Thoughts on Judaism

Thursday, July 14, 2005

New Paradigm of Chinuch

The subject is making its way around the "big blogs", so I thought I would weigh in.
Problems:

1) It seems that chinuch is ridiculously expensive, especially for a large family. A family with 6 children, paying just $5000 per child, would have to pony up $30,000 each and every year. That's a brand new sportscar, each and every year. This is after tax, so the family would have to earn 45,000 - 60,000 to pay that. Then of course there are the sundry fees per child, amounting to another 2-3 K. And the family has to live. Then there is boarding costs, school supplies, enough already!

2) Chinuch is limited by hashkafa. Even in fairly large cities, there is this or that hashkafa, but most families are not in total agreement with the hashkafa the children get.

3) The mechanchim in town are the ones you get.

4) G-d forbid your child has an actual need for something more than a cookie cutter education. Too smart (as posted on mentalblog), ADHD, slow or whatever. Difference is bad.

In the past, we had little choice. School admins fielded a team of mechanchim and set a tone of hashkafa that most widely acceptable in the community. The golden rule was then applied to make that hashkafa the most profitable. (Note: Rebel's dictionary, Golden Rule - He that has the gold makes the rule.) The school struggles, the families struggle, and everybody is happy with their nisayon mashalim, mesiras nefesh for chinuch or whatever rationalizations they have until people realize that they cannot take a 4th mortgage on their home for this year.

The New Paradigm

Chinuch can be divided into these parts:
1) Delivery - the mechanich delivers the material to the talmid
2) Socialization - the talmid interacts with other talmidim
3) Discipline - the talmid gets attitude properly adjusted
4) Hashpa'a - the talmid gets a warm mushy feeling for his Rebbi
5) Hashkafa - the talmid learns what his parents want him to learn

The solutions could be framed as follows:

1) Online delivery - Mechanchim develop courses that are delivered by computer. You do not need to have the Internet, if you do not want it! Mechanchim are entrepeneurs that sell their courses to school curriculum guides. These guides help parents build a set of courses that fit with their aims and the talmid's level. A talmid in Los Angeles could learn from the best gemora teacher in Buenos Aires. Chumash is important to you? How about a Rashi expert in Leeds.
2) Socialization - Courses are delivered through home school networks, which also provide socializations networks. Alternately, schools can be held in cubicle style buildings, where students congregate. The school is run by proctors and tutors, not teachers. Teh schedules can be synchronized to maximize socialization opportunities and communal activities like davening, lunch and recess.
3) Discipline - Each course is selfpaced, and the adults in the learning center are proctors. Hence, one disruptive student cannot hold up everyone, and a teacher does not have to stop teaching to deal with a discipline problem. Many teachers report that this occupies much of their day.
4) Hashpa'a - Regular contact, personal visits, email, telephone, even video conference, can be arranged with teachers that deliver the material and with local Jewish community leaders. The circle widens for the talmidim, even in smaller towns.
5) Hashkafa - No need for a one size fits all hashkafa. You want all day limudei kodesh in Yiddish? You got it! Science and math concentration? No problem. Chumash focused on the drasha of Reb Chaim Yankel Whomever, with no references to Darwin or chalav Akum? You get my drift.

Cost

Given the wider competition, the more efficient use of professionals (teachers for teaching and hashpa'a, discpliners for disciplining), the more flexible environment, the cost would drop to a fraction of what is acceptable now. No need to board, keep the kids home. Imagine, a 14 year old living at home! Larger student bases mean less cost per student, radically less. One teacher can handle gaggles more students and be a better mashpia when he does not have to be en guarde constantly for spitballs.

This is the concept in short. It is working all over the world as more and more schools go to this model. If we can make a form of this work in the Jewish community, we could solve one of the great trials of our times. Will the status quo hawks squawk? You bet they will. They will fight tooth and nail and assur, ban, cherem and whatever else they have in their arsenal. But this idea takes dozens of people working together to fulfill a goal. And that begins with people who share a vision and are fed up enough to make radical changes.

18 Comments:

  • For once I actually agree with you and have been saying this for years. Will it happen I doubt it.

    By Anonymous Boruch, at 11:26 PM  

  • It won't happen unless we are fed up enough, and we convince the current incumbent schoolmasters etc. that they get in on the ground floor with minimal effort.

