After a mother wrote to Anash.org asking for the Chidon to cater even to children who struggle in school, another mother writes to point out that there is another group that deserves some attention: the intellectually gifted.
By a Proud – but Concerned – Chidon Mother
Camp is in full swing and school seems to be long forgotten–this topic feels almost as relevant as a yavan in sukkah – but I know summer’s when big decisions are made for the upcoming school year so I’m taking the time to share my thoughts.
Recently, Anash.org featured an article that spotlighted the 20 percent of children who struggle academically and socially. The writer called on Tzivos Hashem to create a new Chidon track that would cater to them where they’re at. I think that’s an important point and agree that this could be of great service and benefit to those who need it. At the same time, I’d like to point out another percentage of our children who also deserve some attention: the intellectually gifted.
These are the children who open up the Chidon book for the first time a day or two before the test and pass with flying colors.
Aren’t they the ones who are always in the limelight, winning contests and earning the best prizes and making everyone else jealous of their success? Why do these children need attention?
Believe it or not, they do.
Because they are bored. They are understimulated. They sit through class waiting for an intellectual challenge and most of the time it doesn’t come.
In the olden days, Chidon used to be their playing field. They had a healthy competition with other bright children in their schools and from all around the world. They finally had to work hard and study hard, and they thrived on it. Nowadays, the overarching mentality of wanting to make sure every child is a winner has seeped its way into Chidon too, and these children are no longer motivated to work hard. Why should they, if they can earn the same trips and prizes without it?
Yes, for nearly all children–even the gifted ones–earning a trophy still requires a highly substantial investment of time and effort. In fact, the glass trophy that was introduced two years ago has made it possible for all children who do deserve it to potentially earn that level of recognition and has probably caused a nice amount of children to indeed go the extra mile. That being said, there are those children who don’t care about whether or not they earn a trophy. Instead, they sit back and earn another free ride when they are really capable of doing so much more.
The truth of the matter is that it’s not just the top two or three students in each class who are underperforming. There are many boys who possess a broad spectrum of Torah knowledge from their years of learning Chumash and Mishnayos, who find it unnecessary to spend more than a few minutes here and there scanning a Chidon book to guess their way through the tests–and they’re handed a grand trip and many prizes on a silver platter.
Even some girls, most of whom don’t have that same breadth of knowledge, are happy to take a chance at Chidon with minimal time spent studying–they know that the worst case scenario is that they won’t go on the trip, but they’ll still earn a lavish array of prizes.
It’s no wonder there are parents who are not interested in paying $200 to send their children on a Chidon trip–how can they justify spending such money on a trip that wasn’t truly earned?
Taking it a step further, a few short years down the line, we wonder why our boys are having a hard time learning Gemara–who wants to spend hours poring over endless pages of black and white text after enjoying five years of exciting colored picture books?
Simply put, for some of our children, the way Chidon has been structured over the last few years has gotten them used to having things easy, and they therefore don’t build up the grit, the humility, the perseverance, and the understanding of what it means to actually toil in limud hatorah.
But they don’t feel good about it.
Because they know they haven’t earned the rewards that are being showered upon them.
Yes, even young children know that there is nothing like stretching yourself far beyond what you ever imagined possible and tasting the sweetness of that success.
And yes, Chidon can facilitate that success. I have heard of children who performed very poorly at school and suddenly they scored top-tier marks on their Chidon tests. There are children who have dyslexia and other learning challenges who were motivated by Chidon’s extravagant prize system and managed to overcome these hurdles and exceed their goals.
Chidon as a whole is an unprecedented incredible system through which most children can–and indeed do–attain great Torah learning achievements. But it’s important to keep on assessing and making sure that tweaks to the system do not create cracks in other places. While it is important to recognize the need to accommodate those who struggle, it is important that this not come at the expense of providing a real–but attainable–challenge to those who can handle it.
Editor’s Note: This article has been reviewed and approved for publication by Tzivos Hashem.