Dec 24, 2007

schooling and conformity

I have heard the following argument a number of time recently, and I wanted to voice my thoughts on the issue. I would also like to know your opinion on the matter, if you do not mind sharing.

The issue is schooling. The specific issue is sending your child to a school that is not totally compatible with your world-view. From the schools viewpoint.

For example, if I want to send my child to a cheider, yet I continue to wear colored shirts, have internet access at home, play basketball once a week, etc. So on the surface it seems unlikely they would accept my child to study in their school. Their argument would be that your child should not be in our school. Not that there is anything wrong with your child, but if that is what your family does, if that is what your child sees at home, than it is not an appropriate match.

From the parents viewpoint, the argument goes, I am making a mistake putting my child in an environment that is one I do not hold of or agree with it. By living a different lifestyle other than the one supported by the school, I am setting my kid up for failure, as he will have conflicting messages. Therefore, it is a no-no to send your kid to a school that is different from your lifestyle.

I say there is a way and a reason to do so. And it does not have to be a failure, and it does not have to be a mistake. If I believe that the specific school has something to offer my child that I want my child to absorb, even if I disagree with the school on other points, and I feel that this lesson, this quality found in this school, is more important than the other issues on which we disagree, than I say I should be able to send my child to that school. And it can be a success.

Obviously my child, in this case, would have to be a child who is not detrimental to the system. He does his work, and he even excels at it. He dresses according to the school code. Basically, he is not out of the ordinary in any way other than the family he comes from.

I am not going to the school. They should not be making rules for me to follow. They should have rules for my son to follow, but not me. I went to yeshiva when I was younger. I had a mashgiach and a rosh yeshiva back then. They told me what to do and what not to do. I listened at times and broke the rules at times. When I broke the rules, I paid the consequences (if I was caught and if it was something bad enough that they cared to punish or admonish me). I am not a student in this cheder. I am an adult. They should not be telling me how to live my life. I am past that stage already. They can, they should, and they do tell my son what to do - what the rules are, what he should be doing when, what he should not be doing, how he should be dressing, how he should be behaving, etc. That is acceptable. He is in their institution and needs to follow their rules.

And I am not talking about a situation in which I disagree with the school and it becomes an issue. I am completely respectful of the school and its rules for my son. I never talk badly about the school, even though there are things I do disagree with. I dress according to the style they desire whenever I am at a school function or even if I am just going to drop my kids off. I have a good relationship with the teachers and we talk fairly often. So nothing I am doing is damaging the school's image in my sons eyes.

So if I want to send my son to a school whose rules I personally do not live my life by, I see nothing wrong with sending my son there. Why I would want to is a different story, but I see no reason why it should not be ok, as long as I do not talk badly about the school or tell my son to not follow the rules.

My father has told me regarding his own experiences that he always sent us to schools, wherever we lived, that were more religious on the spectrum than the family was at the time. Why, I do not know and I never really understood why they made that choice. But that was their choice. For better or worse we went to schools that our family's lifestyle may not have been 100% in compliance with the lifestyle promoted by the school.

Many people in many schools do the same. There were always kids in my classes in the day school, high school, yeshivas I went to that came from a more modern background than the school actually catered to.

If you walk into pretty much any of the most yeshivish yeshivas, in Israel or America, you will find plenty of students who come from more modern backgrounds. YU boys learning in Brisk type yeshivas, boys who grew up in schools like HAFTR and Skokie and others end up in Yeshivas that eschew the modern orthodox communities. It is part of life. Yeshivas take students even though they come from different and varying backgrounds.

It works the other way as well. A very religiously right wing boy wants to study in a more liberal school, the school should not reject him because his parents way of life is not appropriate for the school.

Not only that, but the schools should be happy to do so. It opens their way of life to a different crowd. If a more modern boy wants to learn in a more right wing yeshiva, the yeshiva should be open to teaching him and showing him their way of life. It will withstand the test on its merits, and if they believe they are right, they should have nothing to fear. They will be teaching another student to live by what they believe to be true.

So why should I be told that my son should not be in school x, y or z just because I wear colored shirts or because I play basketball or softball? My son does not. He is the student, not me. As long as I do not damage the school's rep in my son's eyes, there should be nothing wrong with my son going to a school that is promoting a different view than the one I personally live by.


