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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘students’

An Ignorant Student

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It is almost as if he were responding to my post from yesterday. Rabbi Yonason Goldson who teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis agrees that there is a problem with Jewish education. But he seems to be going in the opposite direction of what I have perceived to be the problem.

In an article on Beyond BT he laments the fact that there are so many students who have gone through “the system” ( including a year of study in Israel) at an estimated quarter million dollar expense – and yet feel that they are ignorant of Judaism (as was reported in the case of one student written about in a Jewish Action piece).

He ultimately blames this phenomenon on the “dumbing down” of Jewish education by lowering expectations. Here is how he puts it:

Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.

It is quite surprising to see that kind of evaluation of Jewish education in light of so many educators who have published articles lamenting just the opposite: That there is too much emphasis on academic achievement, too aggressive a curriculum, and too much hard work.

And yet I think I understand where he is coming from. So how can there be such a contradiction? How can we on the one hand be overly aggressive and competitive to the point of allowing less intelligent or motivated kids to fall through the cracks and become at great risk for going OTD or worse? And on the other hand dumbing down education to the lowest common denominator?

I think it depends on the school and the environment. The OTD problems that occur because of the pressure to excel definitely exists in both the Charedi world and the Modern Orthodox (MO) world.

It is a rather well known phenomenon that Charedi schools are becoming ever more selective in who they accept leaving out a great many students who are relatively bright but simply do not measure up to the highly competitive standards of the school. And these schools are constantly pushing the envelope of Torah learning in an effort to “outgun” the competitions as the top school in Limudei Kodesh (which consists almost exclusively of Talmud study).

The same is true of many MO schools where the push for excellence in secular studies puts tremendous pressure on students – many of whom simply can’t hack the pressure. And yet parents push their kids to the limit – and beyond – so that they will qualify for entry into a prestigious ivy league school or the like.

There is no dumbing down in these schools. Just a lot of pressure.

But I understand that there are parents who do not want their kids to be so pressured. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a parent complain about their child’s long day in a Yeshiva High School… saying it is too much for them… that they should be given a little more free time – perhaps eliminating night seder so they can relax and be more refreshed for the next day.

School administrators are not deaf. Especially in smaller towns. If the majority of parents want a lighter day and/or curriculum, they will respond to them. Or close.

Rabbi Goldson must be experiencing this kind of school. Cities with relatively small Orthodox populations do not have the kind of pressure cities like New York and Lakewood have. The parent in St. Louis does not feel the need to compete with or outdo the “the school down the block.” Because there is no school down the block.

But I don’t know that any of these paradigms sufficiently explain why the student described above felt he was ignorant of Judaism. While I agree that dumbing down education is a bad move and can contribute to that student’s feelings. I don’t think that explains it.

Making the curriculum harder and more competitive without examining what the actual curriculum just means that a Charedi school for example will increase the amount of time their students will study Gemarah.

In the MO school it might mean increasing the secular curriculum and/or workload. In my view both scenarios will not give the student in question any better insight into his Judaism. It isn’t only how hard one studies, butwhatone studies.

What needs to be done in both cases is to broaden the curriculum to include the study of Judaism itself, not just Gemarah or secular studies. Yeshivos need to introduce studies like Jewish philosophy, Jewish history and Jewish ethics. Mussar, Navi, Machshava, and Hashkafa, are sorely understudied in most institutions if they are studied at all. There ought to be some time taken off from Gemarah study in Charedi schools and from secular studies in MO schools to make room for these very important parts of Judaism.

This is what is lacking most in the academic life of that ‘ignorant’ student. I doubt that it had as much to do with his curriculum being dumbed down as it does by what his lack of a fuller Jewish curriculum. I doubt for example that he did not spend his year in Israel in intensives study. But it was probably exclusively Gemarah if his experience was typical. So he may end up knowing a lot about the amount of damages one must pay if his ox gores another ox. Or how to return lost objects to their owners. But when it comes to the meaning of Judaism he will be the one who is lost.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Israeli 8th Graders’ Math Scores Ahead of All Western Democracies

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Tuesday morning presented data from international tests TIMSS (math and science) and PIRLS (literacy) of the The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).

The tests examine the abilities of eighth graders in science and mathematics as well as the capabilities of fourth graders in literacy.

According to current statistics, in mathematics, Israeli eighth graders have risen from 24th to seventh place in the world. Korea is in first place, followed by Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia and Israel. This makes Israeli eighth graders the best in math in the entire western world.

Science tests show Israeli eighth grade students rising from 25th to the 13th in the world. Israeli fourth graders reading tests came up from 31st to 18th in the world.

East Asian countries continue to lead the world in mathematics achievement. At the eighth grade, the Russian Federation, Israel, Finland, the United States, and England also were included in the top ten high-achieving countries. The U.S. states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and North Carolina and the Canadian province of Québec also had high achievement, but lower than the East Asian countries.

Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong SAR, followed by Chinese Taipei and Japan, were the top-performing countries at fourth grade literacy.

