Unfortunately, the current percentage of children that spend years in our chinuch institutions, yet do not grow up as we would have hoped, is far from insignificant.
Clearly, we must look for the source of the problem. As is emphasized in many seforim, "HaDinim einam nimtakin ela b’shorshan – Negatives can only be sweetened by going to their root cause." This means, if we could catch the problem with our children’s chinuch at an early stage, we can hope to avoid a lot of the misery that the frum communities experience today.
Underdeveloped Learning Skills Cause Deviant Behavior
To answer the question, we can look at some research that was done in the 1990s on repeat criminals. Researchers wanted to find the source of their apparently inexplicable return to criminal behavior. They theorized that over 90 percent of the repeat criminals did not have properly developed academic skills. Without these skills, they had no easy alternative for supporting themselves, and ultimately returned to the criminal skills at which they were already proficient.
To see whether this theory was correct, an experiment was done at several correctional institutions. The inmates were divided into two groups. One performed standard manual labor. The other was tested to verify which learning skills they were lacking, and a program was instituted to develop these skills.
When the inmates completed their sentences and were freed, they were monitored to see what they would do. The overwhelming majority of the regular inmates returned to crime, whereas the overwhelming majority of those who had developed their learning skills found employment on their own, unassisted!
L. Richardson, an attorney specializing in criminal law, told me that in the Florida Criminal Courts one of the first questions the judges ask is, "Up to what grade have you completed school?" If the criminal did not finish high school, the judge orders that the correctional institution implement an academic program for him. The Justice Department views it as a budget issue. It’s much cheaper to keep crime down through education than to maintain the criminals in correctional institutions.
We can take a lesson from the Florida Justice Department. Children naturally want to be happy. If they do not find contentment in their current occupation (i.e. school) they will seek it elsewhere.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s View
I recently viewed a video clip from December 7, 1989, depicting a conversation between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Justice Jack B. Weinstein. The Rebbe blessed him and said, "May you merit to see the day when there will be no need for sentencing criminals, because crime will have become abolished through preventive education, to prevent people from going astray from the right way. When you speak to the Federal Sentencing Commission, do not report this only as my views, but I hope you will adopt them and support them as your own views, as well."
In Devarim 33:4 it is written, "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah Kehillas Yaakov – The Torahthat Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob." Our Sages stress that the Torah is the heritage of every Jewish soul, and everyone is capable of learning it. In Mishlei 22:6 it is stated,"Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimeno – Train a youth according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not swerve from it."
It is our obligation to discover the best (most unique) way of reaching a child, so that we can develop the skills that he will use always. Then, with Hashem’s help, even when he grows older he will not swerve from the path he has learned.
Children Who Are Unsuccessful In School Are At Risk To Go Astray
If, in fourth or fifth grade, a child cannot succeed in his studies, he undergoes a change in attitude. As described by Rabbi M. Berger, president of Education 4 R Kids, Inc. in Ottawa: The child begins to feel, "These studies, which I don’t understand, are irrelevant." Once the attitude of irrelevance towards the studies takes hold, the entire value system that makes up the backdrop of his religious education can come into question, as well.
Irrelevance, rejection of values, and total alienation are all simply byproducts of the root issue: lack of success in the academics of Torah. Therefore, when a boy or girl stops being successful at school, it needs to be seen as a warning flag that calls out, "Catch the problem now, for later may be too late."
If the academic issues aren’t attended to and corrected at an early stage, it may develop into the child entering a bitter struggle with parents and teachers, with adverse effects. The child and the parents view the situation quite differently. The parents’ viewpoint is: "We chose the best mosad chinuch, we didn’t allow a TV into the house, and we lived in a real Yiddishe neighborhood; we did everything possible to raise ehrlicheh children."
The child’s viewpoint is: "I suffered so much in school: frustration, embarrassment, all kinds of labels, etc. and nobody cared about my feelings." In retaliation, the child will do everything possible to show his contempt of his parents’ and teachers’ feelings. In fact, the more he can hurt their feelings, the more satisfaction he derives.
Lowering Academic Expectations Is Not The Solution
While a child is in school, it needs to provide him with the essential skills he will use throughout his life. He needs to learn to face challenges in order to succeed in life. Children are not fools. I have spoken with parents who have thought, "Let us strengthen our child’s self-image by developing only those skills that he already has." But this is only a temporary cover-up.
As soon as several months go by and the child becomes aware of the gap between him and his friends, the false self-image works against him and the pain of betrayal sets in. He also feels hurt that his parents and teachers have given up on him and labeled him a failure.
Self-esteem does not develop from doing things you already know how to do, but rather, through accepting challenges and succeeding. Do you think a 13-year-old gains stronger self-esteem because he can tie his shoelaces? Certainly not! A four-year-old does, because to him it’s a challenge. We need to help our children develop the skills they lack, rather than allowing them to fail. That is the only way they will find satisfaction within the school system.
Considering The Entire Child
Once again, we need to look for the source of the problem and address it at its root. There are special tests produced by experts in the field of education that can tell us specifically which skills the child is lacking. They test for skills ranging from phonemic awareness to mental imagery.
For example, even if a child has 20/20 vision, he may still suffer from an eye focus disorder, especially if he is dyslexic. In Hebrew it may present itself as a more severe difficulty because Hebrew uses the punctuation system rather than the vowel system. The text is busier, and it requires more focusing.
Additional, non-cognitive issues need to be identified as well. Diet can be crucial. A child may have great skills but still not be able to make headway if he is suffering from a diet-related problem. Sleeping patterns or an unstable home environment are other factors that should be considered.
Correcting The Situation – The Master-Mind Method
Once the source of the problem is identified, a special program can be implemented that matches the child’s specific needs. This would include correctional methods (for dyslexia, eye-focus, etc.) as well as developing the missing skills (reading, comprehension, math, organization).
It is our repeated experience that, after the child proceeds through this carefully tailored program, and is then retested with similar (albeit different) tests, the results are amazing! The child achieves his grade and age level, and even above.
This works even with a child who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. This is because ADD/ADHD is frequently a result of, or compounded by, undeveloped skills. If a child doesn’t have the skills required for a certain lesson, he will not understand it. If he can’t follow the lesson, he will be bored and irritable. (Imagine yourself in his place!)
Armed with his newly acquired skills, the child will now be able to succeed in his regular school studies and maintain a healthy level of self-esteem. He is a great deal less likely to rebel at a later stage.
By looking for the source of the problem, we can do much to rectify it; and therefore we must.
Parents can find out more about these programs by contacting Rabbi Eliyahu Shain at 718-774-1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Shain is a renowned mohel, who is active in child-at-risk prevention. He is the founder of the Master-Mind method, a program that transforms struggling students into successful ones in a remarkably short period of time, and has made major strides in dropout prevention.