The group meets regularly, "somewhere in Israel". In an
isolated cave, by flickering candlelight, they come to learn
about the parshas hashovua from a well-versed Sefardi
Rav. The shiur starts at about 9.30 p.m. and often
lasts for about five hours. People sit on tiny, low chairs or
lounge on cushions scattered on the floor. At the end of one
shiur, the Rav commented, "You probably wonder why I
choose to give the shiur in this little cave. Well, if
you think about it, you will notice that during the entire
period of the shiur, your mind did not wander from
focusing onto the shiur. There is a special ability of
a cave to shelter out all extraneous thoughts. Also, the
arched shape of the roof is conducive to deep thought. And,
of course, learning at night is the time for deep
The comment shocked several of the participants. Looking
back, they realized that not only had they indeed been
listening intently to the shiur but also they had not
been squirming in their uncomfortable chairs, as they usually
do after even a short time of listening to a regular
During the next shiur, two of the participants
deliberately tried to get their minds to wander off and think
about other things. Both people are usually unable to
maintain concentration on a shiur for very long. After
the shiur, both commented that they had not been able
to get their minds to wander. As one of them pointed out,
"Usually, when I `dream off' and then `come back', it takes
me a while 'till I can tune back into the shiur.
During this shiur, I tried to think about other
things, but I just could not, and afterwards I was able to
immediately get straight back into the topic."
This experience suggests that the epidemic of "learning
disabilities" might indeed be a product of our modern
environment. The following anecdotes, all heard first-hand
from the people involved, also suggest that many "learning
disabilities" need not necessarily be regarded as
"neurological dysfunctions" which can only be treated through
medication and/or extensive and expensive therapy.
R' Reuven, principal of a prominent cheder, commented
that his son used to take Ritalin for his ADHD, but now he
does exercises before school and no longer needs the
Shimon's mother asked his teacher how her son was performing
in class. Shimon's reading had previously been very poor and
he was now near to completing a course of remediation using
the powerful FRAMEWORK system. The teacher commented that
Shimon was now doing very well. Shimon's mother then
disclosed that since starting the reading remediation, Shimon
had not been taking his Ritalin.
Levi complained of being unable to study under the
flourescent lighting of the bais hamedrash. I referred
him to a neurologist, expecting him to prescribe Ritalin.
Actually, the neurologist felt that Levi was suffering from a
deficiency of the myelin sheath of the nervous system which
causes him to be "nervous" under the stimulation of the
lighting. The neurologist prescribed tablets of Vitamin B
Two weeks later, Levi told me that after taking the vitamins
regularly, he was now able to sit in the beis
hamedrash and concentrate on his learning.
I recently mentioned this story during a workshop. A Special
Ed. teacher who worked in the prestigious Ramaz School in New
York told the group that she had recently converted the
fluorescents in her classroom to "full-spectrum" lighting.
The result had been dramatic. Both behavior and performance
had improved significantly.
This result tallies with the previous story because the
myelin sheath of the nervous system is not completed until a
child reaches about seven years of age. Probably, in some
children it takes longer. This means that many young children
are in the same state as was Levi and are being over-
stimulated by regular fluorescent lighting.
Many parents relate how "super-nutritious" foods such as
sprouts, algae and "juice" have helped their children's
performance in class and enabled them to "come off"
medication such as Ritalin.
Other parents report similar results when they wean their
children off sugar, food coloring and other additives.
Indeed, the Feingold Diet, which cut out all artificial foods
additives as well as fruits containing salicylates, enjoyed a
big following among parents of ADD children. Then came the
backlash which "proved" that since the diet did not help
"all" children, it was not THE answer.
Teachers were pressuring Chavy's parents to take her to a
psychologist because of Chavy's inability to concentrate and
her bad behavior in class. Instead, her parents took her to
be screened by the FRAMEWORK schedule. The screening showed
that she was suffering from serious convergence deficiency.
Chavy was referred to a local behavioral optometrist. After
several weeks of vision therapy, Chavy is now a changed girl.
She can concentrate on her work, behaves well in class and
her self-confidence has improved.
Yehuda was a happy, good-hearted boy who would do anyone a
favor. At night, he stayed up very late and was always up for
davening in the morning. But in class, he had a head
made of pure wood! He just could not understand even simple
parts of the gemora. One day, I asked him how much
Coke he drinks every day. He replied that he only drinks six
or seven cans a day! I replied that either he stops drinking
so much or he has to leave my shiur.
Yehuda managed to go "cold turkey" and stopped drinking coke
completely. After a few days, he started to feel tired at
night and had to go to bed earlier than was usual. But in
shiur, the change was dramatic. At last, he was able
to follow the shiur and understand the
Yissochor was a real "live-wire." He could hardly sit still,
talked like a racing-car and wrote like a high-speed, drunken
spider. After my experience with Yehuda, I asked Yissochor
what his drinking-habits were. Yissochor told me that he
drank four or five cups of coffee per day, each with two tea-
spoonfuls of coffee and three table-spoonfuls of sugar. When
he changed to drinking water, he calmed down and his parents
commented that for the first time they were able to
understand him easily when he phoned home.
Zevulun, an eight-year-old New Yorker, had been having
learning problems for a few years. Remediation was not being
effective. Zevulun was chosen as a trial candidate for the
FRAMEWORK screening. The last question of the 6 screening is,
"How many hours of sleep do you get each night?" Zevulun
replied that his mother takes him to bed at 10.00 p.m., but
he does not go to sleep then. He waits until his mother goes
to bed at 10.30. Then he goes downstairs and secretly watches
television with his father until his father goes to bed at
1.30 after the late-night sports game. Then he goes to sleep
until 5.00 when the sunlight coming into his bedroom wakes
him up. Zevulun's teacher, who was listening, was aghast. She
asked Zevulun why he does not close the shutters so that the
light does not wake him up. Zevulun replied that the shutters
were broken so he could not close them.
Developmental programs such as Brain Gym, One-Brain
Kinesiology and the venerable Delcatto program all enjoy
considerable records of success in helping children improve
their ability to learn. Mrs. Shoshana Levine's Developmental
Learning Readiness Program was introduced experimentally into
three Torah Umesorah schools in New York and Monsey last
year. The program was so successful that it is now being
introduced into Lakewood.
No one system guarantees success for all children. Each has
their antagonists who quote cases when that system did not
help. No one factor can be cited as being "the cause" for
learning deficiencies in children. Everyone knows someone who
"had that factor" but "had no problems". But that is the
challenge of chinuch.