If parents disagree with something their child learned in school, should they say something? Or is it better for them to bite their lip and say nothing?
Mori v’rabi R. Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, was once asked by a couple which school they should choose for their children: one that is better at teaching Torah skills and content or one whose outlook better matches that of the parents.
He advised that, for younger-age children, the school that is better at teaching skills/content is preferable so that the child receives a better educational foundation. For high school, he advised opting for a more philosophically-matched institution.
I am fairly certain R. Lichtenstein assumed that the parents understood that choosing a school includes a commitment to cooperating with it. If parents constantly carp about their children’s school or teachers, the children learn that they don’t have to respect or accept the lessons they’re taught at school.
- Samson Raphael Hirsch perceptively argues that the reason a ben sorer u’moreh is not executed if his parents don’t speak in one voice is because mixed educational messages – rather than pure wickedness on the child’s part – may explain his behavior.
Still, absolutes are rare. A school may occasionally teach something that the parent finds intolerable and feels compelled to object to. Even then, though, the parent should do his or her best to preserve the educational process.
For example, the parent should try to take care of the matter without the child’s knowledge – calling the teacher or principal to find out if the child heard correctly, to see if the teacher can perhaps rephrase what he said, etc. It’s possible a middle ground can be found without anyone losing face.
There may be times when a parent feels he or she has no choice but to let the child know his or her view, but the parent should be aware of the cost of speaking up – the educational damage it may do to the child’s respect for his or her teachers and, possibly, for the Torah itself. And yet, sometimes, it must be done.
— Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein, author,
regular contributor to www.Torahmusings.com
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Parents should undoubtedly be involved in what their children are learning in school. However, interfering should be done wisely and not over obvious matters.
For example, if you send your children to a Chabad school, you can’t complain if they’re exposed to the philosophy of Chabad. However, you can certainly request that the school not teach that the Rebbe is Mashiach because this is an issue over which there’s a difference of opinion within Chabad itself.
When matters are not universally agreed upon, parents should feel free to express their opinion.
— Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tzefas
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It is unrealistic – especially today – to expect most parents to be their children’s primary teachers. Nevertheless, parents must never abdicate their Torah responsibility to educate their children in line with “and you will teach your children to speak of them [words of Torah]” (Devarim 11:19).
The Gemara (Bava Batra 21a) makes clear that sending one’s children to a school is concession. Teaching one’s children directly is the ideal. Too often, parents fully delegate their vital responsibility and forfeit the opportunity to be the main religious influences in their children’s lives.
That said, some parents are either lax in observance or not sufficiently educated and for that reason may sometimes reject ideas, values, or practices their children learn in school. In such cases, it is surely harmful for children to hear from their parents, “We don’t have to do that” – as that will lead them to believe that what they’re taught in school is optional.
Parents who do follow halacha meticulously, however, should speak to their children if they’re taught in school something contrary to the family’s tradition or practice. For example, they may say that they don’t accept a particular chumrah their teacher taught them.
If their kids are in college, they also should speak to them to counter the harmful indoctrination prevalent on many college campuses today.
Parents, however, must always convey any disagreement with teachers respectfully and substantively. They should be able to show chapter and verse where and why they disagree, while also underscoring to the children the need for tolerance and reverence for individuals with whom they don’t completely identify or agree.
There are different and valid approaches to a variety of issues in Jewish life – aliyah, talmud Torah, earning a living, etc. Parents are obligated to transmit their Torah value system to their children. Biting lips will only cause soreness. Polite disagreement is the proper path.
— Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, rabbi emeritus
of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ
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This question must be answered on a case-by-case basis. But before intervening, parents should:
1) Verify that the matter they find disagreeable was indeed taught and not based on hearsay or a misunderstanding.
2) Determine how fundamental the issue is. If, for example, the child was taught something that undermines a principle of Jewish faith, it may be their obligation to bring it up to the teacher. If, on the other hand, the matter is more of a detail, or more about style than substance, it may be wiser to exercise restraint.
3) Consider whether it would be effective to raise the issue.
Above all, it’s important to keep in mind two vital matters: First, parents are partners with the school in educating their children. They therefore carry responsibility to point out an issue that can be improved in their children’s education.
Second, parents need to take great care not to try to control or intervene in the teacher’s or school’s methods. As in any healthy relationship, trust is necessary on both sides. The last thing we want is a battle of wills between parents and teachers.
When addressing an issue with a school, it’s critical that it be done in a pleasant and non-confrontational manner. Any good teacher and school will welcome a parent’s feedback. And it is far more likely that the school will be receptive to constructive feedback presented civilly and kindly.
That’s why it’s important for parents to have an ongoing relationship with their child’s teacher and school. This includes complimenting the teacher and school and expressing appreciation (not just contacting the school to complain when there’s a problem).
The school will then see that the parents care and want to help the school improve. That’s how trust and accountability are built. And that’s the key to ensure the best possible education of our children.
— Rabbi Simon Jacobson, renowned
Lubavitch author and lecturer