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TEEN ISSUES-----problems with the school system

MODERATOR Posted - 14 August 2000 15:57

The biggest complaints frum teenagers have today - even more than about their parents - are about their schools. Not about too much homework, or mean teachers, or the typical "teenage" complaints. Rather, they express anger, bitterness, disbelief, shock, and even tears, over what they feel is an abandonment of their needs by their schools, in favor of what is more beneficial for the school's public image. Teenagers are losing faith in their role models because they feel they are not cared for by them.

In this, teenagers and adults are not at odds. Whenever I speak about chinuch, the audience never fails to express their dissatisfaction with our educational "system". They want Yeshivos to be better able to inspire the "average" student; they want Bais Yaakovs to be less straining; and they want all schools to lower their admissions standards, to accommodate the not-so-elite student.

Frustrations very similar to those expressed by the teens.

Whether their complaints are right or wrong, there certainly is a problem with our educational system. That is, control of it is not in the hands of the educators.

Over 50 years ago, the previous Bostoner Rebbe, Rav Moshe Horowitz ZTL, had suggested in a meeting with Rav Shraga Faivel Mendelovitz ZTL, that a Yeshiva be created where an easier curriculum of Gemora-Rashi, some Ain Yaakov, some Halachah LMaaseh, and Hashkafa is studied, to better accommodate those students for whom the intense Gemara B'Iyun-centered program is too much. Rav Mendelovitz replied, "You are right, Bostoner Rebbe, but what parents will send their kids there?"

More recently, in a meeting regarding the elementary school curriculum in his Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner ZTL stated that in his opinion, starting Gemara in the fifth grade is too early. Seventh or eighth grade would be better, but there is a problem instituting the idea. "What will be," he said, "when a father of a 7th grader from another Yeshiva meets a father of a 7th grader from our Yeshiva, in Shul. 'My son finished 20 blatt this year, and 10 blatt last year,' says the father from the other Yeshiva. 'My son, well, he's still learning Mishnayos', says the father from our Yeshiva." There goes the Yeshiva's reputation, and, soon thereafter, the Yeshiva's students.

So our educational system has its problems, but the "educational system" is comprised not only of educators. The parent bodies, and the students themselves, also maintain power and say over what happens in our Torah institutions. They are the ones - not the Roshei Yeshiva - that create the reputations of the Yeshivas. It is their judgment - not that of the Roshei Yeshiva - that determines which Yeshivos will be successful and which will fail. The unprofessional and often unknowledgeable masses make their own demands of Yeshivos, demands which are often detrimental to the well-being of the student. Demands that are often based on standards that defy logic, experience, and Torah leadership. But woe be it to the Yeshiva that fails to meet those demands.

Mechanchim are choked by the fact that to be successful they have to satisfy the free-wheeling agendas created by people with no expertise in Chinuch. If you do what is right, you lose.

I remember, a number of years ago, when I was teaching Navi to 9th grade girls in a major Bais Yaakov, that my curriculum demanded I finish two seforim - Yehoshua and Melachim Bais - during the 4-period a week course, by the end of the year. This is an exorbitant amount of material for the girls to absorb. I asked the principal is she thought this was the best thing for the girls.

"No," she said, "but in so-and-so school [the major competitor of our school] they finish 2 seforim in the 9th grade, and if we don't, people will say the other school 'has better learning'".

The fact is, the girls' curriculum was not best for them, but the fact also is, that people would say the school has inferior learning if they did do what was best. Parents would certainly send their children to the other school, that does what's worse, but looks better on the outside, and the good girls suffer.

So there's a choice. Do what's best, or do what you need to do to survive.

We are gripped in the clutches of a Judaic "pop culture" which, like secular trends, is all fluff and no substance, but nevertheless is blindly complied with by thousands. We laugh at the mindless devotion of the goyim to fashions and fads, yet we have allowed purveyors of political correctness to create "designer chinuch", where it becomes fashionable not to finish more that 10 blatt of Gemorah a year, despite the begging and pleading of our Gedolim to speed up the pace. And the designers have as much taste for Torah education as those in Paris do for menshliche clothing.

