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October 1, 2016 / 28 Elul, 5776
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Attaining Both Torah U’madda



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Dear Dr. Respler:

I am a specialist in a specific field who worked in a charedi yeshiva in a well-known charedi neighborhood. As a person who is shomeret mitzvot, I was absolutely appalled at the level, or lack thereof, of secular education that exists in that school. As part of its “hashkafa,” the school insulates its students from the ills of the outside world. In my opinion, this policy does the students more harm than good.

Secular studies begin at 3:00 p.m. after an entire morning and part of the afternoon devoted to learning. Interspersed are two breaks and lunch. The classes overflow with 30 boys per class. The all-male English teachers are not certified, and are not college-educated. There are no assistants in the classes. This leads me to only imagine how many of these students fall by the educational wayside.

Being a woman, I was not allowed in the building, and thus worked with two other female teachers, both certified, in a trailer in a self-contained class consisting of four boys. These boys apparently stood out so negatively to these uneducated teachers that it was decided they be separated from the regular school population.

The company I worked for only allowed trade books to be used for reading. There could be no Jewish-themed books and, as such, the lack of knowledge these boys displayed in regards to many of the topics we read about was clear. This was a fifth-grade class, and many did not know their English birthdays, the months of the year, the full name of the president of the United States, and the number of U.S. states. There were no textbooks, no resources and an educational trip never took place. For these boys, some of whom were severely dyslexic and dealing with processing and focusing issues, starting their secular studies program at three in the afternoon was like trying to add more water to an already waterlogged sponge. For alertness purposes, secular studies needed to begin at 1 p.m.

Worst of all was the inability to teach American History, and the boys learning nothing about certain American holidays like President’s Day. The final straw was when I found out fairly late in the year that most of the boys would not continue any secular studies education after completing elementary school; the high-school curriculum would be comprised of Jewish studies only.

I was very disturbed that these boys were on a third-grade reading level upon finishing fifth grade. As a result, they will become illiterate adults, not even capable of filling out an application for a driver’s license – along with being unable to do a lot more. I do not understand how parents are okay with this. Knowing how to read and write English, and having a basic understanding of how America works, is crucial for living here as an adult.

My question: Just as no one would go to a doctor or dentist without proper training, how do parents entrust their children to uneducated “educators” who do not know how children learn, and who do not understand that all children learn differently (not robotically)? For the record, I do not blame the teachers in these types of schools, but rather the schools’ administrations for allowing their schools to have such low standards.

A Perturbed Educator  

Dear Perturbed Educator:

Most charedi schools do not generally prepare their students for the outside world because they do not expect them to be working in the secular world. Whether I agree or disagree with this policy is irrelevant since I am not charedi. Additionally, I do not fully understand the lifestyle and needs of charedim. But I do know that there are many Orthodox schools that teach a lot more secular studies subjects than what you have described.

Dr. Yael Respler

About the Author: Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.


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