Monday, November 13, 2006

High School Yet Again... One More Fear Of Mine

As you no doubt know from my previous posts, Eeees and I have been looking for a high school for our eighth grader. We've seen several that we have been impressed with and we will be applying to them.

However, I personally have one big fear about the whole processes... and I don't know if it's because I, personally, had a very bad experience or if this happens more often. Perhaps others who have gone through this process can give me some help or insight.

Our son goes to a fairly RW Chareidi, black-hat, white-shirt/dark-pants only school. The high schools that we have looked at are not like that at all - they all encourage their students to go to college, they allow clothing with colors, many of the kids wear kippot s'rugot, many of them have televisions (well, so do many in the current school, even though it's officially highly discouraged), and most of the schools are Zionistic.

Part of the application process for just about every school that we are interested in involves having the principal fill out an evaluation on the student. Now, to be perfectly fair, my son is not the greatest student - when he's not sufficiently interested or challenged. I've found that when he has an interest in the gemara that they are learning, he is usually pretty capable of understanding it. However, if it's not so interesting, then his grades will start to plummet.

The menahel has spoken with us about this several times. Usually we can crack the whip on him for a while and get him to pay attention, but then he sometimes slides back as his other interests take over his attention. The result was that in seventh grade, his grades in Limudei Kodesh were less than stellar.

The menahel thinks our son has a problem. He thinks that because our son has an interest in animals and other things aside from full-time learning, there must be a problem with him. He's advised us to seek professional counseling for him. To be honest, Eeees and I don't see that as his problem - he's pretty well adjusted, has friends and acts like a typical adolescent (meaning that he alternates between being very good and making our lives miserable). He enjoys reading anything he can - Judaic and secular. He does learn on his own sometimes (although not gemara). However, he's not going to be a Rosh Yeshiva (at least based on his current temperment - in the future, who knows?) and learning doesn't occupy his every waking moment. As with me in high school, the harder he is pushed in one direction that he doesn't want to go in, the more he will recoil in the opposite direction. The menahel thinks that is a sign that the kid needs therapy. We think it's the sign of a teenager.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I have a real fear (possibly unfounded) that when the menahel sees the application forms and the schools to which we are applying, with their radically different hashkafos than the present yeshiva, he may try to sabotage the process.

Why do I say this? Because it happened to me. Allow me to present my story.

As many of the readers of this blog know, I was pretty miserable in high school. I had little in common hashkafically with the administration or my classmates. I did not have the skills or the interest to learn at the level of the class - and no one thought to actually try and help me out. That's not to say I was not at fault - I certainly could have tried harder - but I didn't. With few exceptions, my learning in high school was pretty non-existant. The only reason I can learn today is because of the yeshiva I went to after high school. And therein lies the tale.

When I was in twelfth grade, my mother was ill. She spent most of the school year in the hospital with various related health issues. Since I hated school, I took unfair advantage of the situtaion and played hookey - quite often. One time, I missed an entire week, hiding out in the house. That was no one's fault but my own. Sure, if the yeshiva had made more of an effort to reach out to me and include me in the learning it might not have happened, but I was more than capable of knowning that my actions in skipping school were wrong.

About February, the Rosh Yeshiva called me into his office. "Wolf," he told me, "I want you to know that we can legally hold you back. You've missed enough days of school this year that you can be held back another year."

I gulped. Being stuck in this school another year was the last thing I wanted. I had had it up to here being the square peg that they were trying to pound into the round hashkafic hole. I wanted out - as should have been evidenced by the fact that I was missing school to begin with.

In the end, he offered a deal. I had to move into the dorm, be in school *every day*, be present at every davening and learning seder. If I could do that, I'd graduate in June. If not... I had no choice; I took the deal. I moved into the dorm (oh, how I hated that dorm) and was there every day since then. I missed one day in May due to a family member having an operation - but I got permission from the Rosh Yeshiva in advance to be out that day. I kept my end of the bargain to the letter.

In June, the Rosh Yeshiva called upon me again and asked me what I had planned for next year. I informed him that I planned to go to a small local yeshiva (I didn't mention that I planned to go to college at night - I wasn't *that* dumb) that was recommended to me by someone who knew my family, and I mentioned the name of the Yeshiva and it's head. His response: "Why don't you go to a normal yeshiva next year?" I had no idea what he was talking about. True it was a small yeshiva - it wasn't a Chaim Berlin or Mirrer, but still it was pretty RW hashkafically. However, the school wasn't to his liking. He threatened me that if I didn't make plans to go to a "normal yeshiva" (with him defining the word "normal") that I would not graduate.

