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Yelling at Joe Biden’s Teacher
Mom with a View

Yelling at Joe Biden’s Teacher

His mother showed him that she has his back, but was that enough?


I heard a story in the name of former Vice-President Joe Biden the other day. Apparently when he was a child, he had a stutter. Being asked to read aloud (not the height of sensitivity on the part of the teacher!) and having stumbled his way through it, Biden sat down, humiliated. This was compounded by the teacher’s response: “What’s that you said J-J-J-J-Joe?”

Biden got up and left the classroom. After hearing the story from her son, his mother accompanied him to the principal’s office and insisted on seeing the teacher, a nun. When she walked into the room, Joe’s mother turned to her and unleashed her fury. “If you ever treat my son like that again, I will rip your wimple off your head and make you eat it,” threatened Mrs. Biden.

Creative response, but was it the correct one?

For the former VP, it was a defining moment. It taught him that his mother had his back, no matter what. I believe that this is an important lesson and that all children need to feel that their parents are on their side.

But was it the full-credit response? We have been debating it at our Shabbos table ever since…

It’s certainly to her credit that she stood up for her son (although perhaps a less violent and more realistic threat would have been more effective) and that Biden saw her passion for and defense of him.

But I would argue that was not enough. Our children need more than our defense of them. They need tools, they need a coping strategy. Recent studies published in the WSJ back me up. All sorts of research about teenage girls demonstrate that they feel better about themselves and accomplish more when they are taught these skills by their parents.

Life is full of challenges. Biden’s teacher may have been the first but she certainly was not the last, especially given his chosen profession!

We’re all going to meet people who don’t treat us well and our mother won’t be there to threaten them.

But even if don’t run for political office, we are all going to meet people throughout our lives who don’t treat us well. They may be teachers, college professors, bosses, co-workers or even employees, and sometimes – unfortunately – other family members. And our mother won’t always be there to threaten them, and even if she were, her threat would not always be effective.

We need to help our children find ways to cope with these situations. While colleges may provide “safe spaces,” most corporations do not. We need to give our children the ability to deal with bullies and other unpleasant individuals without running for the hills or cowering in the corner.

Maybe Mrs. Biden did that also and it just wasn’t part of the story. (It’s a lot less exciting.) But that’s part of the real job of parenting, the nitty-gritty that isn’t dramatic but prepares our children to face the challenges of adulthood. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” The Torah perspective is that while we can’t control the situations we find ourselves in or the behavior of others, we can control our reaction to it.

Yes, the teacher was wrong, very wrong. But Joe Biden – and all of our children – need to learn to take charge of their response and to maintain their dignity and composure under fire. It is the parents’ job to give coping tools, the ultimate one being the recognition that the Almighty runs the world and that everything that happens is from Him and is an opportunity for growth. It’s not easy but if we can work on modeling and internalizing that behavior ourselves we might just have a chance of passing it on to our children. And perhaps we can spare even the worst of teachers from having to eat their hats…

May 13, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 13

(10) Cheryl, May 17, 2017 4:18 AM

Joe Biden's mother was within her rights to reproach the Nun who so viciously and publicly humiliated her son. Whatever it was the Nun had against her son and his speech impediment, the Nun was the adult, the Nun was the authority figure, the Nun was responsible for her actions. The religious clothing worn by the Nun, (the habit), was what young Joe was responding to when he left the room. He could not disrespect the habit. Mrs. Biden saw through such hypocrisy and allowed herself to speak freely using graphic language. Good for her.

(9) Bunny L. Shuch, May 16, 2017 11:57 PM

A coping skill my parents gave me

When I was in seventh grade, our long term substitute home room teacher went on a diatribe against the Jewish kids in the class. We just sat there stunned and sickened. After recess, we told our math teacher what had happened. She left the room and a minute later we heard her yelling at the substitute in the hall. That made us feel so much better! That night, my parents told me to write down what had happened and they brought the report to the principal the next day. The substitute teacher never came back to our class again. I learned from that experience to use my writing skills to advocate against injustice.

(8) Anonymous, May 16, 2017 9:33 PM

Coping skills - FasterEFT

Several people have asked about coping skills, and although everybody has to decide what exact skills it is that they need, we have found the following very helpful in address unpleasant memories and emotions - Search on YouTube for "FasterEFT" by Robert G Smith. I listened to a lecture by 2 scientists who are heading research studies at a University, which shows how the cortisol (stress hormone) levels drop when EFt (or also called "tapping") is done. They are also able to determine the brain's response to "tapping" through CAT/CT scans. Hashem has created the human body so amazingly wonderful and we are thankful that we can discover and use this technique - we are busy clearing out longstanding problems. Decide for yourself however.

(7) Canuck, May 16, 2017 8:38 PM

Teach coping skills in school.

As a father, grandfather & teacher, I firmly believe these coping strategies should be a compulsory course in all schools. The courses could start out on a very simple level in, say, grade 3, & become gradually more sophisticated as the pupils move up to higher grades. Call it "Human Relations" or something like that, & send the teachers to in-services to prepare them to teach it. After all, today's schools already teach about saving the environment, & LGBTQ rights, & (at least here in Canada) sensitivity to our Natives' issues. So why not insert a programme that would be of personal value to everyone?

(6) Anonymous, May 16, 2017 6:05 PM

It's different from regular bullying

I think this is different from regular bullying. In the case of two peers, a person can stand up for himself just fine. In the case of a student and a teacher- especially a member of the clergy- sticking up for oneself may lead to punishments. The two are not on equal footing. What would you suggest Joe should have said? There is nothing he could say that wouldn't get him into trouble. He needed his mother to set an example for sticking up for those who can't help themselves.

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