Asking the Right Questions:
Our 12-year-old son is not doing well in his 7th grade local yeshiva class.
We are considering moving him to another local yeshiva in mid-year, as things are rapidly deteriorating. We are not asking for specific advice, as you do not know him or us. But can you share with us what questions to ask and answers to give when making this difficult decision?
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Note to readers: This subject requires a series of columns, due to the high-stakes nature of the school placement/change issue, and the large number of parents who are confronted with making these difficult decisions. How prevalent are these questions? Over the past decade, the percentage of calls to our Project YES office dealing with school placement issues has consistently hovered around 40 percent. This means that four of 10 callers were requesting assistance with school placements for their children.
I hope you find these columns helpful.
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I like the way you framed the issue by asking me to provide you with a list of questions. This will help you make the call yourselves rather than having me make it for you. I believe it is healthiest for parents – and parents alone – to be making these types of da’as Torah decisions. Thus, in the end, it is your decision to make – as you alone will need to live with the consequences.
I always encourage parents to discuss substantive matters with da’as Torah. However, I have found that there is a great deal of confusion as to the difference between an eitzah (advice), a p’sak (Halachic ruling) and a brachah (blessing). (I encourage you to visit my website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, and read my “Answers About Questions” column for more details on this complex and often misunderstood issue.)
As per your request, here are some questions. I’ll add some suggestions afterward.
1. Which mechanech (educator) knows my child best?
2. Which rav knows our family best?
I think these are, by far, the most important questions for you to explore. Most parents in your predicament often look for high-profile individuals who do not know their children – such as leading roshei yeshiva, rabbanim or mechanchim – to help them decide whether or not to switch schools and which school to switch to if a change is to be made.
However, I have found that regardless of their wisdom, tzidkus (piety) or stature people who do not know your son and/or your family simply cannot and should not be asked to give you substantive advice regarding such a complex matter like changing your son’s school placement. That would be like going to a renowned heart surgeon and asking him for medical advice (whether to operate) without giving him your medical records.
If that individual has the time to do everything necessary to get the “medical records” of your son, by all means take advantage of the opportunity. But keep in mind that the higher the profile of the person you are going to, the more likely it is that there are incredible demands on his time. Trust me, you do not need an overworked, busy person right now. Remember that getting the “medical records” would mean receiving input from the current rebbe/teacher, inquiring about your child’s personality and current social interaction, reading any educational testing you’ve done, and reviewing report cards. You get the picture.
If you have access to a leading rosh yeshiva, rav or mechanech, you will be far better served doing all your homework first and then, armed with all relevant information, consulting with him as per your final decision.
With that in mind, I suggest that you look for one of the following: 1) a current or former rebbe; 2) the principal (if you are comfortable letting him know at this stage that you are considering a school change); 3) your son’s summer camp rebbe or learning director; 4) your shul’s rav; or 5) an educator who lives on your block.
Picture the concentric circles of a bull’s-eye, and think of your son as being in the middle of those circles. Whoever is in the center of his life is best suited to give you the help you need.
More questions in Part II.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the founder and director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s D’var Torah sefer, “Growing With the Parsha,”or his popular parenting tapes and CDs (including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children”) please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-352-7100 x 133.