Thursday, June 30, 2005

Do You Value A Secular Education

Ok folks, I am just banging out the posts and I have another question for you. Do you value a secular education? How important is that to you?

In my interactions with people who went to a Jewish parochial school I have noticed a bit of a swing when it comes to their ability to write in English.

In very specific terms I have noticed that those who went to for lack of a better term, a Frummer school tend to have some more issues with spelling and grammar in English than those who did not.

Now I do not have any hard/fast numbers so these observations could be statistically meaningless, but since we have the blog and the time I thought that I would ask.


Anonymous said...

I have a sturdy grasp of grammar. (But if she screams, I have to let her go.)

Anshel's Wife said...

My husband did not want to send our kids to the orthodox cheder. He was concerned about their secular education. But when it became clear to us and the community that we were really black hatters, well, we didn't have much choice, but to send our kids to their school. Okay, we had a choice, of course, but where you send your kids to school will affect them their whole lives. There is a misnagdish school on the other side of town with an excellent secular program, but I guess it was hashgacha protis that it would have been a tremendous shlep to get the kids there and back.

I work with my son on secular subjects at home. He has, thank G-d, had pretty good "English" teachers up until now. But I work with him on doing extra spelling words and constantly correct grammar. I let him read just about anything, which might or might not be such a good thing. But reading will improve his vocabulary. He loves to play geographic, so he knows about other places. We try to tell him a little bit about the places he calls out.

My personal feeling is that my kids will have to go out there into the world (being Lubavitchers). Let them be prepared.

I spoke to a rabbi friend once and told him that I thought that all these rabbis getting churned out should have some culture and knowledge of outside things. He said that people come to him because he is a rabbi and want to talk to him about "rabbi stuff" rather than about the opera or a bestseller. He does have a point, but I still think that he would be even more effective if he knew something about basketball, or carpentry, or classic literature. Most of my ffb friends, though, disagree and this is a very tough issue for me.

Thanks for bringing this up. I'm looking forward to seeing what others have to say.

Jack Steiner said...

I am obviously biased, but it seems to me that BTs have in some ways a better grasp upon the world.

They have experiences on both sides of the fence and I think that makes a difference.

Not that you cannot do that and be FFB, but it seems to be a little bit more limited.

Anshel's Wife said...

I know ffb's who either grew up in Europe or spent time going to school there and they tend to be a bit more worldly. Especially the ones growing up there.

Critically Observant Jew said...

I'm BT (or better TshN: Tinok sheNishba), and now I learn by phone with a guy whose parents are BT, and he's a full-time kollel guy. I was surprised how limited his worldly knowledge is. In science, American society, even ... geography of Eretz Yisrael (we're learning the book of Joshua, and the guy didn't know where the Mediterranean sea was in relation to Eretz Yisrael!)!

Ger Tzadik said...

As you might guess from my handle, I grew up with a secular education. I've found that it has served me very well in life in general. My parents made sure that their role was to pass on and enforce their values, and did a fine job of it I think. (Part of the reason I find Judiasm so appealing.)

I have to say I often worry about this question though. I don't think I could handle raising children who are getting an obviously sub-par secular education, any more than an obviously sub-par religious one. I don't want to have to choose between the two.

That probably means I'll have to go the same route as Yetta though, and take some of it into my own hands. The other serious option is simply not accepting compromises, finding a community and school that can satisfy both, and move there.

The wonderful woman in my life went to Flatbush and is fairly brilliant in all areas of life, so I know they exist.

Lyss said...

Yetta- I'm not sure I undestand what was wrong with the other school. Don't you iwsh that you didn't have to spend all that time teaching your son extra grammer and mroe time playing with him? (Though it is very good of you to do so). It is good that you have made peace with your choice. Though I do woder if it is worth the $ if you have to supplement his education.

Ger is right, you shouldn't have to choose between the 2.

I do feel that my HS did a good job of both secualr and religiosu education. We even learned abot evolution in biology. However, girls learning gemorah might be a bit too 'permissive' to some people (as I've been told).

Anonymous said...

I'm FFB (now "lapsed"), but I think I got a good education. I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school in the U.S. and to a right-wing religious school (Choreb) in Jerusalem. Both had strong math and science programs. A bit weak on the literature, but I had such a love of reading that I filled that in on my own. Both schools had good history classes. Later, I went to a secular high school and college, but I didn't notice a huge change in the quality of secular studies. Ironically, I spent a lot of time at my secular college taking classes in the Jewish Studies program.

