Rabbi Reuven looked at the page again. He still could not
understand what was printed there. Or course, he could
understand the plain meaning of the words, but he could not
understand what he was supposed to do.
Rabbi Reuven is a remedial reading teacher working with young
children at a Torani school. Though his specialty is reading
remediation, the principal had asked him to spend some time
with a seven-year-old pupil who was having trouble with math.
The little boy came with his exercise book and textbook and
opened it at the page where he needed help.
Rabbi Reuven looked at the page -- and he also needed
Rabbi Reuven is not badly educated. He had attended college,
majoring in physics and chemistry, and was adept at
arithmetic, algebra and geometry -- but he could not follow
the reasoning of the textbook.
Eventually, he gave up and proceeded to tutor the boy using
the techniques he had used when he was at school -- and the
boy learned the material he needed.
Later that day, Rabbi Reuven met the teacher of the boy and
told him how baffled he had been with the way the material
was presented by the textbook.
The teacher gave a sigh of relief. "I thought I was the only
one who could not understand that book!" he admitted.
The next day, Rabbi Reuven wandered into an empty classroom
and picked up and leafed through another textbook which was
lying on a shelf. The textbook was on reading and
comprehension, but he could hardly look at the pages because
they were so boldly illustrated with large areas of dazzling
Again, Rabbi Reuven shared his feelings with the teacher and
again, the teacher admitted that he, too, disliked the way
the textbook was designed.
Without realizing it, Rabbi Reuven had landed in the middle
of two major conflicts now facing the education system in the
Until the beginning of the 1900s, the usual way of teaching
was by a teacher teaching basic skills to his pupils. In the
1920s, John Dewey, basing himself on the Darwinian approach
to life, felt that children should learn through a natural
process which was an extension of the way they normally learn
to stand, walk and talk.
He consequently proposed that teaching become a process of
discovery in which the role of the teacher became that of a
guide, harnassing the natural curiosity of the child to lead
him to learn all the skills he needed to become educated.
In a way, this approach was also a reaction against the stick-
wielding oppression of many schools in those days.
The concept was eagerly espoused by the liberal and left-
wing elements of the universities and since then, has become
the accepted approach to teaching, as promoted by the
teaching colleges. Since then, research by the education
system has been directed to developing fun ways to get
children to learn by discovery.
One result of this constant search for the "ideal" method is
the continual production of new textbooks. Fifty years ago,
the school bought the textbooks and used them for each class,
year after year. A child might have found his father's name
in the textbook he was given. Nowadays, parents need to spend
hundreds of dollars per year for each child on new textbooks,
knowing that the books will be obsolete by the end of the
However, the ever-falling standards of public education in
the U.S. is creating a crack in the facade built up by the
"enlightened" heads of educational establishments. Business
and industry are finding that each generation of high school
graduates is less prepared for the `real world' than its
One fallacy behind the concept of "Learning through
Discovery" is that a child will voluntarily submit himself to
the rigors required for developing many basic learning
skills. This is not true. He does not have the maturity or
experience to enable him to understand that many important
stages of learning are not fun.
Furthermore, continuing their theme of evolutionary
development, `Learning through Discovery' teaches the child
to reject authority and rely on his own judgment instead. It
teaches the child that he is in control of his own destiny
and that the world needs to be tailor-made to fit his
Some years ago, I gave a workshop to teachers in New York
under the auspices of the J.B.E. When I made the point that
the child needs to view the teacher as a superior, many of
the teachers protested strongly.
Another fallacy is that the educator is able to evoke in
every child the desire and ability to acquire all the skills
he needs for his future success and happiness. As a result,
the reaction of such educators had been to label a child who
does not respond in the desired way as being "learning
disabled." The experience of teachers using the "old-
fashioned" Direct Instruction system is that of every seven
children labelled as being `learning disabled' by the
"Learning through Discovery" system, only one is found to be
L.D. when taught by Direct Instruction.
Between 1968-1976, a government sponsored, billion dollar
study was made by the Stanford Research Institute to compare
the effectiveness of nine different teaching approaches. The
study, covering 51 school districts and nearly 10,000
children per year, was analyzed by Abt Associates and
verified by three reliable, independent sources.