And this is not only true with regard to teens. Adults, too, are subject to misplaced values in their own Torah learning. Thousands of laymen who do not know how to make tea on Shabbos according to Halachah, who have no clue as to whether you must wash and bentsch if you eat one slice of bread, will shortly be dedicating all their learning time for years to come to the study of how to write Gittin, how to perform Yibbum, and how to be makrev korbonos.

Finishing shas is an accomplishment, but so is keeping Shabbos. And, the Chofetz Chaim said, the only possible way to do that even once is by knowing thoroughly all the halachos. But who wants to do what's right? We'd rather do what's popular. ("The Shach, Taz, and Drisha write that a Baal Habayis who only learns a few hours a day should learn Halachah, not Gemara. Every man must know Orech Chaim, and some Halachos of Yoreh Deah, Even Haezer, and Choshen Mishpat . . . but we see that if we will tell them this, they will not learn at all, because they only want to learn a daf of Gemara each day. Therefore, we should not disallow them to [learn daf yomi], and we hope they will do even that . . . " - Aruch HaShulchan 246:17)

We can change the system. We can improve it. But we can't do it by constantly pointing the finger at others. We need to employ a bit of sensibility when choosing Yeshivos: "What is best for my son", should be the question; "what is best for me", when choosing your own seder hayom. We should listen carefully to the direction of our Gedolim. And we should remember what our Rebbeim taught us in Cheder: Don't pay attention to fashions.

her Posted - 18 April 2001 1:45

This looks like a good place to complain about testing.

The idea of midterms and finals bunched all together is silly! Who remembers anything they study?

We come out burned out and frustrated so that the teachers can have a few more marks in their rolebooks that don't reflect how much we could know.

And I want to know what we're learning, but who has time for that when there are 2 subjects to memorize for every day?!

MODERATOR Posted - 18 April 2001 1:51

There's no question you're right, her, but the teachers aren't the ones to blame. They just follow instructions of the principals, and the principals only do what is demanded of them by the Board or the parent body, or whoever.

Of course, principals and teachers do have a measure of free will, but to eliminate the testing system we have today would be met with raised eyebrows by parents and supporters, and the school will suffer, even though they did the right thing. (Please see my first post that opened this forum).

ptgard2281 Posted - 18 April 2001 18:55

I always thought it was wrong to be tested on torah . . . we are not capable of memorizing all the Meforshim, pesukim, etc. that exist, so why try to make us memorize any of it?

I always felt that we have pretty much everything written down these days so as not to forget them and that they can be looked at anytime. Students often memorize rather than learn when it comes to tests, so it us not beneficial to try to make students memorize torah that they are not gaining anything from by doing so.

MODERATOR Posted - 18 April 2001 18:59

It is important to remember what you learn. Kol hashocheach dovor echad mimishnaso is described in Pirkei Avos as a sin.

From Rashi it seems that in the next world, whatever you don’t remember wont count as yours. (Although you get a Mitzvah for learning it.)

ptgard2281 Posted - 18 April 2001 22:20

. . . which is why I don't think kids should be tested on torah. I find that I remember more in a relaxed environment when it comes to torah. Then I don't feel like I am being forced to remember, rather I remember by nature.

Secular studies often involve memorization which is fine for that, but when it comes to religion and kids psyches, being forced to memorize for the purpose of a grade just doesn't work. Kids should be taught torah without being graded in order to show them that torah goes beyond the classroom and is important to remember.

MODERATOR Posted - 19 April 2001 15:22

The problem is, if you don’t test, then many students take advantage and don’t learn. So it depends who you’re dealing with. Generally, in high schools they do test but post secondary schools don’t. And even when HS's do test, its often only "talking in learning" with the Menahel (that’s how it works in my son's Yeshiva).

You as an individual need to find the school that suits the way you learn best. But there is still a need for the other types as well.

alexis Posted - 20 April 2001 14:39

I'm a teacher, and admittedly it's history (Global Studies) and not in a BY, but I want to let you all know that I (and other teachers) do see problems like this and we don't like it either.

The idea nowadays is all standards and passing tests, and as much as I'd like to innovate and do new things and have my kids enjoy their classes (not an easy thing!) I'm faced with the blank wall of the Regents exam--parents who want their kids to get 95% on it, administrators who want to keep up the school record, bureaucrats in Albany who want to point to a statistic.

This probably doesn't make any of you feel much better--but at least you know your teachers aren't ogres, and we do know what kids go through.

