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.