Dear Mrs. Bluth,
Where to begin? I am sitting here in a state of disbelief at what the yeshiva system has inflicted on my family, most of all, the damage and irreparable branding they have inflicted on my son. I am and have always been deeply involved with my children’s upbringing, education and middos development. I am in touch with teachers and rabbeim on a regular basis, asking them to call me at the first sign of trouble, so that I can get the child in question the help and support he or she needs to stay on track. So, you can imagine my deep disappointment and pain at what we endured when we took our son for a farher at the high school which his two older brothers attended.
Our older two boys are bright, outgoing kids, maintain good grades, are respectful and get their work done. So, when they went for their high school entrance exams, they were readily accepted and I was proud that they were attending my alma mater. When our son “Simcha” entered eighth grade, I arranged for his farher after being told by his rabbeim that he was ready. To be frank, truthful and brutally objective, Simcha is a wonderful young man, a baal derech eretz and the first one to give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, but scholastically he is a bit low in the attention/comprehension department. However, with the support of tutors and teachers, it appeared to us that he was going to follow his brothers into the high school.
We arrived for the interview, thanked my old rabbeim and we began. And ended. Every question asked of Simcha was met with a blank look and silence. When asked what he had prepared, Simcha took out a sefer and began to read. I asked Simcha what he had been learning with his rebbe in preparation for this meeting and seeing the fear and dread of failure overtake the boy, I knew all was lost. Simcha said that he and his rebbe had worked on kriya and nothing more.
I realized in that moment, that my son had been set up for failure from his early grades, because it was more convenient for mechanchim to concentrate on the learners than waste effort on the weaker ones. That it was easier for them to feed us lies than to tell us the truth we demanded, so that we could pick up the task they obviously were not willing to attend to. In essence, they sacrificed my child for almost eight years so that the yeshivah could pay for the new building construction, the dinners and the recognition they received. In that moment of embarrassment in front of my old mechanchim and the fierce hurt for my son, the reality was unbearable. How could they do this to a child, to parents who were always asking for the truth in order to help? We left dejected, defeated and devoid of hope.
The letter of rejection came five days later with the explanation that “…the Yeshiva, in it’s search for only those who wish to excel, regretfully informs you that your son does not meet those standards.”
It is too late to apply to other yeshivos without exposing his rejection and having them realize that they are not our first choice. The bitter truth is that the destruction of this child is ongoing with each interview, even though I make clear that every child matures differently and comes into his own at a different time.
Genius is a gift given to a small number of human beings, is that a reason to cast out those who are otherwise good, beautiful, decent, respectful and willing to learn if they are given the right tools and teachers. Would Rabi Akiva stand any chance of being accepted in any of today’s prestigious Torah institutions because he couldn’t even read?
I am sorry for sounding so bitter and acerbic but I know what Simcha is capable of, he has shown himself a determined tenacious young man who preservers. All he needs is the right encouragement, the support of people who believe in the human spirit and the exceptional drive of his character to succeed – he already has the will of Rabi Akiva.
Your letter is timely and carries much truth. I know that there are many readers who will see themselves and their children in the words of your letter, which I hope will open up the eyes of our rabbeim and mechanchim. I hope that there are at least a handful of them reading this column who will agree that we can’t neglect students simply because they are not scholastic geniuses.
It warms my heart to hear how great your love is for your children, and for Simcha in particular. I have known many Simchas during my years as a teacher, children that have been earmarked as floaters, dreamers, sleepers and, worst of all, as potential failures. These notations were either added on information supplied by the prior teacher or based on other evaluation. In speaking with the parents of these children, many of whom were completely in the dark about how there children had been labeled, I came to understand that many underachievers respond to different stimuli, and once the proper impetus is supplied they bloom. All it takes a devoted teacher, a supportive school and a cumulative effort. Long story short, many of those failures are now doctors, lawyers and two are well known judges.
Yes, it takes a lot of work, devotion to duty and trust. No one is born a failure, as the Vilna Gaon said, “Vil nor, kenst du zine a Gaon,” all it takes is a lot of effort and sometimes different teaching methods.
A doctor must take a oath to do no harm, a lawyer takes an oath to uphold law and justice, should not a teacher/rebbe be required to do the same when he or she undertakes to teach and shape the minds of our precious children? Sadly, there is no insurance policy parents can take out that will protect their children from neglect, indifference or outright destruction, however, with strong family support, unconditional love and a steady diet of “you can do it,” will give them a fighting chance.
I wish Simcha well and was glad to hear from you just as we went to press that he was accepted in a wonderful yeshiva whose administration really cares about the mind, body and spirit of every Jewish child. I know too that Rabi Akivah, along with the Vilna Gaon are smiling down on him.Rachel Bluth