The study tested for achievement in basic academic skills,
general problem-solving skills and the development of self-
The conclusion was that Direct Instruction outperformed
all other methods in all areas, not only in basic skills
(word knowledge, spelling, language, and math computation),
and in cognitive-conceptual skills (reading comprehension,
math concepts and problem solving), but also in self-
concept, which the "progressives" felt was their strong
Sadly, not only were the results ignored by educators, but
the results were used to justify pouring more money into the
methods which performed worst "because they needed the most
The reason for the topsy-turvy reaction is understandable.
Direct Instruction sets up the instructor as the `superior'
whose job it is to tell children what to do. It obliges the
student to strive to attain a pre-set standard instead of
having a standard which is supposedly set by the child. To
the educators, it represents a return to the Dark Ages and
conjures up pictures of the `big stick' and child abuse.
However, one major problem remains, which is the center of
the second controversy. Parents are also dismayed by the
lowering of standards and increase in "learning problems." If
Direct Instruction is more effective, surely teachers should
acquiesce to pressure from parents to do everything possible
to stem the degeneration of the education process.
Professor J.E. Stone of the School of Education, East
Tennessee State University, summed up the situation with the
statement that the schools of education are not really
interested in [a style of] teaching that is primarily
intended to improve achievement. In fact, he said, they
disapprove of such teaching. In their view, schooling that
fails to produce achievement is not necessarily failed
In our own sphere, that would be like saying that
rebbeim who do not produce students who know
halochos and have a love for learning do not feel that
they have necessarily failed in their job.
Professor Stone relates that he first came face-to-face with
the problem when the school which his own children attended
announced that they were going to introduce a new system. He
and many other parents disagreed with the idea, but the
school overrode the parents' objections and proceeded with
their plan. The result was a dismal failure, yet the school
expressed no misgivings.
This behavior is consistent with the attitudes of the
Darwinian "liberal" and "left wing" elements in society. They
tend to maintain what might most charitably be described as a
benevolent despotic attitude in which they believe that their
mission in life is to lead the world out of the bad, old Dark
Ages into the new, enlightened world which they believe that
they represent. Though they claim that their new world is
collaborative and democratic, they feel empowered to force
their opinion on the majority, and even though they claim
their new world is based on love and tolerance, they seek to
mercilessly wipe out all traces of the `old world' and its
Professor Stone comments, "Unlike training in law and
medicine, teacher education has never had to respect consumer
priorities because its graduates have never had to survive in
a marketplace." Educators don a mantle of infallability
and do not permit themselves to be challenged.
As a result of his experience as a parent, Professor Stone
introduced a concept which is normal in most areas but
strange when applied to education. He suggests regarding
parents as consumers and schools as providers. And he
promotes a system for logging the effectiveness of individual
teachers, year by year.
Teacher licensing tests test only that the candidate has
sufficient knowledge to teach. They do not test whether he
can actually teach. A 1999 U.S. Department of Education
report concluded, "...indicators of teacher preparation and
qualifications do not directly address the actual quality of
The logging system records the performance of each child
under each teacher. If, in one subject, a child does well
under one teacher, but the next year does badly under another
teacher for the same subject, it suggests that the second
teacher is not as effective as the first. Of course, the
reaction of one child does not show much, but by keeping
records of entire classes, a picture can be built up of the
effectiveness of individual teachers over the years.
At present, teachers' wages are fixed by qualification, years
of experience and points culled by attending courses.
Professor Stone explains that if wages were based also on a
log of teaching effectiveness, the general standard of
teaching would rise, good teachers would be recognized and
bad teachers would be encouraged to look for a more suitable
Of course, there is no conflict between the aims of parents
and chadorim and yeshivos. We all want our children
and talmidim to grow in Torah and yiras
shomayim and develop into true bnei Torah with a
love for learning and for keeping the mitzvos. At
present, there is no way to judge if these are being
achieved. Setting nation-wide examinations might encourage
intensive learning just to satisfy requirements of the tests,
to be forgotten after the pupil walks out of the test room
[where he might have been prompted with the correct results
for the prestige of the school?]. And the purpose of learning
in yeshiva goes beyond mastering gemora.
One contemporary Chassidishe Rebbe is quoted as saying that
he feels that as the head of an educational system, he needs
to be sure that he is doing a good job. But how does one
apply concepts of "quality control" to instilling a love for
Torah and mitzvos?