H: So it’s we, the parents and teachers, who are responsible for “kids at risk”?
RH: I don’t think the issue is “kids at risk.” That expression is used because it makes us feel good. It implies that it’s the kids’ fault, that something is wrong with them. The underlying assumption is that the system is okay, just something went wrong with this or that kid who “fell through the cracks.” Really, the opposite is true. They are being pushed through, not cracks, but gaping ditches and huge holes. We have to decide if we’re willing to lose them.
H: You make it sound as if we were making a conscious decision of some kind to send them away…
RH: That’s right. They are lost by design. Our educational system is elitist. It caters to the brightest students. Most teachers do not pay much attention to the average and below-average students. Those who do not excel academically are offered no option. Everything is stigmatized. To tell a kid to get vocational training is tantamount to calling him mentally retarded. Or in Israel to serve in the army, is like telling him he’s a failure. The kids understand this and feel rejected. They say to themselves, “I don’t see myself in this system, so I’ll find my own way.” They find their way on the streetcorners of Har Nof and Ben Yehuda.
H: How did this elitism come about?
RH: There was a decision made after the Holocaust that Yiddishkeit in the U.S. and Israel has to be rebuilt. And that meant producing gedolim, the next Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the next Brisker Rav. And I’ve heard it said that it was understood, perhaps even stated at the time, that since not everybody is going to be a gadol b’Torah, “we are going to have to lose a few.”
What took place over the next forty years was the rise of an elitist system. When I was growing up and went to school, the teachers would speak to the average student, trying to involve and reach everyone in the class. But in an educational system geared to the elite, the teacher cares primarily about the geniuses, certainly not the slower students.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Gedolim Or Bust...
...an interesting interview with Rabbi Yaakov Haber of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY and Torah Lab about the state of jewish education today, how we got here and were he thinks we need to go: