The U.S. Department of Education recently authored a report entitled the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. The report follows more than 20,000 American schoolchildren from kindergarten through the fifth grade, gathering each child’s test scores and demographic information. The parents of each child were asked numerous questions regarding their family’s habits, lifestyle and activities. The final report is an extraordinary wealth of data that, when given a rigorous analysis, provides some powerful indications regarding the fundamentals of parenting methods.
One of the study’s interesting conclusions is that a child who has fifty books in his or her home scores roughly five percent higher than a child without any books. Moreover, a child with one hundred books at home scores an additional five points above the child with fifty books. Most people would look at this data and presume that the number of books in the home correlates to the amount of time in which a parent or caretaker reads to the child. However, the conclusion of the study is quite different. Regardless of the time spent on reading to a child, the mere presence of books in the home influenced a child’s test scores. In other words, parenting is as much—and perhaps more—about who you are than about what you do.
Parenting is perhaps one of the most difficult undertakings which a person will perform in his or her life. Theories abound, and in the effort to produce a “wunderkind” mothers and fathers will often put their child, as well as themselves, through a rigorous schedule of classes, concerts, museum visits, and yet more classes. Beginning in the womb, the fetus must listen to Mozart; then as a small child he or she will be enrolled in a specialized preschool, eventually forced to take ice hockey, violin, chess and extra math—an often grueling 12-hour day which will hopefully produce the perfect child: one who gains admission into an Ivy League school and eventually becomes a world-renowned surgeon or statesman.
I imagine that it would come as quite a disappointment to these super-parents if they were to learn that the quality of the home and its atmosphere is far more significant to their child’s success than the quantity of classes and cultural events to which he or she is transported and the methods that have driven child development for so long.
King Solomon writes in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The Jewish people have always been known as “the people of the book,” not merely because of our reputation for being studious, but more so because of the Torah given at Mount Sinai, which has unified us for generations—a Torah explained, expounded and illuminated in thousands of books written and published throughout the centuries. Often, the Torah books in a Jewish home will number more than can be learned even in a lifetime; still we have always kept these books in our home, infusing the home with the spirituality and holiness contained within their pages.
As one of the ten Jewish observances of his ten-point mitzvah campaign, the Lubavitcher Rebbe chose bayit malei sefarim, a “home filled with books,” urging Jews to purchase Torah books and conspicuously display them throughout their homes, thereby encouraging family and guests to study their teachings, ultimately and intimately affecting one’s thought, speech and action for the better. But even if the books lie dormant on their shelves, said the Rebbe, their mere presence will permeate the entire home, positively influencing those who reside there both during the hours they spend inside the home as well as when they walk beyond its doors. Just as a mezuzah protects the inhabitants of the home within and without, so too the effects of the books in the home reach far and wide.
So, the ECLS study has its precedent. An environment establishes the outcome. Merely bringing books into one’s home can determine the children’s test scores, since the books instinctively impart to the child that education is of utmost importance to his or her parents, thus adding to a child’s determination to do well in school.
Sacred Jewish books visibly displayed at home will subconsciously express its owner’s appreciation and reverence for these books, their values, their history and their content, all the while encouraging the entire family and visitors to use them, read them and learn from them. A Torah environment created though Torah books creates a subtle yet constant atmosphere of holiness, inspiring Jewish thought and practice, and ultimately urging us to learn its teachings and enhance our lives, one book at a time.