Monday, February 26, 2007

Average Kids

Rabbi Horowitz had an article last week (OK, so I'm somewhat slow...) about kids who are average learners (even if they are excellent in middos and yiddishkeit) finding it more and more difficult to get into mainstream yeshivos. More and more often, these kids are being pushed into "alternative" yeshivos where they are often grouped together with "at risk" kids when, in reality, they don't suffer from the same problems that many at-risk kids suffer from.

As the parent of an eighth grader who is less than stellar in Gemorah, his article certainly struck a chord within me. Eeees and I were dreading the high-school application process because we knew that our son was average at best in Gemorah.

Maybe it's because we didn't apply to schools like Mirrer, Chaim Berlin, Torah V'Da'as, etc., but it seems that B"H, we were matzliach. He applied to four schools of a more "modern" bent (how I hate that word in that context) and he was accepted into three of them.

Sadly, the way Rabbi Horowitz reports it, it's a vicious cycle -- parents demand more excellence, so more "average" kids get left out. As the schools are increasingly populated only with excellent students, the average is pulled ever higher.

Truth to tell, I think that it is the responsibility of parents to try to find the best school that their son will fit in, and not necessarily the best school. We certainly could have applied to a school such as the type I listed above, and who knows, maybe he would have gotten into one -- but he certainly wouldn't be happy there. He needs a school that will work with him on his level of learning, challenge him to grow in learning to the best of his abilities and provide direction for post-graduate learning -- in limudei kodesh AND limudei chol. Simply going for the "best" school because of fear of losing social standing or future shidduch issues is incredibly counter-productive and the harm that you can cause a child far outweighs the benefits. Engaging in such behavior does far more to put a kid "at risk" then sending him to a yeshiva that accepts "average" students.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

i know you probably won't say, but i'm curious which brooklyn schools you consider modern.

"Sadly, the way Rabbi Horowitz reports it, it's a vicious cycle -- parents demand more excellence, so more "average" kids get left out . . ."

it's a tough call. every parent wants what's best for his child, and there's nothing wrong with this. if your son were that stellar prodigy, wouldn't you want the school to cater to his type?

"Truth to tell, I think that it is the responsibility of parents to try to find the best school that their son will fit in, and not necessarily the best school."

it's good that you can be honest with yourself about what is best for your kids. many parents can't be so honest with themselves.

-ari kinsberg

mother in israel said...

Rabbi Horowitz's "vicious cycle" doesn't make any sense. How many yeshivot can only draw excellent students? There simply aren't enough excellent students to go around.

mother in israel said...

Okay, I reread Rabbi H's column, and I see that you don't quite say the same thing. He's right, though, that we all want our kids to be in exclusive schools, until our kid is rejected from one. Then we complain bitterly.

Anonymous said...

I think its part of a larger pattern, in that it seems that gamara is the only metric we care about in terms of if a jewish man. Kolel is a status symbol, even if it really is not right for everyone, or even very wrong for some people. There are a lot of guys out there who are (or could be) upstanding jews and examples to us all who may not have any skill with a gamara, but have something else to give to a community.

Unknown said...

That last post is me. It took me a bit to reset my blogger login.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

I went to one of the "Big Three" yeshivos you mentioned.

In my humble opinion, an eighth grader shouldn't be learning gemara. Or at least it should be the toful, not the ikkar. Certainly a fifth grader shouldn't be learning gemara. What 9 or even 12 year-old can readily grasp such abstract concepts? If we were to compare ( lehavdil elef havdolos, of course) Jewish studies to secular studies, teaching Gemara to fifth or eighth graders, who may have never even learned the entire Chumash or Mishna, is like teaching the same grade level graduate-level tort law or Constitutional Law. We wouldn't expect Junior HS kids to excel at Law School level courses, so why should we expect them to excel at Gemara?

I believe that this curriculum style is a very "Europshe" thing that just stuck in America. By all common sensibilities, kids in grade school should be learning Chumash with Rashi and Navi the majority of the time. Then halacha, and then maaaaybe a taste of Gemara. This gemara-heavy curriculum just sails right over the heads of the kids who are not ready or cut out for it, and then they get left behind at the expense of the others who are "excelling".

OrthoMonkey said...

I think the post that said the issue is that we have one metric is dead on. I do want my children to go to an elite school but ideally one that is elite in their area of skill/preference. The problem is instead you have the option of the good gemorah school or the bad gemorah school.

The other question I have on this topic is do kids who go to the "top" yeshivas turn out better? Are they happier? Do they end up contributing more to the community? Are they generally closer to Hashem? Or do they just know more gemorah...

There seems to be this perception that if my kid goes to a school and learns more dafs then the other kids he has an advantage. Sometimes I wonder if it is more about the parents being able to say that their kid goes to school X then it is about hte kids.

I don't have any answer but I do know that in my experience there is very little correlation between school performance and success/satisfaction for my classmates.

Shira Salamone said...

I recommend Shifra’s post reacting to the same article.

We had some interesting times with our own son, as well, given his delays in learning and social-skills development. I was not happy when my sister suggested that our son aim for Harvard. Just because he was fairly bright didn't mean that he could handle that kind of competitiveness. You really nailed when you said, "I think that it is the responsibility of parents to try to find the best school that their son will fit in, and not necessarily the best school."

eglantine said...

every society has an underbelly, and i venture to say that ours is the idolization of intellect and knowledge. the worship of intellectual excellence leads us to discount anyone but the so called best, to overemphasize one feature of a person and to forget all the other parts of what makes one a mentsch, and to set impossible standards ( hey let us not forget that intelligence is in the form of a bell shaped curve). it also has lead us to leave disabled babies in hospitals, to be way retarded educationally and socially when it comes to special needs, and far far less kind. i see this whole thing as a mania, a crazy amd ultimately self-destructive dance toward a human generated view of what a good jew is. well, these are some thoughts triggered by your column.