Monday, February 20, 2006

On Education

My oldest son (S1) will soon be going to high school. Unfortunately, my wife and I have no idea where we're going to send him.

He's been in the same "standard" yeshiva since nursery school and while we can't say that we're crazy over the education he's gotten, it hasn't been terrible and is certainly a step above what many other elementary school yeshivos provide.

Recently, my wife and I got a glimpse into what the high school is like in this school, and we were less than pleased. Most of the secular studies drop off after ninth grade. While the students do study for and take the New York State Regents exams, there is very little in the way of actual education. It gets to the point where in twelfth grade, there are actually no classes at all - students merely have to turn in papers to get credit. The entire day is pretty much spent learning Torah.

While learning Torah is important and should always be the main focus of a yeshiva, the secular studies aspect of it is also very important to my wife and I. When we were first looking for a school for S1, there was a new school that was opening up in our neighborhood that had an excellent secular studies department. We declined to send him there for two reasons: (1) the boys did not have a Rebbe until about third or fourth grade and (2) for some grades, there were secular studies in the morning and Limudei Kodesh in the afternoon. My wife and I disagreed with both of those paradigms, and so we did not send him there. The main issue, really was the second one - it should not be forgotten that the main reason for a yeshiva's existence is to teach our children Torah. By having secular studies first for some grades, it sends the opposite message (in my opinion). The other issue (the lack of a Rebbe) wasn't a deal-breaker for us, but was also a troubling issue for us.

That being said, we recognize that Limudei Kodesh is more important than secular studies. Whatever my children do with their lives - whether they become doctors, lawyers, Roshei Yeshiva, zoologists, computer programmers, whatever... they will always first and foremost be Jews. As such, they have to have the basic knowledge and foundations for that most essential role in life. How they earn their livelihood is secondary (although very important).

On the other hand, we view our obligations as parents not only to teach our children Torah and how to be fine, upstanding Jews, but also how to get by in the world. We view it as our obligation to make sure that our children are capable of taking care of themselves financially when they have families of their own. To us, it is important that all of our children go on to college, or learn some trade that will ensure that they will not be a burden on the government or other Jews. And that leads us to where we are now.

My son's present school, due to it's dismal secular studies department, is not an option for high school. But where to send him? We want a place that takes learning Torah seriously. We want a place that is sex-segregated (the last thing we need is the additional distraction of girls in school). And we want a place that makes a serious commitment at preparing our kids for the possibility of going to college if they so wish. Sadly, I don't see too many schools doing this.

My own high school, of course, did not encourage students to go to college. In fact, I delayed going to college for one semester because I didn't want to get into trouble for requesting my records for a college. The last thing I needed was to have my Rosh Yeshiva (with whom I was in the doghouse often enough) come down on me and threaten to expel me for applying to college. And so, I didn't apply until after I graduated. (The fact that I was accepted into college was only because I did a lot of independent study on my own in high school, far beyond what I was taught in the actual classes.)

This is not a path that I want my own children to follow. I want them to go to a school where learning Torah and secular studies are both treated importantly - where both Torah learning and secular studies are regarded as having intrinsic value and not where the latter is tolerated simply because it is mandated by the state. Sadly, I don't know of any such schools in Brooklyn. Do you?

The Wolf

29 comments:

Also a Parent said...

Read the news article "A New Yeshiva High School for Brooklyn" in The Jewish Press (Jan 13.) You'll thank me, I guarantee it.

Anonymous said...

To the best of my knowledge, there is no such high school in brooklyn. Having graduated from a well-known yeshiva high school in Brooklyn only 6 years ago, I can attest first-hand to the dismal state of secular studies and the hanhalah's attitute toward it. Like your son's school, in 12th grade we had NO secular class time. Especially for someone like myself who doesn't absolutely LOVE learning, this is far from the ideal situation.
Had I known what I was getting into at the time, I would rather have gone to a more MO school like Rambam, MTA or DRS (HALB), where, although I wouldn't have totally fit in culturally, I would've been far better off and gained more both spiritually and academically.

Ezzie said...

Why not send your son away for high school? IMHO, going away for HS is excellent for a person's personal growth, maturity, and social skills - along with often being a far better fit academically and learning-wise.

There is usually a sizable (and obvious) difference in maturity and responsibility between those who lived close to home and those who didn't later on in life (say, when they both go to E'Y to learn).

