Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On Secular Education in High Schools

We all know that the level of secular education in boys' yeshiva high schools is, to it mildly, abysmal. I, myself went to a very RW high school in Brooklyn well over twenty years ago and the situation then was not good. In grades 9-10, we had four subjects (math, science, social studies and English) of about forty minutes each. By 11th grade, the science class was dropped and by 12th, so was the mathematics. And, of course, there was no preperation for the SAT.

Somehow, despite the poor quality of my education, and lack of an SAT score, I managed to get into college without requiring and remedial courses. I doubt that any of my other classmates went to college.

But, of course, that was twenty years ago. While I didn't expect the situation to change much for the better, at least, I thought, it couldn't get much worse.

Boy, was I wrong.

Mrs. Wolf and I were recently speaking with one of my sons' (S1) English teachers. It so happens that Mrs. Wolf knew the teacher from college (we were all part of the EMS squad on campus, although I had graduated before the teacher arrived). Anyway, while we were discussing S1's performance in school, the topic turned to the high school. He's been teaching at the school for a few years and he's seen how the school had gone, over the course of a few years, from offering 3 AP (advance placement) courses in high school, to offering two AP courses, to offering one, to offering none. Beyond that, they have, in essence, eliminated secular education in 12th grade! There are no formal English classes in the 12th grades - the students are directed to do some independent study and hand in papers. That's it! There is no classroom instruction. As the teacher described it "12th grade is just like Beis Medrash here." The rest of the high school secular curiculum has also been watered down considerably.

While I certainly think that Talmud Torah should take precedence over secular studies (since whatever my children do with their lives, they will still be Jews and need to live as Torah-observant Jews), I find the situation at my sons' school's high school very frightening. Until now, I had no idea that this was the situation there (Having elementary school-age children, I never paid any real attention to the high school). As soon as we left our conference with the teacher, my wife said to me "we're sooo no sending our kids here for high school." I found that I could not disagree with her.

As I'm writing this post, I'm reminded of a conversation that my wife had with the Menahel of our kids' school earlier in the year when he seemed genuinely disappointed that my son wanted to be anything other than a Rosh Yeshiva. I guess that's the sort of mindset that shapes the high school cirriculum that the school has.

The Wolf

20 comments:

The Jewish Freak said...

Does the menahel realize that it is a practical impossibility for everyone to be a rosh yeshiva?

Anonymous said...

Sad but that's where we are headed.

BTW, 93-J?

BrooklynWolf said...

93-J???

: confused :

The Wolf

Holy Hyrax said...

If you had the chance to build the perfect school experience for your children (and others), what would it be?

Still Wonderin' said...

Wolf -- I said it before and I'll say it again:

move. away. from. brooklyn.

If you want to hear about a very good, frum neighborhood that is devoid of the horrors that yoyu describe send me an email. I'll be glad to describe it in greater detail.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth are you in Brooklyn? Are you nuts?

BrooklynWolf said...

Alas, I am still in Brooklyn due to family ties and obligations. Moving out of the area I live in is really not an option anytime soon.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Sucks to be you. A modern, intelligent Orthodox Jew has no place in Brooklyn.

Still Wonderin' said...

"Moving out of the area I live in is really not an option anytime soon."

that's what I said, too.

BrooklynWolf said...

That's an excellent question, HolyHyrax. I'm not sure that I have one off the top of my head. Let me think about it for a while...

The Wolf

Daas Yachid said...

I had this conversation w my wife just recently. IMHO when the day school movement started in US 50+, yrs ago prospective parents felt a need to have their kids aculturate and get a quality education so they could get a good job and get ahead. There weren't too many business owned by frum people other than ma and pa operations and kollel was virtually non-existant. There was a need to attract students away from public schools where the secular education was considered superior (times Have changed!).
Now that day schools and yeshivos are established and don't have the need to attract students who might otherwise go to public school, secular education is looked at as a necessary evil to keep the Feds off the yeshivas backs. Kids are pushed towards kollel and those who go to work will gravitate towards real estate or "business' or work for a frum business where they can get OTJ raining.
"Out of town" schools the old dynamic still pertains as it does in MO schools where secular education is looked at favorably.

Holy Hyrax said...

That's an excellent question, HolyHyrax. I'm not sure that I have one off the top of my head. Let me think about it for a while.

Thats cool. Perhaps a whole post about the subject would be a good idea.


...That way I can get a hat-tip ;P

Orthoprax said...

"BTW, 93-J?"

Hey Anon, the J stands for John.
;-)

Steg (dos iz nit der ลกteg) said...

Hey people, stop dissing my borough!

Eli7 said...

Though I will not be faced with the dilemma of where to send my kids for high school any time soon, this question has crossed my mind.

I mean, basically you have the choice of less-religious MO school where they value secular subjects and will get you into an Ivy League school but have no passion for Judaism or a more religious school where they teach Judaism well--in practice and passion--but don't teach anything else.

It's an awful choice to have to make.

Talia said...

This is the tactic that the Hasidim have built their society around. When you don't give your kids any other skills to survive in the world, then they have no choice but to be a Rosh Yeshiva. Trap them with ignorance.

Tova said...

eli7, they don't necessarily "teach Judaism well" either. Think about how many unanswered questions you have, because we can't say, "That doesn't make sense" but "I don't understand."

Eshet Chayil said...

Just tonight found your blog and I was working through archives when I came across this post. Honest, I think my brothers couldn't even read in english until they were like 11 or 12.

Anonymous said...

Eli7, MO school most certainly teach Judaism with passion. Just not RW-brand passion. Wolf, because the HS in my non-Brooklyn burg turned RW, I ended up sending my very gifted daughter to the local public HS. At least I don't have to pay college tuition for inferior education anymore, or have my kid come home and tell me that my husband and I are tameh because we went to (horrors!) college and have professions and can actually afford to help support the kollel wives who are the majority of teachers in the local yeshiva day schools.

Anonymous said...

There are several schools which provide both a good jewish and secular education with plenty of ruach - RYNJ in Bergen County, NJ, Shulamith in brooklyn and five towns,Darchei in monsey, yeshiva south shore in five towns, halb in five towns, bruria in elizabeth, nj, MNJ in Newark, to name a few, sharei tziyon in middlesex co., NJ