  1. I think it is very hard for the child to hear one thing at school and another at home for example the internet is evil, men who work are not on the same level as those who learn in kollel, mixed socializing is bad. How is a child supposed to be able to handle severe criticism of his parents' lifestyle? Especially in a religious school, where so much of the education is beyond the book learning.

    One of my kids is in a "frummer" school, but even though I feel more comfortable with the parent body there, I am sending the next one to a school with less "frum" parents but a hashkafah (religious outlook) much closer to mine. My son did not like it in the frummer school; it was too far removed from our outlook. Yes there are still issues with the more "modern" school. It's not a simple choice.

    Many of our parenting choices are out of place in most schools anyway (i.e. no junk food, stricter supervision of young children) and these are much more insidious.

    I think that many parents send to a frummer school to compensate for what they feel is a lack in their own homes. And that is problematic.

  2. the bigger problem is when all these issues are imagined.
    By that I mean, in a school where a large percentage (I do not know if it is a majority, but if it is a minority it is a large one)of parents work, yet they still talk about kollel as if that is all that the school recognizes, parents have internet but everyone denies it and school declares internet is evil, etc..
    So if people were honest and not embarrassed that they work, no child would need to feel bad that his father works and is not in kollel. After all, many other fathers work as well. Instead, despite the fact that many fathers work, they create an imaginary situation where only a couple fathers work, and then the kids have to feel bad, but it is for no real reason.

    But regardless of that, it might or might not be a healthy choice from my viewpoint of raising my kids properly, but if I want my kid to get a certain value or curriculum, I can choose to send there. And as long as the kid follows the rules, why should the school make rules for the parents? I am not a student.

    An example would be if a parent wants a child to excel in mathematics. So I might send my kid to a school that stresses math, even if their English department is very weak. Whether that is the right or wrong choice, is a different issue.. Maybe the kid needs a more balanced education. But let us say that is what I choose (even if you think it is the wrong decision). Should the school not accept my kid just because I the father am not a math whiz? Or because I do not spend my day reviewing mathematical conundrums?

    I think not.

    And as you mentioned, anyway we are never really completely in line with the schools on many issues...

  3. As I believe I have said previously on my blog and in your comments, if you want your kids in an exclusive school, you have to be prepared for them to say that they don't want your child. You can't have it both ways. By choosing that school you are approving of their method of choosing students.

  4. I hear you, but I am not talking about acceptance. Every school, if it is private, can set their own criteria for whom to accept and whom to reject.

    Let's say my kid was accepted to this school. And I am not talking about any form of exclusivity. There is no waiting list to join 5 years in advance. My kid was accepted. Now I am told that I should not send my kid there because my lifestyle does not mesh with the lifestyle promoted by the school.

    I say that should not matter.

  5. maybe I was unclear - the school is not telling me about problems that are supposedly because of mixed messages. Other people are saying you should not send your kid to a school when you yourself do not live by those rules. that is what I am disagreeing with .

    Though I think the schools are wrong when they say that as well, though if they are private they have a right to say whatever they want.

  6. every school has a teacher or rebbe that will say something a parent disagrees with. I just the situation with my son. The trick is to explain the difference without making the rebbe look wrong. I explained that "shivim derachim lifnei hashem" and we have minhagim that others don't.

    The facts are that this phenomenom of directing control over the parents now, is a result of the lack of leadership in the jewish world. look around at the increase of violence and protests in the various neighborhoods. Rafi, yo live there. what's the dif between controlling a parent and controlling a member of a community? Your own building mates paskened for the other people regarding your shabbos elevator. it's happening ll the time. we've lost our direction and our leadership. R' Elyashiv and others now lead by paskening specific questions. No longer do they lead by getting out and addressing such deplorable behavior.

    There are schools here in Chicago that try various rules like no TV in the home. Of course, when a rich family wants to send to that school, that rule is simply forgotten about.

  7. it could be connected...I am just not sure why hey want to exercise such control. does it give them an illusion of a fake world they live in where everybody is a specific way, if they can control their immediate surroundings to look that way?

  8. why is the sky blue? why why why?

    who kows, that's for the psych dr's.

  9. IF a teacher sais for example that it is not proper to go to concerts for example, and a student pipes up "but my father goes" or the like. it is detrimental to the lesson being taught.
    contradictions between home and school arent healthy for a child either.

