Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hashkafic Conflict Between Parents and Schools

How important is environment to one's education? The answer is that it is crucial. In order to raise Frum (religious) children, one must provide an environment of religious peers and role models. And there must be material taught in the classroom that is in consonance with religious beliefs. Without that children will almost always rebel and find their role models outside the Frum world, although as I‘ve said in the past, there are exceptions.

I think most people will agree with that formulation. While it is true that the most significant influences in a child’s life are parents - those influences soon become over-whelmed by the environmental experiences outside the home. Those influence include but are not limited to the actual subject matter taught in the classroom - some of which may contradict religious beliefs and values; exposure to only non Jewish or non religious Jewish teachers whose values may be anathematic to religious values - and yet these teachers sometimes become role models; and peers whose lifestyles rarely coincide with those experienced at home.

If we agree that a religious school environment is vital, what about the Hashkafic environment? What is the impact on a child when there is conflict between a parent and a school with respect to religious outlook or philosophy?

The answer to this question is a lot less clear. I have heard it argued that the best chance of a child remaining Frum is to send him or her to the most right wing school. Is that true? I don’t think so. It creates conflict between the home and the school. I’ve seen the results of such conflict. It can range anywhere from going so unrecognizably far to the right of a parent that it makes for an uncomfortable relationship. Or it can result in the disastrous consequences of going ‘Off the Derech’ and dropping religious observance. The best option is to send a child to the school that is most in line with one’s own Hashkafos. It is not a guarantee, but it improves the odds.

If one is Charedi, one should send a child to a Charedi school. If one is Modern Orthodox, one should send to a Modern Orthodox school. Most parents do that. But in far too many instances parents opt for a school that is sometimes a radical departure form their own Hashkafos.

There is a type of parent that does not necessarily classify themselves as Modern Orthodox or Charedi although Modern Orthodoxy may be their root. They tend to live the lifestyle of a modern Orthodox Jew but perhaps live in a Charedi environment or have a Charedi Rav or Daven in a Charedi Shul. They will then often have many Charedi friends. They may even pick up some Charedi modalities such as wearing a black hat.

But they will still live a more or less Modern orthodox lifestyle. This same lifestyle may also be true about the Charedim with whom they associate - although they may feel guiltier about it. These parents are subject to make the wrong educational decisions for their children.

I see primarily two factors contributing to this. One is peer group pressure. Their friends and neighbors all send their children who are friends with their own children to Charedi schools.

The second factor is a rationalization: It is better to put their kids in a ‘Frumer’ environment than in the same or less ‘Frum’ environment than the home. They argue that it is easier to make them, ‘less Frum’ then to make them ‘more Frum’. But that is a fallacy. The results of doing this can lead in two vastly opposite and unsatisfying directions.

One potential result is that the Hashkafa the child develops is so different from the parents’ Hashkafos - that over time their behavior becomes virtually unrecognizable. Parental values will become devalued by these children. This can easily create awkward and uncomfortable situations in the home. A parent will see it as ‘flipping out’. A child will see it as becoming a more committed Jew.

The other far worse extreme is when a child goes ‘Off the Derech’. That is because of the conflict between what children see in the home and what they are taught in school. They may be taught that a value that their parents hold dear is anathema to Torah. - like valuing a college education. Who do they believe? If they believe their parents it may just lead them to just chuck the whole Judaism thing.

To be fair these are not the only two scenarios. Many of these young people turn out to be wonderful adults who incorporate the values of both and are a source of real pride to their parents. It is also possible that people whose Hashkafos do match those of their children’s schools will nonetheless have children who rebel to the right or left. But I’ve witnessed too many unhappy consequences resulting from Hashkafic conflict for them to be exceptions.

Environment is important. And that includes Hashkafa. Unless one is willing to except radical changes in what they expect from their children - I would advise any parent to send their child to the school that most closely follows their Hashkafa.