Dear Mrs. Bluth,
What I am writing about today may seem trivial to you and some of your readers, but it is of grave concern to myself and a number of other parents with whom I have spoken.
I am the mother of six children, bli ayin hara, ranging in age from 4 to 14. My oldest three are boys, then two girls ages 8 and 6, and the youngest is another boy.
There is a very big difference in the way boys’ and girls’ yeshivos deal with middos and scholastic expectations, and this concerns me. Let me explain.
My husband and I come from yeshivish backgrounds and share the same goals and expectations for our children. My husband has a decent job that yields just enough to pay for home and tuition and I work part time to make a bit extra so that we don’t have to plead for discounts in the schools or ask our parents for assistance. We can’t afford to send them to sleep-away camps or take family vacations, and the older ones most definitely feel deprived. However, we have raised our children to respect their elders, do chores and value what they have.
Over the past few years, though, I have noticed an increase level of chutzpah in my boys – there is back talk and a slacking off at home. The boys have also not been doing well in their secular studies, which seems not to concern their teachers. In fact, I often find out that they are doing poorly via their report cards. When I speak to the school I am told that boys need prodding and extra supervision at home, that the father needs to learn with them and we should get tutors if necessary. Rachel, this is not doable for us – financially or time-wise; our resources are limited.
My girls, on the other hand, have become nervous perfectionists, who cry easily when they don’t get 100% on their tests. The older one has trouble eating because she doesn’t want to be fat (she says the teachers make fun of the “chubbier” girls). She agonizes over every homework assignment, erasing answers until she makes holes in the paper and breaks out in tears, even though the answers she writes are always right. The little one has begun to do the same. It took me a while to figure out that the girls shared many of the same teachers. Many of the other mothers put this behavior down to a strict teaching protocol approved by the school as an incentive to excellence and high achievement.
I’ve done a lot of research into schools and what I’ve found is startling. For the most part, yeshivos pay little attention to middos, care little about secular studies and expect parents to compensate for the lack of teacher attention. On the other hand, girls’ schools demand nothing less than excellence and an over abundance of talent. They are not concerned with free-spiritedness and frown upon fun and laughter, which is a vital part of a healthy childhood. Instead there’s a strong push for reading, studying for tests and doing hours of homework almost every night.
So now I have a bunch of boys who learn little in school, have no skills that will enable them to earn a living, much less support a family, are discouraged from going to college and seem quite happy about it. Then I have two daughters who will be able to “pasken sheaylos,” write books, build buildings and run countries, if they physically, mentally and emotionally survive their childhood education!
Something is terribly wrong! I love my children and can no longer stand by as they fall into an abyss of laxness, hopelessness and ill health. I also question whether this is my perception of how things are, or is there a real problem here?