Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Charedim Win – and Lose!

Charedim in a classroom (Jerusalem Post)
In practical terms it really doesn’t matter much. Because the law wasn’t being enforced anyway. But it should matter and it should be enforced.

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, it appears that the current coalition government in Israel is about to repeal the law requiring reduced government funding to schools that do not provide a core secular studies curriculum. Which they defined as teaching at least 11 hours per week in the subjects of English, math, and science. As the Charedi poster child for evil incarnate -  Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said, 
“How will the ultra-Orthodox youth support themselves without mathematics and English and without a basic toolbox for the labor market? 
I have been a vocal supporter of requiring a core curriculum. Primarily because I see the poverty that has resulted in a growing community that refuses to get a basic education in those subjects. Their devotion to studying Torah is so strong that it precludes them studying anything else.

What about making a living? They have claimed that if and when the time comes for an Avreich to leave the halls of the Beis Hamedrash they will ‘find a way’ to make a decent living without it. How often, they might for example ask, does Euclidean Geometry come into play when earning a living? They consider it a waste of time. And they will point to the many among them who have made a successful transition from the Beis HaMedrash to the work place.

Granted there are a lot of Avreichim that do ‘find a way’. There are a growing number of training programs just for that purpose. The only question is what percentage of them are able to do it without having received the basic study tools one gains in elementary school and high school. I have to wonder how many Avreichim left the Beis HaMedrash and couldn’t quite ‘make the grade’. And were then forced by that circumstance into menial low paying jobs.

In a related note, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein pointed out a fascinating statistic in a recent Cross Currents article. It appears that the highest pass rate for those taking CPA exam for the first time for all universities in the state of New Jersey, is for students at BMG - better known as Lakewood Yeshiva! Rabbi Adlerstein wonders if: might pay to rethink educational strategy altogether, at least for some students. If motivated people in their 20’s with practically no secular education at all can compete effectively with products of conventional educational systems, what can we learn about all the drill and reinforcement that is part of elementary education? 
I am not at all surprised that there are some very bright students in Lakewood. Nor am I surprised that very bright students that are motivated to succeed will do what it takes to get there. Like study for a CPA exam.

I am reminded of Frank Abagnale, the infamous fraudster who – until  he got caught - impersonated a variety of professionals without ever having been trained in those professions. In his guise as an attorney, he successfully passed the Louisiana Bar exam without ever attending law school! If you are smart enough and motivated enough, I guess you can do things like that.

But I am not sure I agree that we need to rethink our entire educational strategy. These are the exceptions – exceptional people that do not reflect the needs of the majority.

Which brings me back to the state of Charedi education in Israel. That they will ‘find their own way’ without any preparation may be true in some cases. Just as it is in Lakewood.

But even in Lakewood there is a significant difference between Avreichim there - and those in Israel. Lakewood Avreichim have in most cases had a secular education to one degree or another through high school. Israeli Avreichim for the most part, have not. Those that have are frowned upon as having taken away precious time where they could have been studying Torah. They fall behind their peers that have been studying Torah full time. So it isn’t only the Charedi leadership that opposes it. It affects their social standing among their peers. Secular studies is therefore a ‘hard sell’ at almost every level. Which means it will never voluntarily change from what it is now.

So I am disappointed that these core curriculum requirements are about to be rescinded instead of being enforced.  It will hurt them. And it will hurt the Israeli economy. They will continue to be denied getting the tools they need until – it may be too late for far too many!

What about the detractors - those who argue against requiring a core curriculum?

I have heard arguments accusing the government of requiring more than just the basics. And requiring a curriculum to have subjects that are taboo. But I don’t see how 11 hours per week in basics like English Math and science is ‘overdoing it’. As for taboo subjects like the theory of evolution – that can be taught in ways that are compatible with Torah. But even if it is not taught at all, that doesn’t mean that everything else should be eliminated. The important thing here is to eventually get them into the workplace with decent jobs.

What about the principle that no one - not even a well intentioned government - has a right to tell people how to educate their children. I have never disputed that basic right. But only if it does not negatively impact on society as a whole. Furthermore - this has never been about the government forcing Charedim to teach a core curriculum. It was about not funding those that don’t. No one was forced to do anything.

Why should the Israeli taxpayer pay for a system they see producing a growing number of people that will rely on financial aid well into adulthood? Why shouldn’t they demand a curriculum that will help them be less dependent? So many of them end up illiterate while they are in Kollel indefinitely - because they can’t get decent jobs! And then demand to be supported!

So, yes. I am with that ‘evil Rasha’, Yair Lapid on this one. It is only right that Yeshivos get government support if they teach English, math, and science for at least 11 hours a week. I don’t think it is asking too much. And for those that refuse to do that? Well, God bless them. Let them teach – or not teach – whatever they want. But the Israeli taxpayer should not have to pay for it.

It’s too bad that the political system in Israel depends so heavily coalition partners in order to function. I would love to see direct elections for Prime Minister – same as we have for President of the United States. I know it’s been tried and failed. But I’m not sure why. They should try it again. That would give their government far more stability. And they would not be able to be blackmailed into doing things which I believe are detrimental to entire population of religious Jews.  And to the Israeli taxpayer.