Eeees and I have spent the last two weeks looking at various high schools. Our oldest is now in eighth grade and will be attending high school next year. We've already ruled out the yeshiva he's attending now for high school, so we've been looking at alternatives.
We're purposely steering away from the "black hat" type yeshiva that he currently attends. He's not terribly happy there and it's fairly clear that he's not cut out for learning ten hours a day. In addition to that, we want a place that will teach him to be able to learn on his own, and prepare him for both college and post-high-school yeshiva. I think that if he remains where he is now, he may be marginally prepared for the first two, but not for the third; I think he'll be "burnt out" on learning in that type of atmosphere. I have other reasons as well for steering him away from there... I'll get to those a little later.
And so we're looking elsewhere. We've seen three high schools in the New York area (sorry, PT, we're really not keen on sending him to Wisconsin) and have been favorably impressed with all three. They all stress learning, have different levels of shiurim to accomodate students that are stronger or weaker in learning, offer real secular studies classes, AP courses, electives and generous extracurricular activities. He's really liked what he's seen by two of the schools (we didn't bring him to the third, although we now regret that decision - we know him well enough to know that he'd love what he saw by the third school as well) and we'll probably be applying to all three.
In short, I'm hoping for him to have a vastly different high school experience than I had. My high school experience was... well... let's just say that it works for certain communities, but not for me. The high school I went to was very small - about 40-50 boys at any one time. Since it was so small, there was only one class per grade - there was no room to try to accomodate those who were weaker in learning - of whom I was one. I was usually left behind by the third daf in any given year. It was rare that anyone tried to help me out. Eventually, I just stopped trying.
The day was as follows:
8:15 Halacha seder
9:00 Morning Seder (15 minute break in-between)
2:30 Second Seder
7:00 Night Seder
English consisted of four subjects in ninth and tenth grades - Math, Science, Social Studies and English. In 11th grade, Science dropped out, extending the Second Seder to about 4:20. In 12th grade, there was no Math, and so Second Seder went to about 5:00.
Every other Sunday there was no English. Second Seder ended at 4:00 and if you had no Night Seder that night, you were done for the day.
If you had no Night Seder at night, your day was done at 6:20. 9th grade had Night Seder two nights a week, 10th grade had three nights, 11th grade had four and 12th grade had five nights - Sunday to Thursday.
There were no extracurricular activities, except one. On Lag B'Omer, we'd take a field trip to the park for a softball game or some such activity. The only other break in the routine was that once a month the Rosh Yeshiva would give a one-hour lecture on the sugya the Yeshiva was learning. Of course, the lecture was given in Yiddish - and I didn't understand a word of it. One time, the Rosh Yeshiva said to me after the lecture "Wolf, if you can tell me what I said in the lecture, I'll give you twenty dollars." I wanted to punch him in the nose.
But that was it - that was my high school experience for four long years. Long days, long learning hours, barely-there secular studies classes (it's a minor miracle that I made it into college), no help at all from the rabbeim who looked at me as largly a consumer of space and oxygen, and disdain from the administration. Any mention of anything that was out of their definition of the "torah world" was verbotten. The day after the Challenger shuttle exploded, I got in trouble for discussing the fact that I had seen news replays of it on television. My attempts to (secretly, of course) play Strat-O-Matic baseball were secretly taped by school spies, as I related in a previous post). I dared not bring in any book that I might have been reading at home.
Of course, one is entitled to ask why I spent four years at that school if it was so miserable. Well, there is an answer to that too. Without going into too many details, suffice it to say that my mother (who is disabled) was unable to work. My father (who isn't frum) didn't contribute anything toward my yeshiva education. The one thing that I give the administration of the yeshiva credit for was that they allowed me to remain there for six years (including two years of elementary school) pretty much for free. For that act of chesed, I can thank them, but not for much else.
In short, for four years, I barely learned anything and was miserable. In looking at the yeshivos over the last two weeks with my son, I could not help but feel extreme regret for my "misspent" youth. I can only imagine what I would have accomplished when I was younger if I was in an enviornment such as what these schools presented.
Don't get me wrong - an intense learning schedule such as the one above may be right for certain individuals - but it was wrong for me. The extremely long schedule*, the monotony, the attitudes of the teachers and the administration, the spying, the conniving and manipulation that went on nearly caused me to go off the derech altogether. That's something that I desparately want to avoid for my sons. I just wish I could have avoided it myself.
(N.B. - Just to be fair, I don't want anything to think that I was a completely not at fault in high school. I was certainly no angel - but I do place the fault of my experience largely on the yeshiva I went to).
* One time, the Rosh Yeshiva called everyone into the Bais HaMidrash and lectured us that there was too much battalah (time wasting, non-learning) going on in the Bais HaMedrash during learning time. "I don't understand it," he said. "You have a half hour for breakfast, an hour for lunch, forty minutes for dinner and fifteen minutes recess in the morning. Get all your battalah done then." After the lecture, a friend of mine turned to me and said "I'm surprised he didn't mention the ten hours between Ma'ariv and Shacharis"