I was heart-broken - I nearly left the office in tears. I had kept my end of the bargain faithfully. I did everything that was asked of me - and yet I was going to be stuck in that school again for another year. It just wasn't fair! It would be one thing if he just held me back because of my absences - that would have been his right since I did play hookey. But he offered me a deal - and I kept my end of it! It wasn't right of him to use threaten the graduation I had earned.

My mother, upon hearing the news, called the RY and asked him to reconsider. How could he do this, she asked? What was she going to tell her son about frumkeit when he sees that a rabbi's word means nothing. How would she keep her son on the derech if he sees that honesty means nothing? His response to my mother was "I don't tell you how to cook rice, you don't tell me how to run a yeshiva."

As it turns out, my mother knows the wives of some influential rabbanim in the community and she called them and literally poured out her heart in sorrow to them and their husbands. All this, of course, happened behind my back, but wheels were set in motion; phone calls were made.

About two days later, the RY called me over and said "Wolf, who started this rumor that you're not graduating? Of course you are. In fact, I'd like you to speak by the graduation." I was stunned and speechless.

In the end, I graduated, and I spoke by the graduation. But the whole process left me scarred and contributed a great deal to the some of the skepticism and cynicism that I have today about the frum community.

It wasn't until next year that I found out what the problem with the new yeshiva was -- the RY of the new yeshiva (unbeknowst to me) used to be a rebbe at this high school and when he left, it wasn't on the best of terms.

So, that's my story. Someone in a position of authority tried to interfere with my choice of yeshiva after high school and used his considerable power to force me to attend a yeshiva of his choosing.

And, I fear, the same thing may happen here with my son. To be honest, it could be (and I'm hoping) that my fears are unfounded. Maybe this doesn't go on all the time and I just had someone who, for whatever reasons, felt that playing with my life was good. Maybe I just had one rotten apple and other Roshei Yeshiva and Menahels are not like that. I really have no idea whether the Menahael will torpedo our son's chances of going to a different school because he thinks it'll be better for him in a school of his choosing and of like hashkafah. It's something that I really am afaid of.

Or, it could be that based on my experience, I'm just being paranoid.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

I definitely hear your concern. But I think the personality of the menahel would determine his conduct here.

Since you are concerned, is it out of the question to "talk" with your Menahel and explain your decision and goal for your son in this yeshiva? Also discuss the importance of the recommendation letter and try to get feedback as to what he may say. That would give you a clue as to what will happen and allow you to react before it is too late.

Anonymous said...

I've heard good things about Yesodei Yeshurun in Queens.

Anonymous said...

why would you want to subject your son to the same dishonest and abusive situation you were in, and damage his desire to learn. From someone who's been there, I'd suggest you sent him to a secular school and let him learn everything Jewuish from you and a competent tutor with whom he can freely discuss his points of view.

BrooklynWolf said...


I don't think all Roshei Yeshivos are dishonest. If that's what you got out of my post, then I apologize... that wasn't the point.

I believe that the places that we are looking to send him to, being more open, will provide a positive experience for him.

We don't believe that sending him to public school is the answer. He needs a Torah education -- and a better one than a simple tutor can provide.

The Wolf

topshadchan said...

first of all the five towns jewish times had an article about one parent travails regarding his sons principal not writing a recommendation to a school in israel, and threatening the school in israel to not take this boy in, otherwise he will never recommend anyone to that yeshiva.

secondly, did you check out DRS in woodmere? i hear its great.

topshadchan said...

are you sure he doesnt have learning issues?
alot of parents always say, oh my son is lazy or if only he would try harder, or he doesnt seem interested.

the reason it appears that way is learning issues. the kid is bright, but his brain isnt wired to learn correctly or efficiently. its too much work. so he says he isnt interested as a defense mechanism.
i posted about the arrowsmith program ( that HALB is currently doing. it addresses learning issues by correcting them rather than compensating for them.
all the kids enrolled are average to above average intelligence, some of whom have now been selected to enter the E2K Math program.

Anonymous said...

In elementary and high school I was the same way-- I was great when the subject matter was interesting, and my grades dropped when it wasn't. I was interested in all sorts of other things and read a lot. My elementary school rabbeim thought I was lazy. But now I'm in college, and the higher-ups think I'm creative and they like that I think out of the box. The dean is getting to know me personally and he is enhralled by the fact that I am breaking the mold by going for something like graphic design, something most people in YU don't think about. In short, I think that having outside interests is amazing and should be celebrated. You can't go by the books your whole life, and it's the creative ones who get ahead.

Anonymous said...

One thought - you might want to approach the principals of the schools to which you are applying, and ask them if they've had problems with the applications of kids from your son's Yeshiva. Chances are, if the menahel is the obstructive sort, the high schools already know about that and will hopefully work with you with that in mind.

