by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
As I am beginning the sixth year of posting this weekly column, I realize that while everyone enjoys a good story and especially one with a chassidishe feeling, sometimes that is not enough. After all the reason why we relate stories is only to use the story as a medium to help us conduct ourselves in the ways of chassidim.
Very often, I posted stories that I have heard by various farbrengens of mashpiim and chassidim, and many have informed me that they use it in the shul farbrengen or Shabbos table with their family, but lately due to the guidelines of Covid I have refrained from participating in most farbrengens. But I do recall some Sukkos farbrengens of Reb Yisroel Friedman, so I will use one of the points he stressed to present a thought of mine on chinuch.
Our sages teach us that by Sukkos we are to leave our permanent residence and enter a temporary one. Reb Yisroel would explain this to mean is leave your comfort zone your regular schedule and perspective, and enter a new zone or entertain a new perspective.
In fact this is what we do at the beginning of every school year. The teacher informs the class, this year we are going to begin putting letters together, translate the words of chumas, learn Rashi, learn mishnayous, learn Gemorah and so on. The teacher is inspiring the student to reach for something higher, and turn that into your new comfort zone.
So when one is out of yeshiva and has a family to support, he is asked, do you set aside time to learn something every day? His reply is of course, I have this study partner and I learn this on my own. I am good. So Sukkos tells him, go out of your established schedule, enter a new zone, try learning something more and make that your new schedule.
This is very similar or perhaps the same meaning as L’Chatichilla Ariber, the motto of the Rebbe Maharash, whose yahrzeit is today (Thursday), Yud-Gimmel Tishrei.
So with this thought in mind, I am going to address a question in Chinuch that many ponder upon, and give a response that is not the typical. I am writing it as food for thought and discussion.
WHY DOES A GOOD STUDENT, ONE THAT HAS A 90 AVERAGE, FALL OUT THE SYSTEM AT AROUND THE 9th or 10th GRADE?
The prevalent conception is, that a dropout is a student that wasn’t successful throughout the elementary years, and is a student that never picked up kriah properly, so he felt he was a loser for so many years, that is not the complete story. While it is definitely a point that kriah is the fundamental stepping stone to begin with, and boruch Hashem some schools have instituted a teacher assistant in the younger grades, to catch those students and help them before it becomes a problem, at is not the complete story. Too often it is the seemingly successful student that ends up dropping out a year or two later than the student that had struggled all the years.
People tend to say that it is a “makah medina” (a plague that is affecting our students), because of society attitudes and seeing that their friends left the system, so why not. Some want to blame the teacher of that year that he wasn’t understanding of the students and their situations.
However, I want to put forth a thought that might sound absurd, but as a teacher of 7th grade for over thirty years, I can say this is a reality.
Let us say that a student is to be taught a hundred facts of knowledge every year. [Obviously a student is taught more than 100 new words etc., but I am using a hundred for the math equation.] So if we start counting from kindergarten, by the time the student finished 8th grade, over the course of those ten years, the students were taught one thousand points of knowledge.
Therefore in the first few years, he is at the top of the class, but the 2nd grade teacher might mention in passing, that while your child is doing well, some review would be beneficial.
Your reaction is, Is he not doing well and the answer is he is a A- or B+ and everything is good, but he is not reaching his potential. You might dismiss it as, I am not going to be pressuring my child to be the best in the class. As long as he/she is doing very good, that is good for me.
In the 5th grade, you notice that only sometimes your child finds the work difficult. It is easy to dismiss it by saying, he just began learning gemorah and rashi, both without nekudos (vowels), I will buy him one with vowels and it would solve the problem. And indeed it solved it temporary, but you just might of caused his future failure.
Let me explain.
When your son is in 6th or 7th grade, (depending on the yeshiva etc.), and the melamed is teaching gemora, how many skills are expected from the student?
After you give your answer, read on
- The student knows the aleph Beis
- The student knows how to read a word with nekudos
- The student is now expected to read without nekudos
- The student knows the literal translation of each word
- The student understands the language of the gemora (Aramaic)
- The student knows the flow of the gemora, (question, answer a proof etc.)
- The student knows where to put a comma, period, question mark etc.
- The student has to have readers comprehension, understanding that not everything is spelled out, some things are inferred.
I can break these points into sub points but I think you understand that there is a lot going on.
So the student that knows how to read and translate most of the words, he is focusing on just the last two or three points I mentioned.
But now think about the boy that has a hard time reading. He has to focus on which vowels did the melamed place under these letters. What does some of these words mean? Where am I supposed to pause? And in addition to that he also has to try to also comprehend the other points just like the better student.
In other words, by the time he is entering 6th or 7th grade, instead of having mastering all 700 or 800 points of knowledge, he has only mastered 630 or 720, as he learned only 90 per year. And at that time he begin to feel frustration. When he is about to enter the 9th grade, instead of knowing the 1000 points of knowledge that was taught over the ten years, he knows just 900.
In essence he is now a full year behind and he knows it. He feels that it is futile to try, because he won’t succeed anyway.
So when some schools or teachers decide we should not pressure the students with reading Rashi, while their intention is good they are only causing that the problem will be compounded much stronger, later on. Let the Mesivta deal with it.
It is not the Mesivta’s fault that they are being given students that have the maturity to understand that they are not up to par; they are not ready for Gemorah Rashi and Tosofos, plus some commentaries. The Mesivtas should be complimented for willing to try to help these boys, but the focus has to be to give them the proper tools while they are in the elementary.
The AlteR Rebbe writes in Hilchos Talmud Torah, that in truth a parent is obligayed to teach his child the entire Torah. However, the Torah never ends, so how can a person fulfill this obligation. So the Alter Rebbe concludes that if one gives his son the proper skills to learn the entire Torah, he fulfilled his obligation.
The two most basic skills are kriah and vocabulary of the Hebrew/Aramaic words (translation). However, the emphasis should not be on giving the boys a vocabulary list of common words and with that you pat yourself on the back. Rather there must be a certain proficiency test.
At the end of a term (or at least at the end of the year) every student should be required based on the class to say something inside. This can give a clear indication of where the student is holding, and that is why a student that is transferring to a new school is tested by the Principal in this manner.
The Principal immediately assesses the students ability in reading, translating and comprehension. Yes, sometimes I had resistance from students when I demanded that they say 50 lines straight of gemorah. However, after the student did it and saw that he is indeed capable of reaching a higher Verizon, quite often, he was much more comfortable in going forward. He saw that he indeed has the skill and ability.
Your feedback is most welcomed and appreciated.
This post is in l’zechus my sister Chaya Rivkah bas Cheyena, may she and all who are in need have an immediate and complete healing.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He can be reached at email@example.com