A couple caveats: New Yorkers, particularly those from Brooklyn, seem to do worse than just about everyone else when they go 'out of town' for HS. Sometimes, that's because their parents are sending them away to get them away and in the hopes that someone else can solve their issues, so that may not pertain to your son. Other times, it's because they are simply unable to make the transition well from Brooklyn to the rest of the world. It can be tricky for anyone, but a Brooklyn kid is completely changing lifestyles.

Nevertheless, if the kid is a good kid with his head on straight, and has the same mindset to some extent as his parents about where he's going and why, it can be incredible. At the end of four years, you won't regret the decision.

Eeees said...

Ezzie: You mention going to an out of town Yeshiva, but you don't make a single suggestion or recomendation as to which one would have something along the lines of what the Brooklyn Wolf and I are looking for. What are some places that we could look in to?
Also, you say that Brooklynites have more difficulty adjusting to the rest of the "change of lifestyle". I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on what you mean by that.

SephardiLady said...

Ner Israel would be one. Skokie (Chicago) has a variety of students as does WITS (Milwakee).

You could try a longer NY commute to Chofetz Chaim in Queens.

None of these schools take the secular as seriously as a modern school, but at least it isn't completely discounted.

I personally loathe the idea of sending students away for high school, especially when you are surrounded by choices. And, I find it bizarre, but quite believable, to say the least, that in the most densely populated Jewish area of the United States, that it is impossible to find some variety in Yeshivot. Why not just combine them and take advantage of the money saving that could offer if they are not going to provide a variety of experiences that parents seek?

Anonymous said...

MTA

PsychoToddler said...

I went to MTA, and it was a good school in the 80's, but I have no idea what it's like now.

If you want to judge a school, look at its graduates. If you want your sons to turn out like one of them, send them to that school.

I'm with Ezzie and Sephardilady. Get them out of NY. WITS is great. I have two boys there now. I had qualms about sending my sons to a black-hat yeshiva (did I mention I went to MTA?), but WITS has always turned out major mentchin who go on to be major assets for Klal yisroel. And they have an excellent secular program as well.

And he could eat by me on out shabboses!

Bill Selliger said...

Yeshiva High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Demanding Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol Programs, plus there's a post-high-school beis medrash and kollel. It's expensive, though. Look into it.

Air Time said...

I'm all for getting kids out of brooklyn, but thinking back to my yeshiva days (15-20 years ago), NY kids never really got acclimated into the schools they were in, and seemed to get kicked out faster.

Anonymous said...

An aside: I saw an article the other day that demonstrated that teenagers retain better material they learn in the afternoon rather than the morning. Maybe the opposite schedule is a better one!

Romach said...

No such high school in Brooklyn, so I went to one in Long Island.

Tova said...

Yeshiva Derech HaTorah is opening a high school this year. The elementary school is great in both Hebrew and secular studies, and the high school is expected to be the same. That's the school the Jewish Press article is talking about. You can also check out South Shore, in Long Island, if you want your son to stay home and get a great not-Brooklyn-style education.

Tova said...

YDH is in Brooklyn, btw. In Flatbush, in fact.

yeshivaguy said...

I hear Darchei in Far Rockaway has a serious secular curriculum. I hear good things too in this respect about Chofetz Chaim in Manalapan.

Ezzie said...

Eeees (& Brooklyn Wolf): Sorry, I didn't want to suggest schools without having any knowledge of your son and/or your hashkafos. But since you asked, and guessing a bit as to both of those...

WITS (Milwaukee), which a couple of people suggested, is where I went. Good friends went to Skokie (Chicago) and Ner Israel (Baltimore), and I can give my impressions of those as well. Chofetz Chaim also has other branches all over, but WITS is (by my understanding) the best of them all-around for HS.

NIRC - Okay academics. Overall good school - my friends there are all very good guys. Lots of people per class, though.

Skokie - Also a lot of people per class. A bit more "modern". Dormers have a rough time; the Chicagoans have cars and go out a lot. Good school, though probably not what you're looking for.

WITS - I'm biased, though I can give you the pros and cons. (PT can from a parent's standpoint.) I'd *prefer* if you emailed me about details either way. In general, though:

Excellent rabbeim. When you leave there, they know you better than your parents do. Classes are small, and usually pretty close. I'd say over 3/4 of my HS class has eaten at my house (most many times) since I'm married, 5 years later. Academics are very solid - the students who want to go to college have no trouble doing so. SAT scores are high. They do a good job of putting people on proper tracks for them (I took Calc as a sophomore). Learning is very good, and there are many different levels. I believe a couple 10th graders this year ended up in a beis medrash shiur. The Rabbeim are extremely warm and close to the guys. Guys are tremendous ba'alei mussar/derech eretz. If you have any more Q's, I guess put them here or email me - I'm perfectly happy answering any questions, positive or negative. One caveat: WITS does most of their acceptances around now, and most of the kids came for a shabbaton in December. If you're interested for this year, you may want to call them quickly.

