Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blind Melon

Holyman, I tell you man you gotta believe in what you see
Cause its you that corrupt us man and deep throat philosophy
I don't need your spells or the little games you try to pull on me
Come to think of it I don't need your religion
YD has a short but well-put post on chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko [educate each child according to his way] up at Adventures in Chinuch. A short excerpt:
Unfortunately, our school systems offer little variety in terms of Jewish education. The usual Gemara, Chumash, Navi, Halacha, Ivrit classes make up 99% of what our schools are teaching. Additionally, not enough is being done in the area of creativity to spark learning interest (although this is a good example of what a little hard work can do). This is not a simple subject to approach, due to the myriad of factors that are involved, but one that needs to be addressed. And if we don't, we are in danger of producing students who say, "Come to think of it, I don't need your religion."
I recall telling Jewish Atheist on more than one occasion after hearing some of his arguments and experiences that while we grew up similarly in many ways, had he simply had a better education he would undoubtedly be a happy, religious Jew today. While he might disagree with that assessment, or even more likely say that he "hopes not" because of what he thinks of Judaism and its teachings in the present, it is so often the case among the skeptical bloggers and others who have abandoned Judaism that they were presented with a one-size-fits-all education approach. Note that this is not a problem exclusive whatsoever to "Yeshivish" schools, but is sometimes just as true in Modern Orthodox institutions as well, as is clear from books, the skeptic blogs, and good old anecdotal information.

Once a person feels truly excluded from the Judaism they are being brought up in, they are as likely to abandon it quickly as they are to find another 'branch' that suits them better. While obviously having every school teach every viewpoint would be impractical and slightly ridiculous, it is important to balance whatever is being taught with an understanding that in many areas there are multiple viewpoints. The reason the one being taught is preferred within a hashkafa can be for various reasons - but that others do in fact disagree.

I've long felt that one of the best portions of my own education was a little, easily forgettable [somewhat] weekly program that WITS has for seniors called STAMP - Senior Torah And Mussar Perspectives. One objective of it was to present important subjects and somewhat controversial subjects within the Orthodox community in a framework that explained fairly both sides of these debates. The style was a short introduction explaining both sides by the Rebbe - including pros and cons, praises and criticisms - followed by a fully open question and answer session for 45 minutes, at which point it would end no matter what. By being able to learn about and discuss these subjects, we gained not only a greater understanding of them, but we were able to see why we were educated and taught a certain way and judge for ourselves whether that was appropriate for us and what would be appropriate for us and our families going forward.

I think there needs to be greater implementation of similar programs, though it is sadly difficult to find people who can fairly represent sides with which they do not agree. (I am still impressed that Rabbi Cheplowitz in WITS was able to do so so well at that time.) I also think such programs should not wait until one is a senior in high school, though certainly there are different levels of understanding and it should be suited to each age bracket. What we were presented with as seniors would certainly have been disastrous as freshmen.

Hopefully, at some point, such programs will no longer even be necessary.