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For Torah U’madda

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Dear Dr. Respler:

When I was blessed with my only child, I planned to give her a well-rounded foundation, including unconditional love; support; honesty; the training to be empathetic, kind and helpful toward others and, last but not least, an education that would open up all doors for her. Anything less than the aforementioned would be unacceptable. Here’s my concern, based on personal experience and from what I’ve heard from others: Why do so many yeshivas provide an inadequate education?

There are multiple issues with the yeshiva system, beginning with a parent’s first step through the front door. Do you look like you’ll fit in? Do you tell them what they want to hear, or do you call it as you see it? That pressure, right from the outset, makes it about judging the parents – instead of the focus being on the child.

In my case, I didn’t even make it to the front door of the yeshiva that my husband and I chose for my daughter. A phone call seemed to be enough to judge me. The woman on the phone asked me what yeshivas I had attended, and I told her that I attended public school (apparently that was a no-no). You would think that being a ba’alas teshuvah was a great thing. But not to them! They simply told me to try a modern yeshiva and, suffice to say, I wasn’t very happy. The end result: my rav got my daughter enrolled in a yeshiva with a great reputation. Sad to say, though, she is no longer there. Ironically, the reason was the Hebrew. It was one thing for me to supplement the English, but the Hebrew was too difficult for me. This brings me to the next issue: teachers.

The majority of teachers weren’t certified, making them unqualified and thus unfit to educate our children. Lucky for them, the state doesn’t regulate the yeshiva system closer than it does, for if that were the case every non-certified teacher would be fired. Being a teacher requires more than just knowing the material. It includes learning different methods to teach effectively, noticing a child in need, properly motivating the students, and exerting authority. To be fair, though, it’s not entirely their fault. It’s a combination of these different factors (I’ve added my own ideas to improve the situation):

A) Teachers are not given an adequate amount of time to teach Hebrew or English. This causes parents to only hope that their children understand the complete subject matter based on what they’ve been taught. If they don’t, teachers expect the parents to pick up the slack for both what the children were taught (but need help with) and that which they weren’t taught.

While there must be a parent/teacher partnership, it should not require a seemingly endless number of hours of work on the parent’s part. I spend a lot of time teaching and studying, and even paid a Hebrew tutor (a subject not in my area of expertise). But it wasn’t enough for my daughter to keep up. She would’ve needed the tutor every day.

How could teachers not provide a solid foundation for Hebrew studies? After all, it’s the heart and soul of a yeshiva.

B) Some yeshivas hire unqualified teachers to save money. So who’s at fault? Both are, the yeshiva for cutting corners at the children’s expense and the teachers who accept the jobs knowing full well what’s at stake.

A proper balance needed to give a well-rounded education is not being offered. English always seems to take a back seat to Hebrew. Could it be that the yeshivas don’t understand the importance of a good secular education, or are they afraid to change? I think politics plays a role in this. Thus, parents need to demand change. They need to step out of the mold, or at least stop trying to fit into it. Wanting your child to have a secular education isn’t an aveirah. We can have both, and still be the person Hashem wants us to be.

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