  10. Oh please. Kids are not that confused by simple conflicts. My kids understand perfectly well when there is a conflict, when they do not they ask and I explain. They know I go to Har Hahabyit and they know their school would never condone it and that they cannot go because of that. They know I wear tcheiles but it is not done in school. All sorts of conflicts and they have no problem differentiating.

    No matter what school you send your kid to, there will be some sort of conflict. If you need to avoid conflict, home schooling is the only way to do so.

    In general I believe we coddle our kids too much. Nobody wants to work at actually being responsible and teaching the kids. We run at the slightest reason to get them evaluated. We declare them ADD or OCD or some other D. We find issues with their behavior and find therapies for them to do. All this instead of just making them adjust and learn and do their work.

    Of course their are legitimate cases and they need to be dealt with properly, but the vast majority I think is just an abdication of responsibility. Looking to avoid too much work, and looking for something to blame things on.

    For example, my four year daughter is in gan. After about a week of gan, the ganenet told my wife that she needs to be evaluated (for add) because she does not like to sit. She likes to get up and play. I think the teacher just does not want to have to actually work and teach the kid discipline. So this girl is not in the mold of all the other girls and it might take a little more effort to teach her to sit and listen when appropriate. Does that mean that after a week of gan she needs to be evaluated? She just did not want to have to put the effort out.

    Giving her the benefit of the doubt, she is probably overworked with too many kids in her gan and maybe she cannot invest the time and energy. So it is easier to say go get her evaluated.

    No matter where you send your kids there will always be conflicts. And I think kids can generally deal with most conflicts.

  11. i have a few blog posts worth of comments on this issue, but just to say a few things as far as i am concerned . . .

    the authority of the school ends when my kids walks off the school grounds. don't dictate what goes on in my house, whether it is what i do or what my kids do. (by dictate, i mean compelling, not necessarily urging)

    there is nothing wrong with sending your kids to a school that is a little different, so long as it does not require you to live a life you don't really want to be living. this is what happens a lot in brooklyn).

    regarding the issue of finding an appropriate school for a child, this is why i think it is a bad idea to move out of town where schooling option are extremely limited. (this is an american concern)

    "Kids are not that confused by simple conflicts."

    but what happens when those conflicts lead to lying. like when the parents coach the kids not to reveal at an interview that there is tv at home. (but the yeshivot are smart. they no longer ask if there a tv at home but rather what is your favorite show)

    "They know I go to Har Hahabyit and they know their school would never condone it and that they cannot go because of that"

    that's wrong. you have a mesorah or a posek or a personal conclusion that it is permitted. the school has no right to deny that.

    you have so many kids (beli ayin hara), why so much anxst over this issue all of a sudden?

  12. I agree that the schools authority ends at the end of the day when my kid leaves the building. However I am willing to accept that they have rules of behavior even "off campus" even if I really think they should not.

    The conflict is much worse if it is within the kid himself. Meaning, if my kid sees me doing something the school does not allow, I can write it off by explaining I grew up differently and believe x, y and z but the school does not accept it. If the school says he cannot go to certain activities in the neighborhood for whatever supid reason they come up with, but then I send him because I disagree, then he is really learning to disobey school authority and the conflict might be problematic (even though I disagree with it).

    Meaning, even though I think they should not have such authority, I am willing to accept the adherence to the rules, with exception, because I think the damage that would be done would be too great by not listening to that authority.

    None of this post is because of something that happened in school. They have said nothing, they have punished nobody and they have rejected nobody. It comes because it was long overdue, it was built up over time, and recently in conversation with a few different people, including educational advisers of sorts, the argument was made that kids should not be going to schools if the parents do not live the lifestyle supported by the school. Because it came up a few times very recently, I felt like getting this off my chest.

  13. Very interesting post. I agree with your basic points.

  14. I just don't seem to understand the chereidi comunity as a whole. "People" or "Rabonim" or neighbors or the like dictate how to think, what to say, what to wear , etc. From having friends and relatives who are chareidi most of this comes form fear of not being accepted , of being put in cherum. or worse not getting a shidduch for your 3 year old child if G-d forbid he is not wearing the right clothes , or worse the mother is caught going to the makolet in a denim skirt and if he is not in the "right" cheider.

    Buy the way what exactly does a "frummer cheider" mean, the length of the rebbe's coat, the size of his hat or his middot, ability to teach so the boys so they actually learn and love Torah when they are through. After all what are you trying to stress to your children in the first place?