(And by the way, history isn't about memorizing! Tch! :-) )

MODERATOR Posted - 20 April 2001 14:50

It's true - the teachers are not to blame. The "system" involves the parent body, the boards, the student body themselves, the donors, the politicians, et al, and all of them share control of the "system." The teachers, actually, have the least power of all of the above since they don’t support the school, but rather are supported by it. The supporter has the power over the supportee. The educators have tried numerous times to improve things, but the scope of their influence is ironically limited. Check out the following group of articles in the Shema Yisrael Torah Network:


e Posted - 25 April 2001 18:19

Another thing which really irritates me - story: a few weeks ago there was a Shiur at my school, a beis yakov.

It was very boring so these 2 girls were playing a game. Anyway the rabbi got all cross and they stopped doing. He was from out of town.

So anyway the next day we had a shiur by another out-of-town rabbi who often talks to us who we all learn so much from and he really understands us etc and we all think he is unbelievable. So before this started the principal called our class and said the rabbi from yesterday told on you and I want the 2 girls to own up and they cant go to the shiur.

Besides the fact that a rabbi tittle-taled, or whatever, where did they get the right to punish like that, especially when they knew how much we all learn from that rabbi, and is it allowed to "punish with torah"?

Was any of the adult’s behavior justified?

MODERATOR Posted - 25 April 2001 18:23

Well honestly, e, for specific situations like that you’d have to hear both sides of the story. It wouldn’t be fair of you to judge them without asking them why they did it first. In general, its always a good idea to ask a person why they did what they did, to get their side, before you pass judgment.

M.J. Posted - 07 May 2001 15:21

Why is do schools play favorites? Doesn't it say in Yirmiya that one should not praise a person for his chuchma, money or strengths? Our institutions are so hypocritical.

I understand that they need to support themselves, and without money a school can't run.

But why is the system catered to 95% students? B"H I get good grades and my family can pay full tuition, but it isn't fair for those who can't, it doesn't make them a bad person. I will do the same (wrong) thing as my friends, and my principal will look the other way!

It gets me so upset. What would happen if I started getting poor grades? Or for some reason, G-d forbid we weren't able to pay tuition, then what?

Are Yeshivos a way of stereotyping kids? Boys Yeshivos, I will never understand, besides for the fact the everyone wants to get into a "Brand name Yeshiva" but maybe you could shed some light on Bais Yaakovs and the way they run, because I've been there for almost eleven years and I still have a hard time understanding them!

- 07 May 2001 15:31

What exactly is hard to understand? It is wrong to play favorites, or to do anything that is not in line with Torah standards of Chinuch. There is no official template for Bais Yaakovs. Each individual administration runs their own school.

Obviously there is one general direction that all BY's go, but regarding if they will play favorites and cater to those with money and grades depends on the individual school. Although it is true that we need our schools desperately, and that Yeshivas and BY's are holy institutions, that does not mean that any individual principal, rabbi, or teacher is beyond reproach and is not capable of doing something wrong.

Just because someone is principal of a BY does not mean they no longer have their Torah obligations, nor does it mean that everything they do is necessarily in fulfillment of those obligations.

There are too many kids that are "turned off" from Yiddishkeit because they believe that whatever happens in their school represents the Torah way. That is not always the case. Whereas in the secular world, schools are government institutions, in the Torah world, sometimes, Yeshivas and BY's are simply private institutions, and the Torah is not to be blamed for the actions of those individuals, any more than it can c"v be blamed for the actions of any Jew.

Golda Posted - 08 May 2002 17:08

This question has been bothering me for a while, and it's come up a few times but the answers I got were all really different -

I (think that I) understand what boys schools/ yeshivos are supposed to do. What confuses me is what girls schools, at least in the modern sense, are supposed to do (as opposed to the schools Sarah Schneirer started) and how they fulfill that purpose.

MODERATOR Posted - 14 May 2002 17:17

The BY movement was originally created because, due to the influence of Haskala and modernization, girls began to need formal Torah instruction in order to maintain their desire to remain committed or as committed to frumkeit.

The education of girls is not a goal in an of itself (it is by the boys) but rather a means to an end - to fortify and strengthen the girls' frumkeit. Teaching and doing Whatever fortifies and strengthens the frumkeit of the girls is the reason for having girls Torah education. that is its goal.

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