    The geeks will have to drive this one.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 5:52 AM  

  • I think you are in need of a pseudo-spiritual-top-up religion. All faiths are welcome to join Confusionismand you don't have to pay a cent or give up your faith. You'd be more than welcome.

    By Blogger PopeBenedictXVI, at 6:48 AM  

  • Sing along with me:
    When you wish upon a star...

    By Blogger Mis-nagid, at 10:26 AM  

  • I like your proposal. I remember years ago reading about 'the school of the future', with virtual classrooms etc. Hasn't happened yet, unless you're an eskimo.

    By Blogger Godol Hador, at 3:53 PM  

  • Important discussion. Being the rationalist that I am (although I was having much more fun as a heretic...), I don't foresee any major changes in Jewish education until the hazy expectations of our Jewish communities clear up.

    We've got to first ask ourselves: what is it that we want from our schools? The answer, at least to me, is obvious. We do not need to further compartmentalize our existence. We need to strengthen our communities and ensure that we realize the necessity of quality education. Until we are capable of doing that, we're just fragmenting ourselves further by making more teensy niche chinuch solutions. Case in point: a community I'm intimately familiar with that has three mainstream Orthodox shuls and two Haredi communities. There are two schools run by and for the Haredi communities. And the mainstream Orthodox? They send their kids to the Haredi schools or to the local Solomon Shechter (which has a larger enrollment than the other two schools combined). Oh, so very sad. Others (me included) send their kids to a school 45 minutes away by car that is fabulous in many respects, but we're outsiders in someone else's community; high marks for education, barely passing grades for socialization. Where is this community's resolve to create an educational system that reflects its own beliefs? Everyone just shrugs their shoulders and mumbles about a lack of interest... Pathetic.

    And I can't even tell you about high school without my blood pressure going up twenty points. There's one community high school in the state, great school with low enrollment & limited curriculum, over an hour's drive each way, $12K per year. Our family's verdict: no way. Nearby prep schools are in the same price range, and lots of our community's best and brightest opt for those.

    Fact is, we've made our bed & we're not too happy about lying in it. I think it's delusional to think we're going to fix it without major overhauls of the factors that created the situation.

    By Anonymous Conserva-Girl, at 12:34 PM  

  • CG:
    You say, "we've made our bed ..." In what way? Communal neglect? And what did you or are you doing in the end?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 2:04 PM  

  • "Being the rationalist that I am (although I was having much more fun as a heretic...)"

    Sorry to be a killjoy.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 2:21 PM  

  • Yikes. Can't believe I let that slip...

    As I see it, the problem is that Modern Orthodoxy has set standards that are unlivable for a large percentage of those who belong to Orthodox communities. If you look at demographics, or even at anecdotal evidence- which reflects the on-the-ground reality, you'll see that a vast number of those who consider themselves Orthodox are probably more like ideal practicing Conservatives. Yet, they take offense at any percived affront to Haredi dominance- the phenomenon of looking to a level of observance above the one you practice. How else do you explain the roll-over-and-play-dead reaction of people who should know better to, most recently, the Slifkin book ban?

    These people don't understand that their complacency is what's driving Modern Orthodoxy's move to the right. Yet they complain about the lack of modern Orthodox (which is often mistaken as liberal Orthodox) schools in their community. And when pressed on why they don't fix the situation themselves, they murmur about not rocking the boat. But I see the problem as being that they are afraid to truthfully define themselves for fear of breaking away from the Orthodox establishment- which they don't even identify with, in the first place. But then again, the problem exists mainly because we give carte blanche to right-wingers to define Orthodoxy... Which means that many of these kids go to schools where science is taught according to whatever Haredi ideal drives the bus.

    And in the end, we have many families opting out of Jewish education, less and less money (both as tuition and philanthropic/ Federation bucks) flowing to the schools, and a further decline in Jewish identity, which is what all those Jewish organizations seem to be yelling about all the time.

    Me, I belong to a Conserv. shul, have sent my kids to Orthodox schools, and believe in evolution no matter what the Gedolim may decide to say. They're well thought out choices, might change in the future. I'm holding out hope but not holding my breath.

    By Anonymous Conserva-Girl, at 2:58 PM  

  • Conservagirl, You need a blog, pronto!

