Updated: Dec 17, 2018
An important message regarding general studies education in our yeshivos
It seems the one topic everyone is interested in discussing today is the new curricular demands put out by the NYS Department of Education. As of this writing, over 30,000 people have signed on to a petition lambasting the commissioner of education of the state of NY for attempting to impose what seems like a lethal dosage of regulations upon our chinuch system here in New York. Many are shocked to see the scope of the new regulations and their outrageous demands that our batai Chinuch teach general studies topics for the majority of the day, something that will effectively erase the character of our batai chinuch as we know it. No matter which group or school you belong too, from modern to Chassidic, from boys to girls, these regulations, if imposed as is, spell a death sentence to our Torah schools. Many parents, such as myself, are left wondering what will be with the schools we send our children to, and how they will fare if these new regulations cannot somehow be neutralized?
Others, have pondered what our response should be to these untenable demands? Should we fight the state the way the Catholics are doing, by essentially boycotting the inspections, or should we try and negotiate some middle ground? Should we sign petitions or, or play hardball and start a lawsuit against the state on religious grounds that they are interfering with our faith?
Yet, while some are pondering these questions, other have a different set of thoughts on the matter. Some ponder, how is it that we got to this point? How could it be that such a gezaira, with such far reaching effects, came to be? For many, the response includes finger-pointing at certain segments of our Torah world for bringing this on, while others lay the blame at how we have responded so far to this crisis.
However, while the conversation around this topic usually revolves around one of these angles, what isn’t heard very much is what may have precipitated this gezaira from on high. Or what is needed to remove the geziara rah that we all are facing. Yes, while the evolution of this gezaira certainly had a this-worldly component of cause and effect, we, as frum Jews, all believe that nothing happens to a yachid or the klal without it first being decreed from on high. What then could of have spurred this impending closure of our entire system of Chinuch in NYS? Are there areas in our system of chinuch that should be examined which may have triggered such a terrible gezaira from on high?
While I don’t claim knowledge of matters on high, and I can only theorize what the Ribono Shel Olam wants from us, I think it behooves us to focus our attention on some of the problems found in our Torah schools during general studies specifically. A while back, when NYC tried to limit an aspect of the mitzvah of milah, my great and saintly rebbe, Rav Chaim Yisroel Belsky zatza”l told us: when a gezaira comes down from the government which attacks a specific aspect of a mitzvah, the reason why this happens is because we are somewhat lax in preforming that aspect of the mitzvah. Thus, said Rav Belsky, because we are lax in it, the Ribono shel olam says he will make a gezaira against it to awaken us so that we look into that inyan and fix it. If we want to get rid of the geziara said Rav Belsky, besides for the necessary hishtadlus that needs to be done, it behooves all of us to look into ourselves and to find how we could strengthen this inyan.
If we are to follow in the ways of our rabbeim, I believe it is incumbent upon all of us, to not only do what we can to avert this terrible gezaira on a hishtadlus level, but also examine what needs to be fixed internally regarding this inyan. While the following is not meant in any way as an indictment Chas Vishalom of our wonderful mosdos hachniuch of which I am a proud member of, I believe if we all are honest, we can all attest to the many problems endemic to certain aspects of general studies education, especially during the crucial years between 5-8 grades (where the greatest state challenge lies). And while much progress has been made in some of these areas in recent times, on the whole, there remains much to be improved.
For example, in many of our wonderful and holy mosdos, a lack of derech eretz has been exhibited in many yeshivos during general studies towards the teachers, something clearly unacceptable for Torah true people. On the other side, due to a lack of qualified bnai Torah who are willing to enter the ever-important field of chinuch called general studies education, many Yeshivos are forced to hire inappropriate teachers fitting for a yeshiva setting. This in turn exposes our children on a constant basis to anti-Torah ideas which inflicts great spiritual damage on our impressionable students and in many cases allows an opening for them to rationalize that it is ok to challenge these teachers with inappropriate behaviors.
Moreover, many yeshivos, (although this is beginning to change) still lack appropriate textbooks for their students in many areas. While in the field of literature, many valiant and successful pushes have been made to provide a kosher literature for our students, in the fields of social studies and science, the problems still largely remain. Despite repeated calls by our Gedolim decrying this unfortunate reality, the fact is that our children are still largely being exposed to problematic content in the government sponsored textbooks, and little has been done to stop their inflow.
In addition, great amounts of questionable topics in the curriculum are being taught without adequate Torah guidance beforehand. If we wouldn’t allow our children to eat something that is questionable without thoroughly checking into it beforehand to see if it meets our standards, shouldn’t we do the same with what enters our children’s minds?
Finally, there is terrific opportunity to inculcate Torah values that is squandered when science and history are taught from secular perspectives. By not teaching these topics from Torah perspectives, we essentially omit the role of Hashem in these extraordinarily important topics. This then feeds a certain misperception that there exists a world, namely of science, technology, current events and history that are somehow divorced from Hashem’s active guidance.
While, it may strike some that this kind of focus is a distraction of what really needs to be done on the ground during these challenging times, isn’t that what Hashem asks from us, especially during such challenging times? When we cry out to Hashem to save us from this gezaira, aren’t these topics that should be thought about? May Hashem see our sincere desire to fix these problems and midah kineged midah, may we be zoche to a salvation from this latest geziara as well.