Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pardon My Cynicism

Guest contribution by Yissochor Dov Alter*

Are children like these being short-changed?
The author of this post is someone that is a firmly integrated member of the Torah world. Although not an educator, he is in a profession that makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the negative consequences of Jewish education in that world.  He has been a contributor to this blog on a variety of issues relating to Jewish education in the past.  And now, once again he has offered the following response to a recent post of mine on the same subject.

Although I regret his need for anonymity I completely understand his situation and agree with his decision to remain anonymous. (I decided to use an alias this time.) I realize that anonymity reduces credibility. But since I do know his identity; attendant credentials; and respect his views I would be remiss if I did not make those views public. Views that are highly critical. This is not some sort of Charedi bashing post by an agendized anti Charedi poster. This is a respected Charedi individual pained by what he sees are major failings. His words follow.

Another well written post on the overwhelming problem of the poverty of Jewish education.  You are, of course, right on the money (pun intended) in pointing to several of the gaps in the system.

Waste and poor budgeting – can actually be fixed significantly with proper guidance.  This is a challenge, because the ones who hold the purse strings are resistant to relinquishing control over money.  There are spending priorities which reflect their very personalities.  The remedies needed here are bitter pills to swallow, but have worked quite well for those yeshivos that took the plunge.

Salaries – this is far more complex than just poor wages.  My kids are out of yeshiva, but I can share sentiments that I had, which were echoed by many of my peers.  Why should I push myself to insure the rebbes get their paychecks?  I find most rebbes incompetent, untrained, apt to discipline unfairly and narcisstically, unavailable when I call them to address my child’s issues, and untrained on the basics in Jewish education. 

Few rebbes understand bullying, which occurs frequently.  Most express their anger and frustration by shaming and degrading students, which is clearly not acceptable.  This, on its own, is one of the most common reasons why parents are less than fully compliant with paying tuition.

Fund raising – This issue is quite sore.  All yeshivos rely greatly on the soliciting of charitable funds.  We have been reading for a while about the shenanigans of questionable practices in use of government funding.  There are almost always major events, such as dinners, Chinese auctions, and the like to raise major amounts of money to support the mosdos.  Nearly every yeshiva I know has one or more major donors who remain behind the scenes (until the guest of honor appearances). 

Many are appalled by the use of the students, sometimes of younger elementary ages, to collect money.  This practice is couched in highly debatable descriptions.  They refer to this as chinuch on the mitzvah of tzedokoh (should be to give, not take).  It is also labeled hakoras hatov, as if the children who were publicly embarrassed feel grateful or should feel gratitude.  The collecting turns into a competitive sport, with incentives given for the students who bring in the most money. 

Purim is notable for the very rare scene of a child without a wad of money in hand.  I have nothing but disdain and negative emotion regarding those who collect during those parts of davening when one is not permitted to be mafsik, including Shema, Shmoneh Esrai, and even during Kriyas Megilla. 

The children are sent out with one supreme mission – gelt.  It is prioritized over tefiloh and the mitzvos of Purim.  That chinuch is decidedly negative, and repulses many.  Yeshivos that I have confronted do not care at all.  They just look at what arrives in their office, not at the mitzvah-aveiroh ratio.

Let’s return to the teachers and mechanchim.  They may well need higher salaries.  Few can debate this.  But we must ask whether they deserve higher salaries.  Let me explain.  I have heard from many older teens and young adults who leave yeshiva and want to go to work.  When they are offered entry level jobs with minimum wage, they reject it, expecting to earn far greater salaries, despite having zero training or job skills. 

Are the rebbes and teachers that complain of low pay deserving of raises?  Do they have training in the field that qualifies them?  It is tragically comical that we treat Jewish education as an entry level job and open to anyone regardless of training or experience.  Spend more on the payroll for inferior work?  That’s a hard sell.

One last general comment about chinuch (somewhat less relevant for mosdos that are out of town).  There is something drastically wrong when the retention of talmidim that can grow in Yiddishkeit and follow their heritage is weakening.  The fallout, whether expulsions, the refusal of admissions, and the dropout rate, are all staggering, growing at astronomical rates.  With the ships leaking so badly, precisely what kinds of investments are expected?

Pardon my cynicism.  I try to shake it, but it pounces back on me every time.

*Not his real name