I was planning to take the family to DC today for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. But it was sooo hot that a long day outside didn’t seem like fun, plus we went to our shul (synagogue) picnic yesterday afternoon, so we got back fairly late. A late fun day followed by a early busy day isn’t generally my recipe for a relaxing fun time.
Instead I did some paperwork that really needed to be done, documenting all of our studies for the year and renewing my membership in the umbrella group for the coming year. Then I completed the application for ds16 for Ner Israel Rabbinical College. I had basically filled it out last week but was waiting to get letters of recommendation for him. But then one rabbi told us it would raise eyebrows if they received recommendations from people who aren’t currently teaching him – they would think there must be something wrong with ds not to have up to date references. And the most recent ‘school’ references were in ninth grade.
A standard application leaves someone who has an atypical academic background at a disadvantage, and as I’ve said before, I don’t like operating from a defensive posture. My son is a fantastic young man and I don’t want an initial impression of him as second class goods by the administration just because the paper trail doesn’t look impressive. I realized I’d have to be change gears slightly with how I handled this application. I threw away (recycled, actually) the form requesting referrals from principals and teachers that I had already filled out, rather than have it look weak. Instead I wrote a letter in which I shared briefly about my son and why the typical letters of recommendation wouldn’t be helpful. Here’s what I wrote:
“To whom it may concern,
E. is very motivated in his desire to learn intensively full-time, and it was this motivation that provided the incentive for him to complete his high school requirements a year early. In every venue in which he has found himself (yeshiva, camp, shul, personal interactions), he has been respectful of both his elders and his peers. The feedback on his behavior and middos has been consistently high and positive. He is serious and focused in his desire to grow personally and to further develop his learning skills. He has a strong work ethic, a kind heart, and a thoughtful demeanor.
E. has been exclusively home educated for ten years, with the exception of his ninth grade year, when he attended a local yeshiva for limudei kodesh. As such, the traditional assessments of principals and rebbeim are not available.
However, I believe that any and all of the following people who know E. will be happy to speak to you about him.” (Then I listed seven names and phone numbers of community members who should be well-known to and respected by the administration.)
I’ll leave it to others who are asked about him to speak glowingly of him – as his mother, I feel it appropriate to be matter of fact and understated in my remarks. The seven names that I provided should give a sense that he is involved in a number of ways communally, as they represent a nice cross section of the community, and are all people who are all well-respected in the community (eg, shul rabbi, high school principal, educators).
Doing all of this is very much like being a pioneer – I understand how the early home educators felt when they were applying to colleges. The application is finally in the mail and hopefully we’ll get a call for him to come for an interview soon!