Over the years, I have asked bochrim and high school girls what they study all day, since they typically are in school for longer hours than most adults are at work.
For the most part, they are taught, to various degrees, academic basics like Literature, Math and Sciences, Computers, and Social Studies. All are necessary for developing well rounded awareness of what the world is about.
And of course, limudei kodesh, which takes up a big portion of the day.
But there is a lack of practical, life skills education. We are taught to “watch very much over our souls,” which applies to our bodies. (Hence, we fast on Yom Kipper because when we are commanded to “afflict our souls.”) It’s understood that this includes our bodies, since they are inter-connected.
I’d like to point out certain lifesaving classes that I think would be in the best interest of all students to be taught, and should be part of the curriculum.
With Jew hatred on the rise (anti-Semitism is a “soft- boiled” term – similar to saying in the aftermath of a fatal terrorist bombing, X number of people died instead of saying they were murdered) – it’s crucial that male and female middle and high school students across the Jewish spectrum, be taught self-defense. It can be life-saving to know how to protect yourself if someone confronts you with malicious intentions to injure or kill.
I actually saw a demonstration of an 11-year-old girl in a Krav Maga class being able to stop her pretend assailant by bending his finger in a way that was so painful he had to let go – and of course she did it lightly. I volunteered to be the “bad guy” and immediately realized how that kind of finger bending was so effective.
Teenagers should be taught how to change a tire, and have the tools necessary in the car if it breaks down – especially in the middle of nowhere, where cell phones might not work, or on a dark highway. Tragically, so many people are killed on the road by distracted drivers who plow into disabled cars, parked on the shoulder.
Nowadays, there are devices to inflate a tire that’s flat until one can reach a service station – although it’s always a good idea to have a spare tire and the equipment to jack up the car so it can be put on.
Young men and women should also be taught basic first aid, like CPR, and how to possibly stop or at least slow down bleeding by making a makeshift tourniquet. Something as simple as a belt, a pen or stick can keep a person alive until medical help comes.
In that vein, awareness of the necessities for a road trip “off the beaten path” could make the difference between dying or surviving. Some people really are clueless. I remember as a teenager on a summer tour in Eretz Yisrael many decades ago, of being stranded in the desert with dozens of other young ladies, because our bus drove off with a hysterical girl who was stung by an insect. Everyone had quickly drank the soda and water and juice that they had brought with them. We were left with a barrel of foul-tasting water (it had absorbed the gasoline smell of our 1950s era school bus). I was aware that we could get critically dehydrated if the bus did not return in a timely manner – and I drank constantly. My friends refused to drink this warm, brackish water, but I knew that it was necessary.
There should have been containers of frozen water on the bus, but the tour was run by Americans who had recently made aliyah and they were inexperienced. Also, we should not have been left in the desert in the middle of nowhere. There were no cell phones at that time, and no cars on the horizon. Nor were the thick makeup and high heels that most of my Brooklyn-based tour-mates wore practical for a hike in the desert. They were even more clueless than the organizers. There were no boys around for miles.
In geography class, knowing what country. e.g. the Mohave desert is in, is interesting. But why not learn how to survive in a desert or another hostile environment in the remote chance you find yourself stranded in one?
On a lighter note, boys and girls should be taught basic cooking – like how to boil an egg or cook pasta; or sew buttons on their shirts; and to pick up after themselves, and even do laundry.
Students should also be taught about nutrition and how to decipher food labels and be aware of what’s in their food. Luckily, in the last few decades, manufactures have had to be transparent as to the sugar and salt content in their products.
And then there is the calorie content per serving. With obesity rates increasing in children, it’s never too early for young people to make an informed choice and develop a habit that can extend their years as adults.
Students should also be taught finance – how to budget and spend within their means. So many marriages have had their shalom bayis undermined by overwhelming debt and the inability to make a significant dent in it. Just as toddlers are taught how to tie their shoes, young adults – meaning post bar and bat mitzvah – should be taught money management.
(To Be Continued)