Anshel's Wife said...

There are basically two reasons we don't send out kids to the other orthodox school (the one with the better secular program). One is convenience. And I know that we shouldn't compromise our kids' education just because it's not convenient to drive across town. But the other reason is that the school they go to now is Lubavitch and since we have decided that that is the club we want to belong to, our children need to know how to be Lubavitcher mentschen. (something my husband and I do not know how to teach them to be. We'll do what we can with the mentch part)

We decided a long time ago, long before we became frum that we would have to supplement our children's education in some way. Either by sending them to religious school and doing some extra secular stuff at home or send them to a nonreligious school and supplement their religious education.

Bkbuds said...

I went to public schools and my father still had to teach me spelling and grammar. I don't see that secular is automatically superior to religious or vice-versa.

The hubby and I are weighing whether to move to a more expensive community with a huge Jewish population and superior public schools, or stay in our largely Evangelical Christian area and send our kids to a Reform day school. Either way, it'll mean enormous financial sacrifices.

The jury's still out, but we have a few years to decide. I'm following discussions like this (it's raging over at Jewlicious too) with great interest. Thanks.

Jack Steiner said...

I don't see that secular is automatically superior to religious or vice-versa.

I don't think that it has to be automatic that one is better than the other, but I think that there some real issues here.

I know that for my children there is no question that I want them to be educated in both secular and Judaic knowledge.

But when push comes to shove I have to know that if they go to day school that they are receiving a quality secular education.

We are Jews, but we live in the world.

PsychoToddler said...

I went to Modern Orthodox Yeshivas (oxymoron?) and I think I got a pretty good secular education and talk and rite good.

In HS in particular (YUHS) I was with a group of brilliant kids who all did honors work, took a bunch of AP classes (including calculus) and graduated a year early.

In more chareidi schools, there may be less of an emphasis on secular excellence.

Yetta, my experience with my kids is similar to yours. There is a MO school across town with a pretty good English Program and more Zionism that I would personally have preferred, but our community is based around the school down the block from us, and to send our kids elsewhere would have ensured ostracization (as opposed to what we have now? I wonder if it made a difference).

Anyway, there is an attitude at the school that the secular studies are less important, and the secular teachers can feel it, and the students can feel it to, and act accordingly.

Also, we have less resources than the more affluent schools have, and so we don't have a music program, a good lab, the newest textbooks, and we can't pay competitive salaries. And for many years, my kids were in basement rooms without windows (we have a new building now).

So you have to make choices.

I don't want to scare you from sending your kids to a jewish school, Jack. I still firmly believe it's the only way to ensure Jewish perpetuity. But you should find one that you can be comfortable with. Talk to Dr. Bean.

Bkbuds said...

Of course I agree, Jack.

I just don't think Yetta needs to be put on the defensive for having to tutor her kids outside of school. There will be pluses and minuses to either choice, but in my experience a secular education didn't go far enough either.

Yetta is right to second-guess teachers and take matters into her own hands. This strikes me as good parenting, and I just hated to see her having to rationalize her choices.

I would simply caution any parent into avoiding easy stereotypes about secular vs. religious education. Look at all the elementary schools that are little more than a checkerboard of leaky portables without so much as a single toilet between them.

Or school districts that have cut all art, music and phys. ed. to save money, or which haven't updated their science labs since the Eisenhower administration.

So a day school may not offer great English or science classes. That's a shame, but the same is often true in many secular schools. To suggest I don't live "in the world" is patronizing and misses my point entirely.

Jack Steiner said...

To suggest I don't live "in the world" is patronizing and misses my point entirely.


I wasn't suggesting that at all, but I apologize if that is how it came across. If I was going to poke at you at all, I would make fun of the Inland Empire with one of those Guitar Center commercials I always here.

We really are in agreement about this, I don't think that it is fair to paint with a broad brush and that is why I was careful in the post not to say that I thought that my experiences were appplicable to everyone.

Before I got married I worked for a while at the boys school for one of the Orthodox high schools here in Los Angeles so I saw things internally.

I also went to camp and college with many of the graduates so I know a little bit about what that education did for them. Most of them are fairly successful.

When I say that we are Jews and we live in the world it really comes from a place in my heart that thinks that isolationist positions do not serve us.

I think that it is important for us to really interact with those around us. We can do that without being afraid that we are going to be assimilated into the collective.

