Sunday, November 05, 2017

Is Public School the Answer?

Image from the Forward
Andrew (Avrohom Yehuda) Altman is an unusual young man. He is currently a senior at Baltimore City College High School. Having been raised in a meticulously observant home and having attended a Yeshiva for most of his life - he transferred last year to that school. He did it because he realized that he was not cut out to follow the path outlined for all Yeshiva students. He knew that studying the Talmud would not be his profession. And he also wanted expand his universe by learning more worldly knowledge than he was getting at his old school, the Yeshiva.

When I saw the title of his Forward article (sent to me by his mother who is a reader of this blog), my first inclination was to think: this young man is on the slippery slope to going OTD. But after reading it, I am fairly convinced that he will not. I do however believe that he is an exception in that regard. Although there is no guarantee about where someone will end up no matter what school they attend, I am of the firm belief that in most cases attending a public school is not the best path toward retaining observance. 

AY (Avrohom Yehuda) is a bit different from what is usually the case about those that attend public school and go OTD. For one thing he was raised in a strictly religious home and sent to a Yeshiva until 11th grade. He had a good grounding in Torah and commitment to Halacha. He was not a ‘bad kid’ that rebelled. He was simply a realist about his future. Unlike others who may have realizations like that about themselves, he had the courage to do something about it. And had supportive parents that let him do it.

I believe that AY describes accurately what reaction anyone that ever contemplated doing this would get form their Yeshiva community:
“You will go off the derech (leave the fold)”
“There are too many bad influences in public school”
“There is a lot of anti-Semitism in public school” 
These are real concerns. Anyone considering this step for their own children should realize it. While AY might succeed, I would never recommend this track for anyone.  I do however think it shows major deficiencies in the educational system of the right. 

(While I also believe there are deficiencies in the Modern Orthodox educational model, which have caused many young MO students to go OTD... that is a subject that is beyond the scope of this post. The greater issue is with Yeshivos. Which constitute the majority of Orthodox Jewish schools in this country.)

So what are the problems? Let us examine why AY left the Yeshiva:
I wanted to attend a public high school to explore viewpoints which were absent from the pages of the Talmud. I understood there were divergent opinions and philosophies regarding all physical and metaphysical matters, yet I had only been exposed to the uniform thinking of my Yeshivish surroundings. More importantly, I felt like I deserved an opportunity to find personal fulfillment and to contribute to the welfare and advancement of people… 
I am fond of quoting Mishlei  22:6 which tells us: Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko. - Teach your child according to his nature. Not everyone is cut out to pursue a career in Torah study. Surely those that are not should not be encouraged to do so at the expense of negating their strentghs. While the primary function of yeshiva is to instill Torah values in their students and to focus on Torah study - it cannot and should not be the only thing they focus on. 

There is no such thing as a ‘cookie cutter‘ society for Jews, much as the current thrust of many a Yeshiva education tries to make it so. Now I know they don’t feel that every Jew must stay in Kollel. Many Charedi Jews remain Charedim in good standing while pursuing and in many cease achieving successful careers in business or the professions. 

But most Yeshivos on the right clearly encourage every single student to try and pursue a life of Torah study as the first choice. And those students are encouraged try and work on it for many years. If they don’t succeed after years of trying (either because they simply are not talented enough in Torah study - or because they are under pressure to provide for their families) – only then do they leave the Daled Amos of the Beis HaMedrash to seek careers. At that point they are on their own – And as noted by AY, with not enough preparation for the type of training they will need in order to succeed.

While many of them do succeed – many don’t. I don’t know the percentages or the numbers. But I do know of former Kollel families that are behind the eight ball financially.

AY wanted personal fulfillment. That’s is another way of saying that every Jew has his own strengths. That is what they should be encouraged to pursue. The idea that one must first try to learn and only work B’dieved - hurts us s a people. It causes some of our young that are incapable of keeping up to go OTD. Or as in the case of AY  who probaly was capable of keeping up to in any case leave the Yeshiva and go to a school that does provide an opportunity to pursue his strengths. While AY (and now additionally an expatriate ‘Philly’ student) seem to have succeeded, I fear that others that might try this won’t because of the very dangers cited above.

Why leave a good secular education to Modern Orthodox Schools? Why not try and offer a dual program where both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol are treated with respect? That doesn’t mean that Limudei Kodesh should lose its status as the most important of the 2 disciplines. (Torah study is an important Mitzvah and should never be abandoned. Every Jew should establish regular times for it.) But it does (or should) mean that Limudei Chol be treated with a lot more respect in the Yeshiva world than it is getting now. (Currently the opposite seems to be happening. And that’s a tragedy.)

Students like AY need to be given an option to excel in the things their natural abilities make them more suited to. And they should never be made to feel like second class citizens about it. That - in my view is one of the biggest mistakes of Yeshiva Chinuch. And they are paying a very steep price for it.