In terms of NY kids having trouble adjusting... well, AirTime's comment kinda hits it on the head. It's rough explaining this one to NYers, though. I'll do worst-case:

Often, NY teenagers coming out of NY don't get how to act properly, how to be nice, how to be genuine, how to have relationships with Rabbeim, etc. They don't get how to act normally, as opposed to like a New Yorker (particularly like a Brooklynite). They have trouble adjusting to the you-first attitude of "out-of-towners", and think that means them first. Taking comes more naturally than giving; and the giving is not as heartfelt - it's more of a show. While they understand doing favors for others, they don't get the looking to do them; and they definitely don't understand the tiny favors (and they don't even realize it).

Then there are the lifestyle adjustments: No kosher food nearby. No super conviences. Everything is closed except OP. You can't just go anywhere at anytime on public transportation. There's *grass* outside. People...speak...slowly. They move slower. They're not always in a rush. It will take 5 minutes to bag 8 grocery items on a normal day. Talking on a cellphone when you're with someone is *rude*. Interrupting someone is rude. Etc.

Everyone else, meanwhile, picks up on all of these things he lacks, and views him poorly.

Many kids just have trouble adjusting. In Israel, it was hilarious: We had a couple rooms of guys from Cleveland, Phoenix, Toronto, Baltimore, etc. and would have to explain so much to our very nice friends from NY who were just not getting used to how they had to live with other people in the same room as them.

Anyways, I've rambled a bit - please feel free to email me about anything. Excuse the NY bashing - it's exaggerated, but it's meant to make a point so you are aware of what might be a snag. Nevertheless, I'd still recommend sending away.

satisfied parent said...

Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence might be what you are looking for - all their students are college-bound. My son is an alumnus and loved it - he can even attest that the 40-minute bus ride from Brooklyn is not too bad. I, too, thought the school was excellent. Check out their website at www.rambam.org.

Air Time said...

I agree with Ezzie on NYers out of NY, but with one thing to add. In high school, most NY kids who were in out of town yeshivas were there because they had been previously kicked out of a NY yeshiva, or drove their parents crazy to the point where the parents needed to get them away.

Since Ezzie gave you a WITS report, here are my two cents on Skokie. And bear in mind I attended post-high school, in their college program. So this is all by way of observation, and the information is 14 years old.

Skokie had the best food of any of the yeshivas I attended. Students there were allowed to hang out with girls in groups, although dating was not allowed. They were encouraged to use Artscroll Gemaras, and while I don't know if their secualr program was any good, they did take it seriously. They expected all their graduates to go on to college.

They have a college as part of their post-high school program, allowing students to take classes either on Skokie's campus, or at Loyola and other chicago area colleges. At the time Skokie credits did not transfer out of chicago, although they were talking about getting national accredidation then.

There was a TV in the dorm which was brought out into the student lounge for football games every sunday. I don't remember if it came out for baseball or basketball games.

It was not a black hat school.

When the weather turned nice their was an intramural baseball league, and almost everyone was involved.

I don't remember if night seder was mandatory, or if it was every night, but something tells me it was either mandatory a few nights a week or optional every night.

Unlike the black hat yeshivas I attended in High School where the day didn't end until after 10 PM, in skokie the day ended at a more reasonable time.
To me, nothing here is really a negative, but it depends on what you are looking for in a yeshiva high school.

PsychoToddler said...

Ezzie: Nice summary of NYer vs everyoneelseintheworld.

Pretty accurate too.

Fudge talks about this from the other angle in some of her posts from early september and late august 05.

Anyway, Wolf, it's another reason to consider sending your boys to a midwestern yeshiva. They'll come back as human beings.

Eeees said...

Dear everyone (especially Ezzie and air time!),
I really appreciate all the time and info that everyone has contributed to the "where to send the eldest cub, and why it shouldn't be in Brooklyn" forum. It will definitely give the Brooklyn Wolf and I something to think about. In light of the opinions posted here on Brooklynites, I guess I should take it as a compliment when people don't believe that I've been born and raised in Brooklyn. I agree that there is something to be said about the lack of manners here, but I don't think I would be so fast to knock the convienences. There is definitely something to be said for being able to find kosher food easily! And, incidentally, the BW and I are very big into making sure our children are raised, first and foremost, to be mentches that Klal Yisroel would be proud of. (Despite the Brooklyn handicap ;))
Anyway, thanks again for the eye-openers.