BrooklynWolf said...

Interesting idea, proudmommy. However, the menahel is pretty new (he just took over last January) and so probably wouldn't have too much of a track record.

To be honest, now I'm *really* getting scared. I was really expecting everyone to say "nah, you're just being paranoid." The fact that most of the posters (especially, the Answer, whom I know to be a very down-to-earth person) seemed to think that I may have a real concern is somewhat frightening.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

You are just being paranoid-It shows the power of the past,especially when traumatic.
But of course paranoids are sometimes correct.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of this sort of thing before--and so have the principals of the schools your son is applying to attend. If something is amiss, they will probably realize what is going on.

Anonymous said...

We kinda have to give the Menahel the applications soon, or we won't have a chance of meeting the deadline at all. If we give it in ASAP, at least we can troubleshoot if they give us any problems.
We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying. If the applications remain on the dining room table, then the Menahel will never get a chance to refuse to fill it out, and the end result will be that they don't get to the high schools. If you give it to him, he may surprise us. :)

BrooklynWolf said...

Yes, dear. :)

The Wolf

Orthonomics said...

I would approach the schools you are interested in directly and speak to them about your son's interests outside of Torah and let them know you are looking at their school because you would like these interests to be encouraged rather than "knocked" and that is why you are applying. You can also tell them that the current school wants counseling becaue of those interests.

Maybe if you approach the school directly, they will work with you, or at least take whatever the current menahel says with a grain of salt.

Goodluck and I personally wouldn't want to send away, so I understand why you aren't considering doing so.

PsychoToddler said...

We had very similar issues when it came to getting Fudge out of HS. If you read her blog, you know she's a very talented, intelligent, funny, and relatively prudish (thank G-d) girl who is flourishing in YU.

However, in the Beis Yaakov style HS she went to, she was most definitely a square peg, and her teachers were working hard to round her edges. This was leading to a lot of unhappiness for all of us, and Mrs. B and I decided that by 11th grade the potential for damage was greater than our need to keep our daughter in town, so we started working on early admissions at Stern.

Aside from the fact that we were unaware the Early Admissions was becoming frowned on (I was in EAP 20 years ago), we met some resistance from the HS in that they did not care for YU AT ALL, and wanted her to stay another year and then go to Seminary.

Knowing my daughter, that would have been disastrous to her self-esteem and her future. We did have concerns that the hanhala would sabotage our efforts to get her in, especially since Stern was now scrutinizing EA applicants much more...sternly (oy, sorry).

In the end though (and after several meetings where we tried to be painfully complimentary to the HS ("It's not you, it's her,")), they played ball and wrote her a letter of recommendation, but it was very vague and not the glowing type of letter that someone with Fudge's obvious talents deserved. Nevertheless, we took what we could get.

Bottom line, it is VITAL to match the school to the kid. A trouble maker in one school can be a star pupil in another.

BTW, I tried to post something on the other HS post but blogger ate it.

I would be happy to have your son for out shabboses if he came to WITS. But I understand the need to keep kids close to home. We chose WITS primarily for that reason. However, I have to say that i have been very happy with the school and with the types of graduates it turns out. Look at Ezzie. He is not the exception. He is the rule.

Anonymous said...


I did not mean to "scare" you and I really have no experience with your situation. I was only responding to the issues you raised and a way to deal with them if you "believe" they are valid concerns.

As others have mentioned, there is likely nothing to worry about.

Ezzie said...

Look at Ezzie. He is not the exception. He is the rule.

Wow. I just saw this. That's really really complimentary, and I think undeserving. I should note that - after a nice discussion about this with a friend over Shabbos - I'm somewhat of an exception in many areas, but that's because many of my friends were and are a heck of a lot better than me.

Weird. I could have sworn I left a comment here last week. I'm almost positive... argh. Basically, you can always tell the schools you're applying to what the situation is and why you may have trouble with a recommendation. Schools are very understanding...

Big-S Skeptic said...

With few exceptions, my learning in high school was pretty non-existent.

That's exactly like my yeshiva high school experience! Similarly, the hanhalah at my yeshiva (Philly) did not take the slightest interest in me until a few weeks before graduation, when suddenly they became very concerned about my future. By the time I left yeshiva, I never wanted to look at a Gemarah again, and for the most part I never have.

Anyway, I really think you have to try to play to a kid's strengths, while not neglecting the weaknesses. A person, especially a teenager, needs to feel like they are succeeding rather than failing, progressing rather than stagnating. If your son likes animals, and likes to read/write, then you try to play to those strengths and interests. A high school with a good biology program and good creative writing would seem appropriate to me, but I don't know whether we have such things in the frum world. Ah well...