Jan 1, 2008

dealing with the problem of dropouts in the Haredi school system

The situation of the noshrim has been in the media a lot recently. Noshrim is the term used for dropouts from the Haredi school system. These are teens at risk or if they are not yet in that category, they are approaching it.



The kids drop out of school, they hang out in "town", they hang out in bars, they get with a bad crowd, some end up doing drugs or whatnot and the like. It is a big problem with the numbers of such kids increasing all the time.



The noshrim phenomenon is not limited to kids from broken or dysfunctional families. The whole range of families is affected by it. The very best are on equal footing with the most broken.



A delegation of Haredi askanim, including people who support programs designed for these kids, Members of Knesset from the haredi parties, Haredi journalists, Haredi media and others recently went out on a Saturday night in search of the noshrim to see firsthand how serious the problem actually is.



They spoke with the kids, they held their meetings and have committed to working to find solutions to the problem.



Poeple have always blamed the families of these kids as the source of the problem. The parents do not pay enough attention to the kids. Parents are too busy. etc. The kid feels unloved and goes off to find people who give him/her the attention he desires and finds that love and attention on the streets.



R' Moshe Gafni, MK from the UTJ party, was in the delegation. Before he went out, he discussed it with Rav Shteinman. Rav Shteinman told him to bring his thoughts and ideas to him afterwards.



After they came back from their meetings and discussions about it, R' Gafni went back to Rav Shteinman to tell him what he saw and what he thought about it. He said the source of the problem seems to be the parents who do not give the kids enough attention but choose to rely on the teachers and rebbeim assuming they will give the kids the appropriate amount of attention.

Rav Shteinman, supposedly, replied that the parents are guilty to a certain extent of not giving the proper amount of attention. But, Rav Shteinman said, oftentimes the students have already begun to fail before the parents neglect them. Only later when they are looking for reasons and excuses they might blame the parents. The lack of attention by the parents is often a result of the child's slip into troubled waters. We have to find the source of the problem, and often the parent's not providing enough attention is not the source but a symptom.

Rav Shteinman continued by saying that a large part of the problem is sourced in the situation we have with our school system. The schools all set themselves up to be for the best students of this or that group. One takes the best children only of avreichim, while the other takes the best of bnei torah and the next takes the best of this or that. Everybody is declaring their schools to be only for the best.

The result of this, Rav Shteinman says, is that students who are not necessarily the best are stuck in systems not appropriate for them. When they fail to perform up to the standards and expectations of the school/system, they being to slide down the slope and end up as noshrim.

The schools I went to as a kid were pretty much happy to take in and educate anybody and everybody who was willing to go there. Sure there were a number of schools, each catering to a different worldview/level of religiosity (is that even a real word?) and general outlook, but they all had a range with overlap. One school was not for great kids, the other for mediocre kids, and the third for weak kids. Each school had the full range of kids.

In my neighborhood here in Bet Shemesh, there are something like 15 cheiders, each one declaring itself to be for excellent students. And each one is so full, if they smell even a hint of mediocrity on an applicant, or even a sniff of something not standard, they will not accept the child. There is no range. When you get your kid in, if he does not live up to the very high expectations of the school, he will be deemed a failure. Some of the better, more conscientious schools, will not give up on a child so easily just because he presents a little more of a challenge, but many will.

There is no range of students in the schools in this system. Sink or swim as they call it, and Rav Shteinman hit a very important nail on the head. But nobody wants to say they deal in mediocrity. A school will never want to say they educate children who are mediocre, and parents will not want to send their kids to a school that has the reputation of being mediocre. Everybody wants the best and everybody thinks their kids are the best.

The result will be a problem with kids failing in the system. The only solution is not to open schools for mediocre or weak children, but to open schools that cater to everybody and to stop with the system of everybody opening up his own school that caters to only the best. Just open big schools that are for everybody. The best will rise to the top, the mediocre will find their place within the system and succeed at their level, and the weak will get the help they need to succeed.

11 comments:

  1. and then we can go floating on clouds and fly around with the pigs while sliding down rainbows...

    Are there unicorns in your world too, or are you just still dreaming?