We can do that because it only helps to continue to build understanding and that is a foundation that in my opinion is needed to help prevent potential problems.

And to be clear, I think that it is important for parents to work with their children outside of school, regardless of how good it is.

I never fault anyone for doing that.

I don't want to scare you from sending your kids to a jewish school, Jack. I still firmly believe it's the only way to ensure Jewish perpetuity. But you should find one that you can be comfortable with. Talk to Dr. Bean.

I am not scared off by any of this. If there is any real problem it is strictly financial because I have to be able to afford to send all of my children to school. I can't pick just one.

Air Time said...


All you have to do is spend ten seconds on some of the chasidishe blogs to get a feel for their secular education.

I had a yeshiva education, and came out of it with an ability to write, but I have seen plenty of other students who have no sense of spelling or grammar.

Yeshiva education certainly doesn't promote secular education as having any significant worth. Some students do well anyways.

At the end of the day, I guess it depends on the school and the students.

Tamara said...

This is an interest topic. As a new English teacher I do find it particularly interesting. I'll be honest, I've noticed grammar struggles amongst my (online) friends who did not go to a secular or public school. I think it's sad to think that these things are not a strongly valued.

Another interesting aspect of this has to do with what someone commented about regarding the pay at private schools. It's a fact that private schools, in general, pay far less. I wonder if the quality of teachers they get is reflective of the lower pay and miniscule resources? For those of you who went to a private school, do you feel you had adequate or phenomenal teachers in your secular classes? Oh, and by the way, why not teach religious stories, text, literature, etc. in the English classes. This way it's not necessarily always secular topics, but the grammar and writing can still be strongly focused on.

orthomom said...

I went to a somewhat MO day and high school, and I think I came out with a decent grasp of the English Language. My kids, on the other hand attend a much more UO school than I did. But even though the secular portion of their education is not quite as involved as the one I received,I can't say that their grasp of the English language is any worse than the kids I encounter who are receiving solely a secular education (whether private or public). The schools that service the Chassidic community, though, are of an entirely different flavor. I don't see much value put on grammar, spelling or diction from those graduates. But hey, they speak a heck of a lot more Yiddish than I do...

Jack Steiner said...

I am biased here in my POV because I think that there is a real problem with not interacting with society at large. And part of that interaction requires good communication and at least a cursory understanding of where we live.

Just Shu said...

When I started to answer this question I started to say that it depends on the child, and what you want for him/her in the future. If the kollel or "chinuch" educatin is the childs fture then secular education is ight. As I wrote it, I disagreed with myself. When I was student in yeshiva I hated the rabbi's that had no idea of what was going on inthe world, I felt I couldnt relate to them at all, and never had any connection with them. The few Rabbi's I connected with had a secular view and understanding. If you look back in history some of teh biggest Jewish scholars were also very involved in teh secular world, they were dr's, mathmaticians and advisors to kings and rulers. So I believe that regardless of your future a secular education is very important

PsychoToddler said...

shu or nat:
That's a very interesting point. As I look back, I too find that my favorite Rabbis or teachers were plugged into the outside world, and could bring in baseball, Star Trek, or other secular references to show me they lived in my world.

Jaime said...

i am sadly going through this now with my daughter. She just finished kindergarten. My husband and I fought over her attending a Jewish school all last summer. Now, unfortunately, it begins once again. My husband is a teacher in a public school and quite frankly, in the US our county ranks among the highest for education. So why send her to a private school. If I thought that the Jewish schools lack or didn't equal the quality of the public schools, then i would definitely send her to public, but although, the public schools do have more money and resources, it is far more important that she is exposed to a daily Jewish education. He would rather our children just go to Hebrew school/Sunday school..but cmon, how many of us went and HATED it, and what did we learn, truthfully, how to read and write hebrew (with vowels only) and maybe a few words here and there. But what really changed me was my experiences living in Israel. My husband never shared that and he really doesn't get the importance creating a firm jewish educational background for our children, that is outside the home.

I do have a choice of some secular and orthodox schools to send her to and I have chosen the smaller orthodox school. I would have like to send her to the larger secular school, but tuition is so expensive and the demographics pull from a very wealthy community, I prefer the low-key, community oriented orthodox school whose staff and other parents are accepting of non-orthodox families.

Jack Steiner said...

I prefer the low-key, community oriented orthodox school whose staff and other parents are accepting of non-orthodox families.

If you are going to go that direction that is very important.