Educating our children l’derech Hashem is a chiyuv that we have as adults, rabbonim, educators, parents and a community. This is certainly not a newsflash. So why do I raise the issue?
Imagine that after camp ends in August, you take your child shopping for new Shabbos and school clothes. Money, of course, is usually a factor but you look for the one store that has the proper size and best selection. After spending several days going to numerous clothing stores, you’re unable to find one that carries your child’s slim, husky, tall or short sizes. Even the few shops that carry those special sizes have merely one shelf or rack to select from. With school starting the next day and your child experiencing meltdowns from the boredom of shlepping and shopping you decide to look no further and, out of convenience, settle on the regular sizes. Besides, the store is filled with attractive, regular size, and since everyone else from the neighborhood is buying their childrens’ clothes there, it makes sense to do the same. Sure, it’s a half size too small or big, a little short, tall, tight or big, but, hey, it’s good enough. For the most part, it works. So what if it isn’t the best fit. Nothing’s perfect. Admittedly, it’s not very comfortable but it’s okay. Most parents would obviously want their children to look and feel their best. Why then, do we do routinely send our children to a yeshiva or bais yaakov merely because it is ostensibly the frumest, the largest, the toughest, convenient, popular or they’ll be able to get a better shidduch?
For many children, the average yeshivos/bais yaakovs will provide a child with the best place to learn, intellectually and hashkafically. For others, however, finding the right “fit” is an arduous task at best and an impossible one at worst. Not every yeshiva and bais yaakov is capable of effectively educating every type of student. Many are not capable of providing the services required to address students’ special needs. I’m not referring to the needs of children that are, chas v’shalom, profoundly disabled and have a severely diminished intellectual and/or functional capability. I’m speaking of the “out-of-sync” child, such as those with ADD, ADHD, sensory integration, dyslexia and other behavioral or information processing disorders. These children invariably tend to “fall through the cracks” because they can neither succeed nor flourish in a prototypical yeshiva, and they are far more advanced for a special needs program. Though they may be bright, they may also be aggressive, inattentive, impatient or defiant, and are therefore incapable of learning in a traditional environment or manner. Without getting involved in the substantive issues surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of these and other similar disorders (an expert I’m not), suffice it to say that for a child to remain in an educational environment where there is an impediment to learning, for whatever reason, is like pushing a square peg into a round hole. It will be neither successful nor comfortable. On the contrary, it can only serve to frustrate the child and lower his self-esteem. He will believe that he is dumb an incompetent, incapable of succeeding at anything. The pain associated with those feelings is often devastating, that he will avoid it at all costs. Moreover, there can be, and often is, a negative effect on social interaction and relationships. It goes without saying then, that growth in Torah and yiddishkeit will undoubtedly be negatively as well.
Even if a child does not suffer from a behavioral or learning disorder, it is virtually certain that one yeshiva is a better “fit” than another whether because of the student body, parent body, Torah hashkafa, pedagogy or their tevah (nature). The gemara tells us that as parents, we must not simply teach our children Torah, but we must do so according to their nature. To do so, however, it is imperative that we recognize and capitalize our children’s strengths, identify and accept their limitations, and leave no stone unturned in relentlessly pursuing the yeshiva/ bais yaakov that provides them with greatest opportunity to soar. When it comes to ensuring the perpetuation of Torah, being a half size too small or too short isn’t good enough. We need the right size.
Originally Published February 6th, 2006