The other night was mentally exhausting. I attended a meeting concerning the admissions policy of one of our local religious schools. My wife volunteered me onto the va'ad horim (which loosely translates into parental overseeing committee), so I attend meetings like this once a month or so. Last night's meeting was different - it also included our municipal mayor, teachers, and rabbanim.
I'm not sure what the particular trigger was for this critical meeting, but many of the participants came very prepared.
A bit of background:
This school is considered "mamlachti dati" - an Israeli religious public school (first through third grades). There are separate classes for boys and girls and they have recess at separate times. The only "mixed" aspect about the school is the bus kids take... The principal is a powerhouse of energy and a spectacular person, educator, administrator and role model. This is one school where the principal knows exactly what is going on at all times, in every class, what is being taught, and how each of the school's 300 students are progressing.
Alumni of the school, such as my fourth grade daughter, return to the school from time to time to say hi to the principal and their previous teachers. This school has won many prizes from Israel's Ministry of Education and is a top quality school. Our older sons went to the alternative "mamlachti torani" school (supposedly more yeshivish) but decided that our next son would attend the "mamlachti dati" one, since we felt the "mamlachti dati" was better for many reasons (religious education, middot taught, and secular studies were all far better).
So onto the meeting.
First the principal: The official policy (and it's enforceable) is that only families that are not mechalel shabbat publicly can send their kids to the school. Family backgrounds are checked through a variety of means. Approximately 20% of the families do not meet this criteria, and deliberately lie in order to get their kids into the school. (It’s a far better school than the secular alternative).
Rabbi #1 (teaches in school): So, you don't want to accept secular students? I grew up in Kiryat Malachi in a secular family. We weren't shomer shabbat. However, since I went to a mamlachti dati school, I went to a yeshiva high school, and then hesder, and then I received smicha, and now I teach here. Are you trying to prevent people from becoming dati?? That's terrible!
Rabbi #2 (also teaches in school): I must disagree! I'm ALSO from Kiryat Malachi, and I can tell you that the secular kids in First Grade cause many problems for the entire class:
- Bad Language
- No Tzitziyot to class
- Forget kippot all the time
- Do not connect to what’s being taught if they aren't shomer shabbat
- Haircuts without "peyot"
How am I supposed to teach a class, when we go around the room asking student about their Rosh HaShana, and the secular kid say he went to Greece and has a deep suntan? When he doesn't go to shul? When his parents can't study with him? And then, when its his turn to be chazan for davening, and he has no tzitziyot. And then, when I teach about hilchot shabbat, and he says; "My parents do that on shabbat...are they wrong?" Any situation that makes the parents wrong is bad, and any situation that makes the teacher wrong is ALSO bad. The extra effort I put into helping this kid is coming at the expense of the other children who could be much stronger...
Parent: My kids came home from school with terrible language which they DID NOT learn at home! It's all from the bad influence from these other kids at school. We don't have a TV, so he didn't get it from there.
Parent; Bad Language can come from all sorts of homes, religious, secular and in-between.
Teacher: Secular boys are much more of a problem in terms of bad language than secular girls. I dont think that secular girls in the class are as bad an influence over the class...
Board Member: I moved here because of the plurality, so I'm torn between outreach and offering everyone a religious education, and the negative influences you are describing.
Principal: The problem is the percentages. Twenty percent is too much. Maybe 10% is better? Maybe we need different standards? The problem is that its very difficult to make a child leave if he can't make the grade.
Municipal Mayor: Could we make the parents sign a contract about their outwardly religous behavior -- for the good of their own child AND the good of the school?
Teacher: I heard the following conversation today:
Second grade students talking at the makolet; one religious, one secular.
Secular: You know, next year I'm going to your school! My parents signed me up and told me what a great school you guys have.
Religious: (thinking for a minute) Are you SURE you want to come to my school? I mean, I think its great, but you would have to do so many things you don't do now.
Secular: Really? My parents didn't tell me about that...like what?
Religious: Well, you need to wear a kippa in school, Tzitziyot, and you would need to go to davening.
Secular: Hmmm...I guess I could do those things.
Religious: And, there's class every day on halacha, chumash, navi...
Secular: Oh...I hadn't thought about that.
Religious: And we have tests in all these topics as well.
Secular; Well, my parents told me its a great school: you have special fun classes, swimming lessons, extra tiyulim, extra curricular activities...
So you see how the secular kid's parents are selling it to him.
Letter is read from rav in the yishuv, with lots of experience with secular/religious interaction. The main point was:
"Attempting to teach children from a secular lifestyle which goes against the way they are being raised (in the present), goes against the lifestyle of their parents and the children themselves...inevitably leads to the children developing an intolerance and dislike for their religious studies..."
Another Person: Listen to yourselves! You should be ashamed of yourselves! How can you prevent religious education for children regardless of their background??? You are the majority! (please note, this person doesn't send his kids to the school...very convenient to be frum when it doesn't affect him personally).
The bottom line. Everyone WISHES we could provide religious education for all. No one wants a negative influence on the school. No one wants repercussions for the secular children who are caught in the conflict of learning one thing in school and seeing the other at home.
The outcome? Subcommittee was formed to come up with recommendations...
How do YOU deal with this?
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael