The first time I flew somewhere on a plane, I was eight years old. I went to Eretz Yisrael with my Aunt Miriam at the end of the summer. At the time, I remember thinking how spacious and comfortable the seats were.
When I flew again a few years later I couldn’t get over how much the seats seemed to have shrunk. That has only gotten worse with time.
Before that first trip, people advised me to make sure I had gum for the flight. I was very excited that I was being encouraged to bring gum along, but I wasn’t quite sure why. When my plane took off and my ear started hurting, my aunt told me that I should chew gum and make sure to swallow. I think I stuffed half the package in my mouth.
Airplane ear, also known as ear barotrauma, occurs when the pressure in the middle ear is different from the pressure in the surrounding air. As a plane rapidly ascends after takeoff, or descends as it prepares for landing, the air pressure changes very quickly, causing the discomfort of airplane ear. Swallowing helps open the tubes within the ear, allowing it to adjust to the outside pressure.
In recent years, after lengthy flights, my ears hurt a lot during landing. Then I have a hard time hearing for 24 hours. Everything said to me sounds hazy, as if I’m being spoken to in a tunnel. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient, and it definitely makes it harder to hear and concentrate on what is being said to me.
As Jews, one of our supreme values is education. We prioritize the chinuch of our children above almost all else, expending unimaginable amounts of our hard-earned money and resources so our children can attend private schools that espouse and educate Torah values.
The challenge is that some of our children have a hard time sitting at a desk and listening to lectures all day. Therein lies the great struggle and question of how to motivate the seemingly unmotivated. Every parent and educator is aware of how difficult it is to find the right balance and means to educate such children.
The first step in doing so must be to pinpoint why the child is “unmotivated.” Every child inherently wants to do well and bring nachas to his/her parents. The lack of production may be the result of inability to focus, lack of comprehension, dyslexia, or a slew of other intellectual or emotional issues.
There are those who feel that children who aren’t producing need to be pressured more. The logic is that if we could just make them feel more accountable, then they would stop slackening.
In fact, the inverse is often true. Like airplane ear, the more that pressure increases, the less the student is able to hear. We are able to learn new things when we feel settled and calm. But when we feel distracted, edgy, or anxious, it becomes extremely difficult to focus, comprehend and retain new information. When the level of external pressure rapidly changes, the ability to learn diminishes as well.
The night of Pesach – the regal night of faith, inner freedom, and hope – is also the night of education. “And you shall tell your son on that day saying…”
The pasuk also instructs us to tell over the story “in the ears of your son and your son’s son” (Sh’mos 10:2). The vernacular of the pasuk is that it must be taught in a way that resonates in the ears of each child. One cannot teach faith in a generic manner. It must be tailored toward each child, spoken into his own ear. In that way, the son will want to convey that emotional excitement to the next generation.
The “Four Sons” of the Haggadah remind us of the vital importance of addressing each of our children according to his/her unique abilities and weaknesses. We have to teach them and speak to them in a way that they can hear and internalize our timeless values.
 - This does not mean that there aren’t students who need added pressure because they do lack a feeling of accountability. But with students who struggle with any of the aforementioned conditions and beyond, added pressure is not the solution. It’s likely that the existing pressure is part of the problem.