Ezzie said...

A pleasure - as I mentioned above, you can always e-mail me if you have Q's. (In the sidebar on my blog.)

And from your husband's posts and your comments, we'd never know you're from Brooklyn. That's a good thing. :)

Tova said...

eeees, I get the same thing. "Where are you from? Here? Really, you're so out of town!" It's insulting though that so many people are so disgusting to each other. I'm trying to raise my kids to get the same reactions, since apparently no one is teaching manners at home anymore. Check out YDH for your boys. It even has a mix of boys attending, from chassidish payos to black velvet to knit yarmulka to leather/suede yarmulka to those gigantic whole-head colorful thingies, and the boys don't clique based on headcoverings. Everyone is just a frum boy to play with.

PsychoToddler said...

eeees: Convenience isn't all it's cracked up to be. People from NY think, "How can you live someplace where you can't get a kosher pizza Saturday night at midnight?!"

There are more important things in life. And you can learn how to make your own pizza.

Eeees said...

Psychotoddler: Its not the pizza late on a Saturday night that I'm speaking of (actually, I haven't had pizza in about 2 years). But the basics on a weekday, now that's a different matter altogether! Its nice to be able to find things easily when you need them. I guess I'm more spoiled than most, though. You see I am lucky enough to have a kosher grocery within walking distance to my house. No need for a car to go shopping is a beautiful thing when you have rising gas prices. :)

PsychoToddler said...

It's easy to be frum in Brooklyn. So what do kids learn from that?

It's different to go on a job interview wearing a yarmulke when the boss has a gemorah on his desk vs going to one where they've never seen one before.

You have to make choices out here. How you make those choices shows what kind of committment you've made to your yiddishkeit.

That's something you can't learn sitting in a yeshiva in Flatbush.

To quote one of my favorite rabbis: It's not for everyone.

Tova said...

Not everyone goes on interviews only at frum companies, PT! But the conveniences in Brooklyn make me want to stay. I just read Kashrus magazine's article on a city in PA, where kosher stores are "only 15 minutes away in a neighboring suburb." No thanks! Almost ANYWHERE in B'klyn you can literally take a walk for food/bread/cereal/etc. w/o the car. I grew up with a store on my corner, and now have to walk 3 blocks. Not a big deal. I don't think I can live somewhere that demands a car for every licensed driver in the household.

What do kids learn growing up in Brooklyn? Whatever you teach them. How dare you imply that growing up in Bklyn shows no commitment to yiddishkeit? You can't learn it in yeshiva, maybe. That's what parents are for.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I'm from Brooklyn and people think i'm from "out of town"; i take that as a compliment.

I was once called a sheigetz by two students at i believe it was derekh hatorah, because i went to a co-ed modern orthodox high school.

Tova said...

I find it hard to believe we're talking about the same school, steg.

Anonymous said...

if you send your kid away you are basically losing control over your kids, and handing over their raising to the school.
remember this.

Michael Kopinsky said...

A few corrections to air time's report on Skokie:

(from a recent graduate of the high school)

Night seder is 3 times a week (2 for freshmen) from 7-8 pm. One night a week and sunday afternoons they have an extra optional gemara program (HBO: Honors B'kiyus Option) which gets you honors credit in gemara.

They are not as nice about hanging out with girls as Air Time made it seem. They do allow NCSY, but strongly discourage it, and stam hanging out with girls would not be allowed. (That's not to say people don't do it.) They definitely do not allow dating.

Skokie has become much more of a black hat school in the 14 years since Air Time was there. The Rosh yeshiva is very much black hat, and all the rebbeim wear black hats.

I don't know what the heck he means by "Students were encouraged to use Artscroll Gemaras." I certainly never was, and neither were my friends. Maybe in the lower shiur the rebbeim allowed it out of desperation.

They certainly do not expect all their students to go to college. While the majority end up in YU, a good number go to HTC, Ner, Mir, and such places, as well as a few to secular colleges.

The quality of the secular program depends on which subject. Math has always been excellent, for example. It really depends on what teachers they can get. While I was there they had some joke teachers, they have since hired a few more serious teachers who have done some good.

I just want to conclude by saying that being away from home for High school was the 2nd best experience of my life. (Best was being away from home for a year in Israel.)