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November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
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Overhauling Certain Yeshiva Hashkafos

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Dear Dr. Respler:

Baruch Hashem, my daughter is now in a well-recognized college following a rather successful year in an Israeli seminary. But I do not believe that all’s well that ends well, as her journey was unnecessarily rocky.

We never had a moment of concern about our daughter prior to sending her to school. She developed physically and mentally, as expected. Her height and weight were perfectly coordinated, and she started talking and walking earlier than expected. She had an ability to fit right in with other children; she willingly shared, and her protective nature toward her friends’ younger siblings was heartwarming.

When she began school, she already knew the alphabet, sounds and numbers – mainly from watching videos or listening to books read to her. She enjoyed drawing, and had a good eye for dimensions. And as she matured, she was determined to independently put on her jacket and tie her shoes.

It was in preschool that things started to go wrong. Only four, she apparently got the “beis” and “kaf” of the Hebrew letters mixed up, easy to understand as both have center dots and a curve. I was warned that this was serious and that she might need tutoring.

I asked another parent and was told that most parents had received the same note. Why, I wondered. If most kids are not getting it, they are most likely too young. So why the big deal? It seemed to me that rather than admit her method was not successful, the teacher was pushing off the problem on the children.

Unrealistic expectations was the first problem I encountered; negative reinforcement was the second. Why not say, “Wow, your daughter knows both the English and Hebrew alphabets at age four. That’s amazing! If she is confused between two letters, we will work on it.” I was disappointed in the school’s negative approach. Being a normal, healthy child was apparently not good enough.

In first grade, things got worse. I witnessed lots of bullying by other students. Her lunch and supplies were taken away from her daily, and some students said very inappropriate things to her.

The class was neighborhood-based and contained girls from wealthy and connected families as well as the brightest students.  However, I decided to transfer her to one of the other two classes. This was traumatic for her, as she perceived herself as the “problem” – as opposed to the bullies who took her lunch.

On the first day of second grade, I met with her new teacher and was immediately put off by her attitude and so even though the students in the class were a good match for my daughter – the so-called average, normal children – I asked to have her transferred. Unfortunately, it was not a good fit. While the students were bright, many had emotional issues.

And the trouble continued. Let me say that no teacher ever said my daughter had behavioral issues. She performed at grade level and made friends easily. However, there was trouble.

I was called to the principal’s office and shown a picture my daughter had drawn. It was one of a baby cherub with wings, with some hearts and flowers. The picture resembled one on a container we had received for shalach manos. So what was wrong? The baby was not wearing clothes! There was no anatomical depictions drawn, just a round body of circles with a baby face. The principal, not a psychologist, called this “porn” and insisted that we immediately have our daughter tested (these tests are expensive). Although there was nothing alarming in the drawing, we had no way out.

To satisfy the school administrators, we had her tested and hired a Ph.D. psychologist experienced in this field to test our seven-year-old. The tests, done in English, showed that she had no learning disabilities or weaknesses, and that she was affable and well adjusted. After sending the report to the principal, I hoped all would go well. But no such mazel.

Hebrew has no standardized testing and the expectations are sometimes way above or below what a normal child could or should do. Only the less capable children who the teacher selectively wishes to focus on will be asked to get tutoring.

While never asked to, we changed elementary schools – twice. My daughter never deserved the reputation of poor Hebrew studies performance; she was given it. That label was assigned to her, and it followed her long after.

In 6th grade, in the second school, we were told to leave my daughter back a grade in Hebrew studies. She was performing above average on uniform English tests in reading, math and other subjects, and as far as I could see, she read Hebrew very well. So why the suggestion to leave her back in Hebrew? Because unlike English, for Hebrew studies the school didn’t need proof that our daughter was academically behind.

But the question persisted: Why the double standard? The answer: politics. We were not parents who fit in.

I advise parents to find a school where, hashkafically, they and their child fit in. It is important to acquire the tools needed to function in the world, but it also important that your child is treated with care. What is needed is a regular school for regular children who come from all backgrounds.

Bottom line: Every aspect and method of Torah learning should always be a pleasant experience.

I hope my thoughts will help yeshivos correct some of their ways, and that parents relate better to all yeshivos.

 A Parent Who Was There  

Dear Parent:

Thank you for your letter and I wish you continued hatzlachah!

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3 Responses to “Overhauling Certain Yeshiva Hashkafos”

  1. There’s a lot more to add to what is said/written in the article.

  2. As a parent of children who did not ‘fit the mold’ and were made to suffer for it, I can relate. This is a big problem in the Yeshiva system and one that must be corrected.

  3. Very unsettling….

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