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  2. will it happen? of course not. in my neighborhood there are about 15 or so cheiders that all claim to cater to the best. A number of them are under the guidance of Rav Shteinman himself. Does that mean he is perpetuating the problem he himself claimed is the source of the noshrim problem?
    possibly.
    I do not foresee any school changing its system because of this.
    However, the issue has been in the (haredi) press over the past few weeks, and Rav Shteinman made this statement. I felt I needed/wanted to make people aware of it (by posting it here) and expanding on it a bit.

    Will it happen? I doubt it. It is unfortunate because it means that they are just making noise about the noshrim problem and not looking to actually solve it. Even Rav Shteinman told them they are barking up the wrong tree and the schools and the school system are mostly to blame.

    So as long as the system of schooling is not changed, they are all just out there looking for good press as if they are interested in these kids and troubled youth when really they have no interest.

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  3. Watch it, Rafi. Just expressing such a view will get your kids kicked out of their schools (although since it's on the internet, the schools' principals will have a hard time reading it), and your family may even get kicked out of the building.

    (Of course, if it comes out that I'm reading a blog written by someone whose kids are in the chareidi school system, I may get kicked out of my neighborhood!)

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  4. why? I did not say anything controversial.. I just took Rav Shteinman's statement one step further.

    BTW, I used Chicago schools as an example, but it is relevant to almost all of the US Jewish schools. Maybe in NY things are different, but I think even there it is mostly the same.

    Also, I should have explained a little more. The schools all carry the full range of weak, mediocre and strong students. they also carry a range of hashkafos. Sure there are different schools for different hashkafos, but within each there is a wide range with a lot of overlap. For example, School 1 will have kids of types A-C, School 2 will have types B-D and School 3 will have types C-E...

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  5. It's not so simple for the weak ones to get the help that they need.

    There are two kids in my building who are not in school at all, nor working.

    Anyway, how can the parents improve their relationship with their kids? They are born one after the other, and they spend almost all of their waking hours in school. Some schools learn 364 days a year. In Yated someone wrote about after-school programs where the kids learn until 8PM, so they won't "waste their time." This is in elementary school. And the parents are so overwhelmed by they are happy to get the kids out of the house as frequently as possible. So it seems kind of unfair to blame the parents, when the system is stacked against them.

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  6. moi - that is why (probably) Rav Shteinman said the parents lack of attention is already after the fact. They are failing long before the parents stop giving them attention

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  7. Funny you mention this now. My wife told me she was visiting our rav yesterday in Har Nof (Litvish) and their 16 yr/old son wants to leave Yeshiva and work. He claims he can't stand or handle the pressure the school puts on him. Obviously, my rav is very disturbed by this. Yet my wife was telling our rav that if he puts too much pressure on his kid, he will end up being a dropout himself.

    I suggested maybe a compromise where he learns 1/2 a day and learns a trade or works the other 1/2 but I don't know of a school that has that in mind for this kid who doesn't seem to be part of the elite protexia.

    Tachlis, we really don't have a system that supports this in the Haredi system, so I guess we are stuck trying to find creative workarounds since the ideals you present aren't going to be in place anytime soon. We need some serious brainstorming...

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  8. Many of the drop-out kids are either MLD's (mild learning disabilities like dyslexia) or very gifted. Round pegs in square holes. The schools are narrow and the parents overwhelmed, and even when there are alternative schools, parents frequently don't want "stigma."
    The best thing I ever did with my sons, and they agree, was to send them to Ahavat Chaim Yeshiva in Kochav Hashachar. It's not chareidi, but we aren't either.

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  9. Rafi, the problem is deeper than that. The parents are programmed to believe that all of the children's chinuch is from the yeshivos, and that they should send them there as young as possible and for as many hours as possible. THen they complain that the parents aren't paying attention to them when they are teen dropouts? They want the parents to step in now, when they have told them all along that they don't have anything to teach them?

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  10. If only... they would think of the children and not about their reputations. All children are different and deserve to learn that you can be different and be accepted.

    Speaking as the parent of a dyslexic child who lives in Oz, Rafi is correct about the fact that the schools are just interested in their reputations.

    I have learned a valuable lesson that being "the best" isn't necessarily the best. I would rather my child learn how to be a good and happy person than elitist separatist.

    I think I'm going to post on this. It really hits a sore spot with me.

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  11. Oz? Where is that? :-) .. looking forward to your post..

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