Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Taking Ownership

Your children’s school is not educating them properly. Our yeshivot are shortchanging their students with administrators and faculty that settle for mediocrity.

Such accusations are, of course, not true. Our schools are full of devoted, caring, and motivated teachers who work hard (in school and out) to provide for their students as best as they can. School leaders dedicate all their energy to promote excellence in education, and to foster nurturing and growth-oriented environments for your children. Educators are working harder than ever, and you and your children are reaping the benefits. Don’t worry, things are great.

But would you know if they weren’t?

A quick look through current Orthodox publications and websites will demonstrate that Chinuch is not really on the public agenda. Yes, when something new comes out, it sparks interest and conversation. Of course, there is everyone’s favorite topic, tuition. But what about the day-to-day conversation? Do parents talk about what goes on in the classroom? At the Shabbos table, is there discussion of educational philosophy and what we want for our children in terms of Chinuch? Look at the OU website. You’ll see tabs for “Torah,” “Life,” “Holidays,” and “Tuition Affordability,” but nothing regarding Chinuch. On YUTorah, the shiurim classified as “Chassidut,” out number those labeled as “Chinuch” by 32. This is not meant as a criticism of these institutions, but rather to point out that they reflect the societal reality.

This phenomenon should not surprise. After all, how do you expect parents who have no Jewish-education training to have opinions? Teachers and administrators have dedicated their careers to chinuch, giving them an expertise that cannot be expected from parents and other community members. The community must have trust in our schools to do their very best to educate the next generation.

This approach is not completely wrong. Parents cannot be expected to have “expert” opinions, and many (probably most) lack the time and resources to develop any degree of expertise. We can also invoke the saying “a little information is a dangerous thing.” Imagine the nightmare for a Head of School if the parent body suddenly starts occasionally reading about education: “Excuse me Dr. Principal, but  I read on awesometeacher.com that teachers need to be doing more projects, why aren’t we?” “ My sister thinks that my son might be a Kinesthetic Learner, can we meet to discuss that?” Arming parents with a few facts and expecting them know when and how to intervene may not be the best idea either.

On the other hand, parents can, and should, develop an idea of what ideal Chinuch looks like for their children. What are the skills that you would like your children to develop? Is there a specific environment you would like your children to be a part of? Do you have a vision of what discipline should look like? What type of knowledge is important for your children to learn in school? How should tefillah be treated? These are just some of the questions parents could be pondering.   

Discussing chinuch is not meant to be only a philosophical exercise. Discussion brings about awareness, and awareness brings about action. If there is one lesson to be learned from today’s society, it is the power of people uniting for a common goal. But we don’t need to run into the streets and storm the gates to reach our goals.  An informed public can be very powerful in creating a forward-thinking atmosphere that can naturally nurture and motivate our schools. When this atmosphere does not exist, change only comes about in reaction to crisis and involves tension and conflict. The alternative is much better.

Yes, our schools are doing a great job. Our children are learning, growing, and truly flourishing. However, we cannot settle by saying we have succeeded, because success is not binary. Progress should be a significant goal, whether or not we define progress the same way as the rest of the world. Our goals in Chinuch must adapt in order to meet our children’s changing needs. If we truly believe in the credo of “chanoch l’naar al pi darko,” then we must be open to rethinking and adjusting our teaching goals and methods. This progress can only happen if we make Chinuch a topic of communal discussion.

So let’s do our best to start taking ownership over our children’s Chinuch. We can read articles, start conversations, and talk to friends and relatives who are involved in Chinuch. If that seems too much, start with simply thinking about it.We are waiting to hear what you have to say.

(Edited version originally published in The Jewish Link of Bergen County


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