    A whole society that is based on all the men learning and having the women going out to work for years while they are expected to give birth repeatedly and care for the kids, the home, and the finances seems a bit tough doesn't it?
    I feel all this discussion of schools not accepting children due to the parents not fitting into the same "mold" brings about sinat chinam ,has nothing at all to do with Halacha and Torah, and I doubt 100 percent that this is what Hashem intended from frum G-d fearing Jews to worry about.
    As a nation we have so many more pressing issues on our agenda that these to me seem frivolous.

    By the way how can someone who is "open minded" just stand by as things become more and more oppressive?

  15. 1. I am 36 and can't sit still.

    2. Shira - my 5 yr old, had on her report card in kindergarten that she "colors outside the lines" and that's a problem. I read it and laughed. SHE'S 5 DUH!!!!!

  16. My 5yo was chastised because he drew red tree trunks and not brown.

  17. Take a look at this article in the Jerusalem Post Like-minded neighbors, it is very relevant to what you are talking about.

  18. anonymous - I do not know what "frummer" means. It is really a perception and a reputation. Two schools that are nearly identical in almost every way, one has a frummer reputation than the other. It is PR, marketing (how the school bills itself) and perception. Even if in fact and action they are both the same, with the same or at least very similar rules and styles.

    what do you mean by "stand by"? what should I or anyone else do? You can say I should not send my kid there, but I might choose to, rightly or wrongly, for a very specific reason and gain. But should I overhaul the system? Who am I to do so, what power do I have, what knowledge of how a school should be run do I have? If it is a private school (and these types generally are), they basically run on the "It's my way or the highway" system. There is no vaad horim, and if there is they do not set policy but only interact with the staff on mundane issues. Anybody who starts to recommend changes is told to get lost. After all, they are following directives from the gedolim.

  19. that is a great article bluke. thanks. And it goes a long way to explaining why it is not so bad to mix with others. while it does not deal with schooling per se, just general living (I can see more problems in the schooling area), it does give an outlook about why it might be ok or not so bad to send your kids to schools that do not necessarily mesh with your lifestyle 100%.

  20. Rafi g.- well I personally could not send my children to an educational system or live in a community where asking questions and having doublts to a particular theory are "assur". Don't we learn from perkay avot that "Lo Ha BaYSHAN Lomade?"
    A few years ago in our community school, we had aprinepal who was verballu abusive to the children, and parents we were able to get him out.
    You are right we are not educators and never took a couse on running a school but you should have a say in protecting your child's interests.
    Baruch Hashem now because of the work of the parents, we have a wonderful princepal and the children are very happy
    What happens if a group of parents aren't happy with what is going on your school.
    As a father and a member of the community, you do and should have a say about where , how , and what your child is learning in school, as well wh as to what your child's teacher says about your lifestyle.
    If your children's educators won't tell you or you kicked out of the school , it's a good thing.

    If you say that frummer is just a matter of perception and PR and not actuall torah obsevance, than you have a problem.

  21. you misunderstood - that is what it would mean for schools. for people it would be torah observance. But these two schools, for example, which happen to be right next to each other, are fairly equal in frumness. The parent body is equally frum and torah observant, yet one has a reputation of being frummer. what it means in regards to a school, I do not know because one is not more torah observant than the other...

  22. Maybe "frummer " may mean more serious, or the boys cover more ground in shinun of the passukim,
    mishnayot, etc or there is more homework, longer hours,or the size of classes .If the Torah observance is the same , then maybe their teaching methods are different and that is where the reputation of "frummer" comes from. Not actually having anything to do about frumkite.

    As parents chosing between these two competeting schools , this is something that you should know. To see how each school is a better match for you and for your specific child. This should make your choice a better one.

    I still hold by what I said, that parents should have the ability to have a say in what is going on their children's school.
    Not be "bullied " into changing their life style due to school pressures .A school should not publicly knock the parent's hashkafot or actions in front of the kids.As we know that is confusing and not healthy for you or for your children.

  23. It's very hard to make a perfect match. In one yishuv they decided to have a "torani" gan but couldn't decide the family requirements. Some people said "if the mothers wear stockings;" others said "if there's no TV." The big problem was that a lot of the stockinged women had TV's and the sans TV didn't have stockings.

  24. that is like what I say that there is no such thing as a perfect fit anyway, so there should be nothing wrong with my choosing a specific school for a specific reason, even if it is not a perfect fit...


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