give him a hearing test, to help him solve his social problems.

If after all these causes were checked, it was found that the child is simply too lazy to sit and study, the parent has to take a firm stand and insist that he take his lessons seriously.

Q. Israeli parents are less insistent - what does this mean? An interesting survey, recently published, notes that Israeli parents are comparatively more sympathetic towards their offspring than parents from other countries around the world where achievement is of prime importance. In Israel, parents prefer to compliment their children on their accomplishments rather than punish them for failing. They believe that encouraging them to do well is more important than disciplining them for receiving low grades.

In Japan, a country with a high work and study ethic, pressure from parents and teachers often results in depressions and even tragedies (suicides) after the students fail in their studies. This tendency, which increased there in recent years, brought about a new psychological attitude in our own country, ie. that it is absolutely forbidden to `break the child,' and that his `happiness' is the main objective.

If this attitude is exaggerated, A. maintains, it leads to an unhealthy situation. Children need definite limits to keep them within bounds of the system. Permissiveness is perceived by children as a weakness and prevents them from making an honest effort. Teachers in turn cannot ignore the child's careless attitude towards his studies and must prevent further deterioration. Obviously, not every subject interests every pupil but if the teacher doesn't take a firm stand, the child won't make even a minimum effort.

Q. Is it natural for teachers to use the threat: if you don't pay attention and learn, I'll lower your grades?

Nowadays, when teachers have lost the right to employ most disciplinary measures (they're not allowed to raise their hand against a child, to reprove because it's detrimental to his self-image etc.), the report card is the only means left for discipline. It is necessary for the teacher's powers of discernment to come into play in the type of punishment he metes out. If, for example, he lowered the grade of a weak pupil who invested a great deal of effort into his studies, this would be like taking the last piece of bread from a poor man. He can take other steps, however, like threatening to call the parents, or canceling participation in an upcoming school trip, etc.

It is an educational error to place overall importance on grades, and judge pupils only according to that criterion, says A. There are children who love their teacher and make efforts only to please her and in spite of their efforts, their grades remain below average. If such a teacher relays the message that a mark of 80% is not considered high, the child will lose all hope of ever being a success and the teacher will have closed the door to communication with the pupil.

Q. Perhaps it would be better to change the system and abolish report cards altogether?

I'm not so sure that this is a good idea. As Jews we are accustomed from time to time to stop and make a `cheshbon,' to take stock of the situation, on erev Rosh Chodesh, erev Shabbos, erev Rosh Hashona etc. This break allows us to evaluate how we stand spiritually and what can be done to change. The report card also has some type of spiritual value in the sense that it causes us to stop and evalutate the situation. It's an educational tool which gets us used to appraising our capabilities in different areas. Even those who study only in order to get good marks, learn and advance as a result.

In the final analysis, the self-evaluation which is represented by the report card can help us all advance - teachers, parents, and children as well.


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