Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yeshiva High School Rules

Spending much time in and around a Yeshiva High School setting gives me the (perhaps) unique opportunity to delve into some of the policies and rules displayed in such schools. These rules are sometimes nearsighted and often broken without the knowledge of the administration, which renders them completely useless.

#1- Policy regarding secular subjects
It should come as no shock that Yeshivas take secular subjects a lot less seriously than their Judaic studies counterparts. That's fine. I understand the importance of learning and the mentality that Secular subjects are secondary. In fact, I will most likely send my eventual children to a Yeshiva that has a similar policy to this, but this approach has many negative affects on students and faculty alike.

Obviously, the students who see the school lessen the importance of a secular education will take the subjects less seriously. They will expect that all they need to do in order to pass the class is to simply show up. This is not the case. In fact, one of two things will result from this; either the students will fail or pass undeservedly.

This brings me to the problem this poses to the faculty (specifically the secular subject teachers). If a teacher is teaching in a scholl where there is no accountability for what they teach, the parents and students both believe their subjects to be secondary and students may pass for no good reason, what is keeping these teachers from simply mailing it in? Why should these teachers put any effort in to teaching? The vast majority of secular Yeshiva educators are retired public school teachers who simply need something to do, and if they have no reason to do anything other than to show up, why should they? You will often find a classroom in a Yeshiva where the teacher spends more than half a period joking around with students instead of actually doing any teaching. It is as if they are there to be a time waster and babysitter instead of an educator. Are secular subjects secondary? Yes. Should we let our children know this? Absolutely not.

#2- Policy regarding cell phones
It is a commonly known fact that many Yeshiva high schools and Beis Yaakovs do not allow their students to possess cell phones on school grounds. This notion is preposterous. As far as I can see there are three reasons for a student to not be allowed to have a cell phone:

a. Text messages: The problem with texting has become that students believe they can separate things said in a text message from things said face to face (or even in a phone call). This applies specifically to inter-gender conversations. Since yeshivish boys and girls are separated, the harm a text message can do is even greater. Teenagers do not understand the power of the written word and can often mistake something texted that carries immense importance with a harmless joke. I get this.

However, when a Yeshiva bans something, it only makes students want to do it more. There are students who will not violate the school rules simply because it's a rule. There are others who will violate them because they are rules. This ban on cell phones and texting will only cause these students to use them even more than they would. It will force them to search for more crafty ways to hide them so the administration will not find them. It will not allow for an administrator to deal with the issue one of their students is faced with simply for he reason that they won't know. This unnecessary ban on cell phones needs to end.

b. Internet: Of course, this only matters if you believe that there is something wrong with the internet. The fact is that the internet is available on just about every phone on the market today. While I agree in principle that this is a problem, it is not enough to cause phones to be outlawed. While the phones can have access to the internet, the don't necessarily have to have such access (my phone does not). Internet ready phones could be banned, and since I propose lifting the ban on cell phones, it would be easy to have a student hand over the phone at a random point and check to see if it contains any internet accessibility.

c. Use during class: This is most likely the main point behind the ban of phones in Yeshivas. For this, I suggest that the phones be treated like any other device or object that is out during class. The teacher has a right to take it away, tell the student to put it away, or do whatever he or she sees fit.

There is no use banning the phone. If a parent needs to contact a child or vice versa, the phone is there to help. The reasons for banning cell phones are noted, but not enough to warrant them being illegal.

#3- Length of School Day
In Case anyone ever wondered why Yeshiva students are always tired, it is for the following reason: The days are just too long. I went to a high school where we started every day at 7:30 am and ended at 6:30 pm. That is eleven hours of school. This didn't include mishmar nights where we stayed until 8:45 pm twice a week (sometimes until 10:00 pm in my senior year).

The probelem with this is twofold. The first is that teachers are afraid to give homework. If the students are in school for this length of time, when will they have time to do homework? How can a teacher assign anything outside the classroom when the students spend more conscious time inside school than outside? I have done this calculation. Let's say an average high school student goes to sleep every night at 12:30 am and has to be up at 7:00 am to go to school. This student is awake for 17.5 hours a day. 11 of these hours are spent in school. Throw in some travel time and we're talking about (at the very least) 11.5 hours a day.

This leaves 6 hours to the students. If there is one thing a student does not and SHOULD NOT be required to do after such a day is...wait for it...MORE WORK! Why should there be more involved? It is simply not fair to the student. There is no time to be a teenager. No time for exploration. No time for discovery. No time to be themselves.

But maybe this is what the Yeshiva system wants. They don't want to allow teenagers to discover who they are. They want to be able to control the students' growth. This is why emphasis is taken away from the secular subjects (that's not what the Yeshiva wants). Maybe this is why cell phones are illegal (it impedes Yeshiva progress). Maybe this is why the days are so long and vacations are so short (what do parents know about raising their children? We'll do it for them).

Yeshiva high schools don't understand that the way they teach is not for everyone. If a boy does not learn well, he is not given opportunities to excel elsewhere. Yeshivas don't have sports teams, debate teams, clubs, etc. Students don't have time for such things. They're too busy learning until 3:00 in the afternoon (a time when most public school children are already heading home). Now they must start the second half of the day. There is no time for creativity.

This is where the Yeshiva high school system fails certain children. Is this the right path for certain students? Of course it is. Is it for everyone? Certainly not. These schools can take a lesson out of the playbook of "Flip-out Yeshivas" in Eretz Yirsael. Such Yeshivas allow for their talmidim to have at least a certain amount of freedom to explore for themselves. This freedom combined with the pushing from the Rabbeim there allow for the perfect mix to push people in the right direction. It's not "brainwashing" as much as it is a chance of self discovery, and that is why their methods are so effective.

Those who want to say that there is a difference between teenagers in high school and talmidim in Eretz Yisrael are wrong. They are the same. Teenagers have been wrongfully labeled for years. They are not ignorant people who don't know what's good for themselves. They are intelligent. They think. They just need a little bit of guidance, not a strict set of rules and regulations to follow. Let them make their own mistakes and learn from them. Don't try to "protect" them from the real world. They will become ignorant and unable to do anything for themselves.


  1. Re: The length of the school day. Even in more MO schools, the school day is that long - AND there are clubs included (sports, debate, etc.). My brothers are/were both on the Hockey team - there would be nights they would get home insanely late. And THEN have homework to do. And in their school, secular subjects were not treated as secondary, so they really did have work.

    I think a lot of their teenage development happened:

    1. In school. Not solely on guidance by the teachers, or not even mostly that, but just by being with other boys all day, playing sports, dealing with all sorts of situations that happen in a school setting, etc.

    2. In the summer.

  2. Yes, but MO schools allow for those with talents in secular subjects and Judaic studies to find their niche. Also, the MO schools don't drive home the unimportance of the secular subjects.

    The clubs are a good thing to counterballance the long day.