Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I was sicced onto this article by Yoni, since apparently I have not been getting ired enough in the recent past. The approach of the author is not, I may say, unfamiliar to me, although I had never had the whole thing spelled out in quite so much detail- R' Grossman was the principal of my former high school and I may well recognize the people behind some of his anecdotes. (I don't seem to have made it in there myself.)

Well, first of all, let me say that there's a lot valid there. I think that he is correct that people do not stop being frum because of the temptations, seductions, and lures of the 'Goyish' street, but rather because they are dissatisfied with what they are being offered in their schools. I certainly agree that harsh discipline is the wrong approach the problems and everyone should go for understanding and discovering underlying issues whenever possible. I think that he is also correct that it is time to fight the battle that is in front of us instead of the one that we fought in the past, or would like to be fighting now.

I do not, however, agree on what that battle is. I do not think that 'mussar haskel' and warm life lessons are insufficiently emphasized in our chumash and nach classes; the conclusion that many people are intellectually dissatisfied with Judaism but stay for emotional reasons does not, for me, naturally lead into the conclusion that we must create emotional bonds so that people will stay. I do not believe that students are being educated with too large an emphasis on the cognitive and intellectual, and I do not believe that suitable gentle peer pressure will be enough to make everybody realize that everything they are taught is 100% right. I can't say that I think that a question about why tzniut is emphasized so much more than other midot is necessarily indicative of deep rebellion, as the article seems to assume we will assume. I don't really think that the goyish street is actually a cesspit of stupidity, emptiness, and fleeting pleasures, but that's a bit of a different issue

And- perhaps this is bias speaking- I certainly not believe that children are simply 'empty shells, waiting for the right teacher to fill the vacuum'.

I'm not sure that I believe that I have the answer for the chinuch problems, but I certainly have a novel suggestion: Why don't we try assuming that the students are intelligent, reasonable people, who are bothered by genuine cognitive and intellectual concerns? It's not, of course, always true. Most teenagers are pretty dumb, and those that aren't are so young and proud and earnest and confused and simplistic that they might as well be. (I speak primarily of myself).

But maintaining this illusion will 1) give them the feeling that you view them as actual people with minds and thoughts and contributions and so forth, instead of charming little tabula rassa's just waiting to be filled up with lovely sketches of kollel husbands and wives, 2) will let them know that questions- their questions- are valid and not necessarily contradictory to being Orthodox and that nobody is going to run after them screaming "An atheist! Burn her!" and 3) might actually give them some useful answers or tools to discover them.

I sat through 4 years of high school and I had inspiration and gushiness and love and morals and trust until they poured out of my ears. My heart was played on day after day, and my notebooks managed to look after themselves, but nobody was really doing much to deal with the head.
What I didn't get was answers. Or a license to ask questions. Or a reassurance that I was respected by those who claimed to hear me but who poured my words into their molds and boxes so that they could help the only ways that they knew (more love and so forth).What I didn't really get was a sense that my religion actually was valid and brilliant. Which is a pity. 'Cuz I tend to think it is.

*All this relates to the intellectual style rebel. The behavioral rebel- the kind who wants to act out and talk to boys or wear pants or both (maybe even at the same time)- they usually straightened out in seminary unless they had been turned off by censure and harsh discipline- another point that I agree with in the article- or had the intellectual issues as well.


Halfnutcase said...

wow, thanks. Now I can actualy sit down and think about this issue properly, now that I have had someone prod my brain. (and interesting to note that he was actualy your principle)

And at this point it seems to me that maybe there are two and two kinds of rebels, which make four :-)

One kind is the stam rebel, the other is the genuine rebel. Then you have the Emotional rebel, and then you have the intelectual rebel. Sometimes people can be both an intelectual rebel and an emotional rebel.

The stam emotional rebel is the one who does things for the thrill of it, they're the ones who just disobay because you told them it was forbiden. If you hadn't said anything, there likely wouldn't be a problem.

Then you have the intelectual rebel stam, This is the child who simply pokes holes in your arguments simply to be difficult. They do it because they hate you and everything you stand for, just simply because you happen to be the authority standing over them.

These two are difficult, but generaly grow up at some point and comform. Their rebelion comes out of pure intelectual thrill seeking.

Then you have the genuine rebels. They are that way because they need something that you have prohibited them. They are much more difficult to deal with than the former if you refuse to address their needs. The intelectual type (wave tobie and chana and miri) is possibly one of the teachers worst nightmares. These are the children who not only ask questions at the most possibly inconvenient times, but stand by their questions and refuse to be brushed off. They actualy would like to know something, and get upset when teachers refuse to answer their questions. These children are fixable if you are willing to think.

Then you have the genuine emotional rebel. They may be seeking any of a number of things, from a hobie to interest themselves in (more boys issue than girls) or they may be simply lonely and in need of love and attention, which they then generaly attempt to go and get from someone of the opposite sex. Generaly belittling and humiliating these children doesn't help much, and only makes them more alienated.

me thinks that one of the biggest problems is that it seems in the minds of the hanhala of most schools, everyone is automaticaly a stam rebel, unless you have yichus or money. Perhaps if people learned to tell the difference between actions ment to test the limits and those that are a cry for some kind of help they might get anywhere?

(thanks tobie, you really got me thinking about it :-)

Tobie said...

I think that your 4 categories are dead on. The only caveat that I would have is that I think it's more common to be a stam behavioral rebel than a stam intellectual one. Or, more precisely, I think that lots of people act out because they enjoy it. Those that just enjoy mocking you usually have some genuine intellectual problem with you or your system or something. I mean, they also love how clever they sound, but I think that they actually are more against the system than the stam behavioral rebel. Similarly, I think that a genuine behavioral rebel is usually linked to genuine intellectual problems. Nobody likes cognitive dissonance, so you either develop intellectual problems that justify your behavior (e.g "Shomer Negiah doesn't make sense/isn't in the torah/ is outdated" etc) or you choose to act this way because you have found it to be intellectually justified (it's impossible to really determine cause and effect in situations of this sort).
The intellectual rebel on the other hand- certainly the genuine one- often doesn't have the behavioral components, both because their questions relate to a much wider range of subjects and because they don't have the need- genuine or stam- to act out.

Miri said...

see my main issue is what my main issue always is; cookie cutters, molds, achdus, shivim panim latorah, eilu vieilu, rainbows, etc. I'm sorry to use this forum to further my same old storiness, but at least now you know where it comes from; after all, he was my principal too.
I don't deny the validity of his points, but I agree with Tobie that inspiration and mushiness were not what was lacking in my high schol education. what was lacking was the sense that it was ok to be an individual who didn't WANT to fit the Beis Yaakov mold. and I never violated the dress code, save one laundry-related incident. this is getting too complicated; I'm just going to post somethin on my blog in response.