Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

30 Tishrei 5766 - November 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Where the Buck Stops: A Reply to Rabbi Sofer
by Mordecai Plaut

The presence of problems in any large system does not show that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. The variety within the human beings involved and the myriad circumstances in which they find themselves, almost guarantee that at least some of the results will fall short of perfection. Therefore, merely finding some problems does not make them worthy of a broad, public discussion. They must be found to be so common as to indicate a systematic difficulty, and preferably a solution should be at hand that shows some promise of relieving them.

Children are different; rebbis are different. Even exemplary children have problems in school sometimes, and even exemplary teachers have problems with some children.

One of the main complaints of Rabbi Sofer is that "anyone can open an educational institution and he can hire whomever he wants." If it is so easy, then I suggest that Rabbi Sofer just open a cheder and do it right.

The fact is that in any large Torah community, there are many institutions, and in effect they are competitive alternatives. Not just "anyone" can open a school. No one will come unless he or she has a reputation and preferably endorsements from rabbonim. There are many cases in which the enrollment of schools declined until they got their act together. Just like in business, the educational "marketplace" functions as a regulator to weed out the incompetents.

The string of complaints does not seem to recognize the parents as full partners in the education of their children. The truth is that any institution is only an agent of the parents, and the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents.

If there are problems, the parents must find solutions. It is no excuse to say that parents are not "comfortable" going to the godol to complain about a school under his patronage. In fact, comfortable or not, many parents do go to rabbonim when they have cause for complaint.

Some of these cases cited show serious dereliction on the part of the parents, but perhaps the worst is that of Reb Dan. Where was he for three years and perhaps longer? Can it be that his child was "often smacked" and Reb Dan knew nothing of it until the boy went to a new cheder? Reb Dan was surprised to learn that his son was even "below standard" but in fact the child had done nothing for three years! Where was Reb Dan during that time? Apparently happily paying the tuition and thinking that he had fulfilled his responsibility to his son thereby.

In fact in the 20-20 hindsight we now have, the liability of the principal seems to be that he did not ask the boy to leave earlier. Given that he did not do well in that school and did very well elsewhere, Reb Dan should have seen his child's difficulties long before and looked for another cheder, and not try so hard to keep him where he was failing.

Reb Dan did not need someone to complain to at that point. He needed someone to explain to him his responsibilities as a father.

A problem that is frequently noted by educators (and has been discussed in our pages) is parents who push their children into institutions that are prestigious but whose level requires their children to stretch to the limits of their abilities — and in some cases beyond those limits. Chadorim are generally designed so that all of the learning takes place within their framework. A child should generally not need supplementary study outside except in special situations. If there does not seem to be enough study time, the student should be sent to an institution in which the demands are lower. A family's reputation will be damaged by a child who is a failure at a prestigious school but its name will be enhanced by one who is a success at a less demanding school.

On the whole, chareidi education is a success even by secular standards. On standardized tests that measure educational development (rather than specialized knowledge or skills) talmidei yeshivos do well. According to the Ministry of Education, a very high percentage (compared with other systems) of the graduates remain within the system. We should aim for perfection even while recognizing that we probably cannot achieve it.

The parents are full partners, and in many senses the primary movers of the education, even though they may spend less time with their children than the schools. Maran HaRav Shach zt"l used to say that a child in yeshiva ketanoh should be asked every day how things are going. People check on their stocks every day. They look in on their businesses even several times a day.

If something is important to you, you check it constantly, "just in case" there is something that needs to be done. In many cases, the show of concern is, in itself, very important to a child, and no school can, or should be expected to, make up for the damage caused by a lack of attention from an able parent.

Hashem arranged His world so that the job of parenting is diffused. That means that we can do it right.


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