At the eighth grade, clearly the East Asian countries, particularly Chinese Taipei, Singapore, and Korea, are pulling away from the rest of the world by a considerable margin. Capitalizing on the head start demonstrated by their fourth grade students, these same five East Asian countries had by far the largest percentages of eighth grade students reaching the Advanced International Benchmark. Very impressively, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, and Korea had nearly half of their students (47–49%) reach the Advanced International Benchmark. Hong Kong SAR had about one-third (34%) reach this level, and Japan had over one-fourth (27%).

Next, the Russian Federation and Israel had 14 and 12 percent, respectively. At the High International Benchmark, Japan (61%) trailed the other four Asian high achievers ( 7 1–7 8%) , but the next highest were the Russian Federation and Israel with less than half (40–47%) achieving at the high level. At the Intermediate International Benchmark, the Russian Federation (78%) followed the five top-performers (87–93%), and at the Low International Benchmark Finland and the Russian Federation joined the five East Asian countries (with 95–99%), followed by Slovenia (93%).

Education Minister Sa’ar noted that the improvement in all three areas of learning included all of Israel’s socioeconomic groups. “A sharp improvement has been marked in the ratio of high scoring students. This rate is now higher than the world average in all three disciplines. There has been an absolute improvement of tens of percentage points in students’ achievements, as well as a dramatic improvement relative to teh comparable data.”

Sa’ar noted also that the improvement took place in both the Jewish and the Arab sectors, although the gap is still wide between Hebrew and Arab speaking students.

“This success was not achieved using magic but through hard work,” Sa’ar said.

Biggest Recycled Jelly Doughnut

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

A students at the Aseh Chayil School, in the town of Efrat, presents the oversize Sufgania he and his fellow students prepared from recycled materials.

For once, I’m stumped.

Touching the Opposite Sex

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

I hate the term and have no clue how that term came into being. I don’t think it is even used in Charedi circles at all. Shomer Negiah – meaning guarding against touching the opposite sex – implies that physical contact between the sexes is some sort of Chumra. That according to the strict letter of the law, it is completely permitted.

That is not true. With the exception of parents (and according to many opinions siblings), it is against Halacha for men and women to have any physical contact with each other unless they are married. While there are Halachic opinions about whether platonic contact is permitted, certainly any contact that is sexual in nature is not permitted by anyone.

When young people say they are Shomer Negiah they usually mean that they do not touch members of the opposite sex in the context of dating – where holding hands for example is a lot more than platonic touching. And certainly it applies to things like kissing and more aggressive forms of touching that are completely sexual in nature.

The thing is that being Shomer Negiah really means that one is following Halacha. It is just as Assur to hold hands with your girlfriend as it is having a glass of milk with your roast chicken. And yet there are Orthodox students who will casually say that they are not Shomer Negiah as though they are saying that they are not Machmir on something like Chalav Yisroel.

I think most religious high school students realize that. And yet this is how Shomer Negiah is treated. Like a Chumra that many do not observe.

Bearing all this in mind I found an article in the Forward about being Shomer Negiah on college campuses very intriguing. I was very happy to see that there are many Orthodox Jewish students  who attend secular universities that are very careful about these things. It was also gratifying to see that many non Jews or secular Jews are very understanding and supportive of them.

On the other hand I also found that some students who were Shomer Negiah gave it up as they made their way through the four years of college. And there are also many people who ridicule such strictures in 21st century America. After all non marital sex is about as common and as American as apple pie.

What is interesting for me is that even those who are meticulous about keeping this Halacha, acknowledge the difficulty in doing so in a culture that glorifies ‘hooking up’. That is indeed one of the ‘highlights’ of the campus life in an ‘away from home’ university.

Human nature is what it is. For the majority of mankind the libido (sex drive) is a very powerful force. Temptations to satisfy that drive are often very difficult to overcome. Being in an environment where both sexes interact socially and encourages sexual freedom is no place to be if one wants to guard themselves from temptation.

That said, of course it can be done. And is. Which is to the credit of those who do. Like Chana Lavaddin, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. Of course it helps to have a support system like the one at Penn where I am told there are many Orthodox students who for the most part have an on campus Orthodox social structure  complete with a Rabbi, Minyanim and Sedorim for Torah study.

But even with that resisting temptation is not easy when one considers that one will inevitably be involved with others (both teacher and students) who do not understand our religious values and often challenge them. Or even ridicule them. Which means that in some cases Orthodox students go in observant of these Halachos and come out not observant of them.  As was the case with another student, Jordan Katz. She called it evolving. And explained her reasons in the Forward article.

The fact is that the sex drive is hard to control even under the best of circumstances. Even in sex segregated environments like YU and Stern.  Not only that but even the most religious people in the world can succumb to temptation as did one Rosh HaYeshiva that I know about in Israel who ended up having an affair with a married woman.

