The War With Grandpa: Raising our Consciousness about Elders and Examining Stereotypes and Myths

by Stephanie Rotsky, Social Justice Coordinator

Eight years ago, The Rashi School made an intentional move to build our school on the NewBridge campus to be part of a multi-generational community. Its move was, in part, inspired by Rashi’s longstanding relationship with Hebrew Rehab in Roslindale – one that began over 20 years ago by five second-grade students and their families with the Mitzvah Makers program. Since those early years, the Rashi community has been engaged in creating friendships with residents, celebrating holidays, and sharing life experiences and memories with one another.

These days, there are Rashi students at NewBridge every week either connecting through the Making Memories/Memory Support Program with middle school students, the Mitzvah Makers Program for students in grades 2-6, holiday celebrations and learning with their classmates, inviting residents to teach at Rashi and share their wisdom and experiences that have made the world better, having lunch with residents, interviewing residents and NewBridge staff about their immigration stories, and enjoying the company of one another – to name a few…

Fourth Grade Social Justice Connection to War with Grandpa

Some BIG questions we explored together:

  • What does Judaism and Jewish texts teach us about honoring elders?
  • How can we expand our consciousness about elders by examining stereotypes, myths and truths about them?

Every year in fourth grade, the students read The War with Grandpa by Robert Kimmel Smith – a story that follows the evolving relationship between a grandfather and his grandson after the grandfather moves into the family’s home and the grandson must give up his bedroom to accommodate his grandpa’s needs. Students realize that the situation isn’t simple for both the grandfather and the grandson and doing perspective-taking throughout the story enables them to consider different view points and build empathy for both individuals.

The Learning Process: What We Know and What We Hope to Learn

First, the students did a brainstorm with me to identify specific myths and stereotypes that they had heard/learned about elders. Next, they shared what they admired and loved about elders in their lives. Finally, they discussed and listed questions about elders that they aren’t sure about.

Myths About Elders:

they are not good at moving around
they get nicer
all elders wear dentures
they need canes
they all have cats
they are always sick
they all wear glasses
they are all grumpy
they all have bad teeth with cavities
they have white/gray hair
they feel ok about being old
they keep candy on hand
they have wrinkles
they are all “out of it”
they need medication
they are not working
they hate broth
they require surgery
they all live in nursing homes
they lose their hair
they all wear glasses
they have poor hearing
they all like to play Bingo

Things You Admire About Elders in Your Life:

they are kind and loving
my grandma is a kindly not-so-old soul
they are good at baking
they love kids
they are patient
they have interesting stories to share
there is always something new happening with them
they always feed me
they teach me a lot because they have been through a lot in life
they are positive
always learning something new just to be able to teach it to me
they have interesting life lessons and stories to share
they have different English names but the same Hebrew name as me
they have interesting trinkets to play with (often from the past)

One Thing About Elders That You Are Curious or Not Sure About

Does their hearing get worse over time?
Do you have fun when your grandkids or kids are NOT around?
Are you afraid of death?
I wonder if they are sad because they are old.
Does seeing your grandkids remind you of when you were young and how does that make you feel?
Do you experience joy outside of seeing your family?
Do all elderly people have grandkids?
Why are my grandparents so good at cooking?
Why do they say “yes” to everything?
Was your life hard?
Did they have a hard time when they were young?
Do all elders actually shrink?
What is it like when you have joyful little kids come visit you?
What was it like growing up and experiencing getting older and going through life?

Applying Our Knowledge

Next, we looked at a series of video clips that were either commercials or news stories that involved elders. Students were asked to look at each video clip and then write down the message being conveyed about elders in each one. Was the message positive or negative? Did the video clip perpetuate a stereotype/myth or provide a new way of thinking about elders in general?

With Your Child

Take a look back on the video clips we examined: What do you think the intended messages are about elders in each one?

Chevy Car Commercial: Old Couple Young Again

Cover Girl Make up Commercial: Hey Wrinkle Face

Apple iPhone 7 Waterproof Stereo Speakers Commercial: Dive

85 Year Old Best Friends News Story

Chevy Cruze Eco Commercial – Super Bowl 2011

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Trailer for RBG Documentary

Young @ Heart at Newport Folk Festival News Story

Coca Cola “Refreshed” Commercial – Older Couple on a Bench

Oreo Commercial – Ready, Set, Lick

Humana Health Insurance Commercial – Marathon

Tying it Back to Judaism

The final piece we examined together was what does Judaism say about how we should think about and engage with elders? We looked at the mitzvah – Hiddur P’nai Zaken (translated as elevate/lift up the face of an elder) and then studied four different Jewish texts related to uncover what are the values Judaism teaches about our relationships with elders. During a family education program, fourth-grade families had the opportunity to weigh in on the texts below either by responding to the specific text or to other families’ comments that were part of the conversation.

Rabbi Akiva said: Wings are to a bird as elders are to Israel. – Shemot Rabbah 5:12

Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me. – Psalms 71

You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old… – Leviticus 19:32

Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your parent, who will inform you, your elders, and they shall instruct you. – Deuteronomy 32:7

Connecting The Lesson to Our Own Lives

During Generations Day, an afternoon during which we invite our students’ grandparents to experience the classroom, the fourth graders continued the conversation about dispelling myths and stereotypes about elders as well as discovered in new ways how their connections to one another enrich their lives in powerful ways.

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