Mr. Hartman Comes to Tarbut: an Interview

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Mr. Hartman Comes to TVT: an Interview

Elianna Stivi

Elianna:  Hello Mr. Hartman.  I Have a few questions for you.  Firstly, why did you come to TVT?


Mr. Hartman:  It is a really interesting question. You know, where I was it was an all boys high school. And I liked it a lot.  It was St. John’s Bosco at Bellflower. I was very happy there. I had been there for about 5 years. However , I have a daughter and not a son, and so I think, look, a big choice that every  teacher has to make is if you are going to work in independent schools or public schools.  In independent schools you have a lot more freedom to sort of teach in the way you want.  There is a lot less bureaucracy.  On a downside, of course, less pay.  Public school teachers on average make more and no pension.  The other big tradeoff is usually, if you are independent school teacher you, would hopefully teach on the side where your kids could eventually go.  You kind of get that, a cool experience of being outside with your kids.  My wife and I had hoped that I would be able to get to the side where my daughter could come but there are not many K-12’s. Really in this region there are three, Chadwick, TVT, Waldorf School Orange County. I couldn’t teach at Waldorf School. It is not a good fit for me. There is a little bit too much dancing in the curriculum. No, I don’t think I could do it. I could not take it seriously. I don’t have anything against Woldorf school , it is just a little too hippie-ish.  I don’t know if you have seen any of Woldrof’s stuff. Yeah it is not bad it is just a lot of dancing. One night after class in the EDD program, in UCLA my wife kind of likes to look at the jobs, we kind of thought I was going to leave Bosco when I finished EDD because there’s no benefit to me staying there, my daughter could never go there, you know. Let’s face it after taking all this time to get a doctorate I probably would move into a job where I can use it so that idea was that I would move into an admin or into post-secondary education in some faculty. She happened to see a job for a history teacher here at TVT. I knew it was K through 12. History teacher positions at Independent Schools don’t come up often. Look at our staff, most people that have been here 10 years, Miss Miller had been here 20, that is basically the life of the high school; there are not many history teacher positions, let’s face it. It did not say when it the opening was for. I assumed and my wife assumed that they were gathering resumes for next year, that there was someone retiring so I said okay no big deal my resume was sort of already updated.  Something that I just keep updated. I think that is a good practice. So we just dropped my resume and got a call that day from Ms. Quigley and kind of toured the school and thought it kind of seems compelling. That was a little tricky negotiating leaving my old school; giving a 3 week notice instead of two week notice it was fine. They were able to cover With faculty in house. But still tough, right?  As you guys know you just went through losing a teacher. But you know I think the main reason I came here is really two-fold. The school is really compelling, I like the folks in academics and two this is the place where my daughter can come and she should be here next year. She is 4 and she will be 5.


Elianna:  So what do you think is the main difference between an all boys school and one that is co-ed?


Mr.Hartman:   It is a good question. When teaching in an all-boys school, for one it  smells a lot worse.  But more significantly, you know there are distinct differences in genders in terms of education and so increasingly we are seeing  that being actualized in education policies if you look at a lot of kindergartens actually  having different start dates for like a birthday cut off like boy versus a girl. Recognition that up to your  mid 20’s, girls are  on average a year ahead of boys in terms of intellectual and social development.  Boys are done. We know this kind of stuff it was nice being in a single gender environment because you don’t have to kind of negotiate that difference you can sort of assume we’re are all kind of in the same place more or less. And so you kind of can tailor instruction. Additionally it is easier building this motivational factor when you have this one audience you know more sort of homogenous; it is all easier but I think the school is small enough that gender dynamic is not  as significant as in some other schools. I say that because you guys have known each other since childhood so you kind of have relationships that sort of exist outside of that gender dynamic because you knew each other before that was sort of such an important gulf. So when I taught in high school in public school in DC, where there was coed, that gap was kind of seen as much  bigger. Most of them did not know each other till high school and so what you would generally have happened was sort of the guys would kind of cluster in the back of the room and not talk and you know the girls would tend to dominate the discussion with a few exceptions. Everyone splits, it is interesting. Although it is funny that you guys would split in the middle of Tefilah.  Everyone splits I think it is interesting. I would have expected more mingling. I do not remember from my high school, I guess it probably split when I was in high school.   I went to a coed small school.


Elianna:  I think maybe it is over a period of time of practically growing up together at the same school, you just kind of got sick and tired of some people, maybe.


Mr. Hartman.  Right, right.


Elianna:  In terms of like integration into TVT, have you had any problems? Like what factors could have contributed to them?


Mr. Hartman: The faculty have been incredibly warm and welcoming which I think is a really nice thing. Obviously I am  coming and  replacing someone I never met but seems to have been very well-regarded among the students and among the faculty.  There is very much a sense of loss and pain that was sort of palpable especially when I first stepped in. That is getting better with time. But in general faculty was incredibly welcoming.  Mrs. Berkowitz perhaps is the nicest person  ever.   Mrs. Quigley has been very very warm and welcoming and students,  you guys have been great. I feel like starting to get accustomed to how I teach and kind of figuring me out a little bit which is a good thing and it is kind of nice coming in not knowing anything so I can just sort of present how I would present it  and not worry about what came before or was that’s  Mr. Chaffey coming to be the full-time teacher here. Not that it was an option, but for argument sake, had that happened right now he would have known how you have been taught with Miss Miller and so he would have this baggage trying to teach that way because that was what you were used to. I come in and I have no idea how you were taught before, no idea how you were assessed before, so I’m just going to do it my way and we are going to figure it out.