Even if we go back to the era of the sages – the Gemarah tells us time and again about how certain sages were tempted and how difficult it was for them to overcome those temptations.If I recall correctly there is a Gemarah that says something to the effect that the greater the individual – the greater the temptation and the harder it is to resist.

Which is why the Gemarah also says “Ain Apitropus L’Arayos”. There is no real way to guard against sexual temptation. I think this is why Chazal built so many safeguards into our daily lives. It was to try and minimize temptation as much as possible.

That said, one can go too far with anything and there are certain segments of society that take these laws and extend them way beyond all reason. To the point where it becomes counterproductive.  It’s all about balance. Not extremes.

The concept of Ain Apitropus L’Arayos is real, however, and does not go away just because some people misuse it in the extreme.

Which is why I am opposed to co-ed high schools as a rule. (Although I admit that there is a place for such schools in some circumstances.) And why I support Yeshiva University and Stern as the best way to be balanced about these things. That is not to say that there aren’t problems there too. Every approach has problems attached to it.  The point is that in an ideal world one must neither be isolated from – nor blindly immersed in our sexually permissive culture.

In any case, the Forward article gives us some valuable insight as to what campus life is really like from the perspective of Orthodox students and is well worth reading.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Harvard Students Receive Anti-Semitic Invitations for Social Clubs

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Invitations to a fictitious club saying “Jews need not apply” were slipped under the doors of students living in the Harvard University dormitories.

The flyers enclosed in the sealed envelopes discovered early Friday morning invited the students to the inaugural event of a new undergraduate social club, or finals club, called The Pigeon, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper reported. The flyer also said “Seriously, no f***ing Jews. Colors OK.”

There are eight all-male and five all-female Harvard finals clubs, which are not recognized by the university and which have been accused of promoting “an exclusive and dangerous social environment,” according to the Crimson.

The dean of Harvard College, Evelynn Hammonds, wrote in an email statement on Friday that the flyers were “deeply disturbing” to her and others in the Harvard community. Harvard College is one of two schools within the university granting undergraduate degrees.

“They are not a reflection of the values of our community,” Hammonds wrote. “Even if intended as satirical in nature, they are hurtful and offensive to many students, faculty and staff, and do not demonstrate the level of thoughtfulness and respect we expect at Harvard when engaging difficult issues within our community.”

The Crimson also reported that early Friday morning, two Northeastern University students who vandalized a menorah located on the Boston campus were identified on a surveillance video and will face disciplinary action.

Tel Aviv Parents Decry Use of Preschool for Temporary Synagogue

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Parents of students from the Raqia preschool in the Nofei Yam neighborhood in north Tel Aviv have expressed outrage that their children’s school will also serve as a synagogue on Shabbat and holidays.

According to a report by Haaretz, the Tel Aviv city council gave the Ohel Yosef Yitzhak community center association the right to use the children’s school for five years, or until the establishment of a permanent synagogue.  Land for the synagogue has already been allocated.

Parents, who say they discovered the arrangement by chance, demanded the right to voice objections and said the municipality decision should be suspended pending the response of the parents.

Specifically, the parents complained that adults should not be allowed to use a building dedicated to children and that religious activities should not be held at an educational institution.  They say one of the school’s rooms has become a storage facility for prayer items, and that the electronic toilets which are disconnected prior to Shabbat are not being reconnected for use by kids during the week.

A few weeks ago, Tel Aviv residents forced the closure of a temporary synagogue in the Merom preschool next to the YOO Towers in north Tel Aviv.

Market Design, Matching, and Me (Podcast)

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

What is market design, and how is it applied to daily life? In part 2 of the Goldstein on Gelt show this week, we meet Professor Alvin Roth, a professor of economics at Stanford University, who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2012 for his work on market design. Professor Roth tells us how his matching programs are applied to kidney donation, getting married, and students choosing residency programs. Listen to this great interview to learn more.

Yeshiva Toras Chaim/Dr. Abe Chames H.S. Open House

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

The Dr. Abe Chames High School of Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes will hold its annual Open House for prospective ninth grade talmidim and their parents on 19 Teves, Sunday evening, December 2 at 7 p.m. The Open House provides an opportunity to meet the roshei hayeshiva, principals, administrators, teachers, rabbeim and current students, as well as a chance to tour the facility and learn about the yeshiva’s Judaic and secular programs.

Prospective talmidim and their parents will hear from the yeshiva’s rabbeim and teachers regarding curricular and co-curricular goals. They will also meet with current students, who will convey what it’s like to be a talmid at YTC.

Located at 1025 NE Miami Gardens Drive in the vibrant Jewish community of North Miami Beach, Yeshiva Toras Chaim is proud to be celebrating its 28th year of excellence in Jewish education.

For further information about the Open House or any of the yeshiva’s programs, visit www.ytcteam.org or call the high school office at 305-944-5344, ext. 200. Inquiries may also be directed to ytc@ytcteam.org.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/south-florida/yeshiva-toras-chaimdr-abe-chames-h-s-open-house/2012/11/21/

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