    By Blogger Mis-nagid, at 3:43 PM  

  • M-N, I'll just be satisfied with the honor of your having said that ;-)
    Loved yours.

    By Anonymous Conserva-Girl, at 4:25 PM  

  • Not only is it a problem Hashkafically having just day school in a community (unless that school's Hashkafah is the same as yours), but the opposite is also a problem. It is a big waste of resources in having a variety of day schools in one community. Why can't the boards (& parents) of these schools join forces and have one day school but with different "tracks" for Jewish studies? This would reduce the cost of tuition and promote Ahavas Yisrael.

    By Anonymous R' Joel, at 2:21 PM  

  • R Joel

    Having different tracks would imply that there are hashkafas other than your own that are valid. Most day schools view the school as a private enterprise, not a community service venture (Day schools: no we aren't, we are here to serve, blah blah blah!! Rebel: yeah, yeah, whatever). Take it or leave it.

    You see, you are viewing "Judaism" as one religion with many paths. As you go further to the right, it ceases to be so. That's why there are 100 different schitas, 1000s of ineffective batei din, and Charedi pride is emphasized by who you will not eat with, marry, read, or associate with.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 4:33 PM  

  • Valid points, R' Joel & rebeljew. But I don't get the impression that the Haredim are having the same educational dilemmas as the Jews in the middle of the spectrum- you know, the ones who'll eat with... me, for example.

    R' Joel is correct that too many schools are as much a detriment to the community as too few. And while it is a great idea to found community schools with multiple tracks, have you stopped to think about how many kitchens you'd need in the cafeteria?

    My suggestion is that we leave the Haredim, the reform schools (that sounds kind of funny, doesn't it?) and the Shechters alone at this point. We need to concentrate on schools for the under-served kids. If I can't find a decent school for 25 miles while there's a supposedly vibrant Orthodox community in my hometown, that's a problem. If there's no viable Jewish high school in the state, that's another problem. If I decide to send my kids to the 25-miles-away school and the state's only teeny high school and it ends up taking $32K a year from a very strained recession-era budget, that's yet another problem.

    To go back to my original rant for a moment, we have to look at these problems holistically. For the life of me, I can't understand why there's so little interest in Jewish education among people who identify with M-Orthodoxy. Where are all their kids going to school?- 'cause there's got to be more than 50 M-O high school-aged kids in my state.

    We need to rationally size up what communities need and find a way to get it to them. We need to devote enough money to make these enterprises affordable to anyone who wants to participate. We seem to prefer to spend a ton of money on birthright, interfaith family outreach and all kinds of measures to rebuild what's broken, but we refuse to acknowledge that the foundation's cracking right now, and we have the means to repair it today.

    Any takers?

    By Anonymous Consrva-Girl, at 6:34 PM  

  • IMO we must go to a model like the one I have described in the post. Independent schools, funded locally will never be affordable for teh average middle income family.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:34 PM  

  • RJ, here's the problem. Even assuming that all goes well with virtual schooling, I really want my kids to enjoy learning and be part of a dynamic classroom- with input from the teacher, the other kids, etc. I want discussion, unique projects, higher level thinking activities and group presentations. Your model doesn't allow for that, as I see it. Don't feel too bad, though, my kids' school which wants me to continue paying over a grand a month, that school doesn't allow for my dynamic classroom either. It's just worksheets and memorizing psukim.

    By Anonymous onionsoupmix, at 12:03 PM  

  • OSM

    You are fortunate to have a school that you like, at least people wise. Many schools are run with the same nepotism, incomptence etc. as the mosdos and with money being the controling factor. There are families here that pay 25K 30K you name it K, whats the diff at that point?

    The social interaction part can be separated from school. It does not have to be part of "School". As you say, most schools are workbooks and 20 year old girls doing "something" until they get married.

    Your concern is really the only valid objection. I just think that it is being done poorly now anyway.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:59 AM  

  • Please, Please keep up bringing these issues to light!! There must be an intelligent solution. I like what you propose about "tracking" but sadly, agree that the "frummer" would never agree. They seek to isolate their students, not give them choices. If I had known all this, I never would have become observant... sigh.. another sad disallusionment with the frum world, and observant life in general...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:36 PM  

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