Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Loshon Hara About Gedolim

A recent post by my cousin R' Ally was very interesting, discussing his thoughts regarding ruminating about various Rabbonim and Gedolim and their shortcomings. It's a worthwhile read, and as he asked for feedback at the end, this is what I e-mailed him (very slightly edited). Please note that this was a quick middle of the night e-mail and therefore not fully fleshed out, particularly the last paragraph which ends abruptly.

For whatever it's worth from a non-Halachic mind...

I've long felt that using sechel is important. Obviously what the Chazon Ish says about it needing to be accurate is of utmost importance (as it always should be), but once that's established, I see no issue in reporting the truth and informing people about Rabbonim/Gedolim/et al. By definition a gadol needs to be someone whom a person can respect, and if knowing a piece of information will change a person's mindset as to how they view a Rav/Gadol and what they are saying I would think that is critical.

A few years ago, I was criticized by some for allowing to be published on my blog a [public] letter of a Rebbe where he spoke out in a very nasty way about a certain institution. Nobody disputes the accuracy of what was written, yet I received threats from some of his talmidim for 'saying badly' about a 'Gadol b'Torah'. I believe all of those people were wrong - there are many parents who would be hesitant at best to send their child to a Rebbe with those views, feeling that he will not teach their children appropriately, and it is important to show those parents what he thinks in his own words. I don't think this constitutes lashon hara whatsoever.*

Perhaps more importantly, a friend once went around to a number of Rabbonim/Rabbeim and Gedolim asking them to explain the concept of Da'as Torah clearly. He felt the best answer he received was from a Rebbe of ours who said that while he can't define the term, he can advise that a person find a Rebbe who "cares most about what's best for him [the Talmid] than anyone/anything else [i.e. the Rebbe, the Yeshiva, perceptions, etc.]". Based on that, which I think rings very much as Emes, I would further state that it's important that people understand which Rabbeim and Rabbonim and Gedolim are most capable of doing so. Therefore, I think it not just permissible but perhaps important to be clear about what a person's strengths and weaknesses might be particularly as it relates to being a Rav/Rebbe/Gadol.

I should add that it has often struck me that many Rabbeim I've met or even had are not capable from a Middos perspective of doing so, and that has always bothered me (perhaps particularly coming from a Mussar perspective, having grown up down the block from R' Dessler in Cleveland and learning in a Chofetz Chaim branch in a small town) - how can these people lead others, serve as their Rebbeim, etc.? (To varying degrees, and some people with poor middos can still accomplish a great deal in other areas of chinuch or Rabbonus etc., I don't mean to paint a broad brush at all.)

*A Rosh Yeshiva I respect who was directly negatively impacted by the incident expressed very nicely to me a couple of years later that my posting about the letter had hurt, and he felt I should not have done so, though he said he was fully mochel regardless. I disagree (and didn't ask for said mechila, though it's nice to have in case I'm wrong) for the reasons stated above.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A New Paradigm for Note-Passing

Imagine the following scenario: You work in a company where you get evaluated on your performance. You either work hard as you  can, have your personal struggles, and there are weaknesses in your performance. Then about 3 to 4 times a year, your manager sends your performance appraisal to another manager and they meet without you to discuss your performance. Afterwards both managers tell you how your performance has been, impose goals on you, and how you better improve your performance or else. Sounds crazy, right?

I was recently at a conference where someone who works in the People Analytics department at Google was talking about how they introduced an instantaneous feedback system. As an introduction, he talked about how in grade school you would get a report card in the mail, your parents would read it, and you would cover in fear after PTA. Then he described how note passing between classmates is a form of more instantaneous feedback and how they developed an internal platform to give employees instant feedback from their coworkers to help improve their performance.

From a performance management division it was kind of cool and it got me thinking about how we do performance reviews - in the classroom.

Well that's not even close to the way  teachers try to enhance performance of students in the classroom. They work hard (or not), get a report card, then the teacher and parents sit down and discuss the way that the child's performance is going to improve, what interventions or punishments to use, etc - all of this without the child's buy-in for the improvement or his/her input! There has been an effort by some to institute a character based report card as well, however there is opposition to it (from what I've heard, especially from Preparatory schools). I have also heard that some schools are starting to invite children to come to PTA meetings. I think that these are important steps to improving education.

In performance management, there are best practices to achieve higher levels of performance: The person being evaluated should rate themselves on a series of behaviors, skills, and knowledge. (Not just one performance dimension, but rather let's say 10 dimensions of their skills e.g.- motivation, knowledge, teamwork) Then the manager should rate them and they should sit down to discuss where the employee is doing well, where they are meeting expectations, and where they need improvement. The employee has the ability to explain their performance and then together they set goals and an action plan to achieve those goals. I am not an educator nor a child/school psychologist; I do however have knowledge of how performance management works. It works well to improve performance especially when the goal of the review is to develop the employee rather than decide whether they are getting a raise or promotion. I am not saying to do away completely with grades for subjects. I am saying that performance for subjects should be broken down by dimension; composition, vocabulary, grammar, etc. This will not only help students understand their weaknesses but their strengths as well.