Elianna:   And what kind of expectations were you having coming into a Jewish private school and were they met?


Mr. Hartman:   It is a good question. I actually expected for it to have more of a faith focus than it does.  I’ve been now for the last 5 Years a Catholic School that was very faith focused. Because we’re not aligned with any particular denomination. It is not the right term.


Elianna:  Sect of Judaism?


Mr. Hartman:   Yeah, sect of Judaism. There isn’t like, these are the things we believe. And I understand why, right, why have those explicit statements sort of faith interwoven with purpose. Tefilah  is a lot of fun, Fridays, Kabbalat Shabbat. Those are really fun. I like those atmospheres. I thought that with Rabbi Epstein was interesting, though I like having those types of discussions. That is a lot of fun. I taught theology and religion one of those things I taught in my old school. So I enjoyed those discussions a great deal. Speaking to Rabbi Hyman, I know a lot of first names, I am still learning… right… ahh…he has a really good logical background and I think he has a really good theological background doing some interesting things in his Jewish Studies course. I have not really seen any other Jewish courses. I’m curious how it gets woven into the curriculum. This is a very academic centered institution, which is cool. And there is always that balance on how you balance that faith identity with AP’s and  follow College Board. You know, there is no way around it. And so it is a tough balancing act. But I grew up at the school I went to, St. Francis Park View in San Diego, preschool through 12th grade. It is an independent school but a significant number of students were Jewish. They were when I was there but I cannot speak for it now. So about ⅓ to 1/2 , about there. So I grew up around most of my friends were Jewish. For me growing up going to bar mitzvahs and having friends that were doing Seder was a normal thing for me. right. That part doesn’t feel alien to me. It’s when I joined the Army I realized when people from Oklahoma had never met a Jew before; it’s not like there are no Jews in Oklahoma,  I get it. That was interesting. The jewishness of the school I think, has not been a problem. Or a challenge I guess. I think it has been interesting. You know I think most teenagers at your age are sort of, you are at an age of being taught to question things,  and it is a good thing. And that point of life and I would include myself and that camp of starting to think about atheism, agnosticism.  It’s totally understandable.  I see that around among our students here. I think we have a lot of cultural Jews but not as many theologically engaged and that is very much the norm. I think it has to do with the age and you know I hate to be sort of condescending, saying it is a phase you are going to grow out of it. However I think there is something to that, right?  

Elianna:  Right!

Mr. Hartman:   As time passes, the assuredness that you had in your youth, can sometimes wear away when you realize how little you know. How you can feel very certain when you are 18. And then you get your butt handed by the world. and it gets blown away. That was kind of a long answer.

Elilanna.  That is fine.  In terms of TVT on Israel, do you think that TVT has kind of an unilateral perspective on Israel? .

Mr. Hartman:   It is a very loaded question. Look, it is a  Jewish school and many Jewish communities.  Existence of Israel is taken almost as an article of faith. And I understand that. I am myself very sympathetic to the Israeli cause. And I it would be very hard for me to be here if I wasn’t.  And I say that as a student of History, knowing the history of the region and kind of things that happened, you want to go to who has the best claim to the region.  If  it’s not the Jews, then  who is it? Right?  Canaanites are no longer wandering around anywhere anymore. That we can  find or locate them anymore. Obviously it is complicated. The Palestinian cause is complicated. The Arab Conquest, who will become the Palestinians. The Arab diaspora. Right? So, you know, that’s still a long time to be somewhere, right? From a larger community starting around 750 CE up to the 1940s, that’s a long time. So you can certainly understand why someone would feel like, “Well look, my father was here, my grandfather was here, his grandfather, his grandfather, back for a long time to potentially the time of the profit. That’s a long time. So I can understand the idea. Now, is TVT teaching too much in one direction? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s cool that you guys are engaging with the issue, right? I think ultimately, students are going to come to their own decisions. And I think it’s better for an institution, whatever that institution is, to kind of lay out their biases on the front end and say ‘here’s where we come from,’ like, ‘here’s our view, you are free to accept or reject that view.’ It’s not like a student is going to fail out of here if they’re like, ‘Uh, I kinda think the Palestinians have some good arguments.’ They’re not going to be like, ‘leave now.’ I don’t picture Mrs. Quigley telling Shalom to escort a student out, right? No, I think as a faith based institution, one of the cool things about working at a faith based institution is you don’t have to be agnostic on everything. So when I worked at D.C. public schools, and students would say, ‘oh let’s talk about abortion’ (because I taught civics) you would have to be very careful in your language to not look like you were ever endorsing any side or any argument, and it kind of kills the conversation a little bit. Because then, you can’t say, because even then just pushing on a student could start to look like advocacy, and so if a student gives some sort of poor justification or something, you almost have a hard time even pushing on that ‘you need to justify your response better’ because offering counter arguments could be seen as advocacy towards a single view. I think it’s better when an institution has a concrete view and articulates it and say ‘look, we support Israel, we think the Israeli cause is right.’ But I also think that it is more nuanced than that. When we go to Tefillah, Rabbi Light talks about wanting peace and not wanting war. Does he necessarily, now I don’t want to read too much into that, but does that mean Rabbi Light doesn’t necessarily supports the Israeli army going in and driving the Palestinians out? I don’t want to read too much into what he says in Tefillah but probably. It seems like it’s a more nuanced view than just ‘yay Israel’ all the time no matter what they do. There is space for criticism and support, and i think that is a key differentiating factor.

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