But There’s A Different “Twenty Percent”

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.

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  1. She is right!
    Some of our children are really (BH) bright and some kinderlach work very hard to get up there, why dumb down the whole thing for PC?
    A dual track is an excellent idea too.

  2. Tyvm for bringing this up.
    This also a concern for general curriculum in schools. Lot’s of resources geared towards the lower 20%. Not as much geared towards the higher 20% that can do waay much more.

    1. There are many schools today, especially the ones with more class per grade that are making levels within subjects. This helps the children who have a hard time learning to manage and understand and appreciate the Torah that they are learning. while giving other children a more challenging class.

      1. Even in schools with many classes, there is a significant lack of rigorous, challenging learning for the higher 20%. What’s considered “highest level” is generally mediocre at best.

        1. My kid is a child who is not stimulated by class and his rebbe has done so much to get him to use his strengths to learn an extra meschta besides what he is learning in class.

          my son loves asking questions in class, as the teacher always points to a commentary that asks that question. and gets him to look it up and learn and give the teacher the answer.

          it’s much easier to stimulate the bright kids because they are clever and have tools that the other kids don’t have.

          imagine if every school was to get as many children as they can onto the Iyun track. it sounds like there are a lot more children that could befit from that track.

  3. BH

    Great article and true points.
    But where are the parents?
    I think Chidon is doing a great job. And it doesn’t absolve parents of their obligations to be in tune with their own children.
    If they know their child is easily capable of getting into iyun, the parents can tell him they won’t pay for the trip unless he makes it into iyun. Or above a certain mark. Or whatever.
    Spend time studying with your child and get an honest feel for where he is at.

    1. Very well said!

      When chidon used to cost $500 a year to fly my kids into NY from florida each year. I told my kids very clearly that although the passing mark was 70% they are not going to NY unless they get 85% and they worked like crazy to get that mark.

      Chidon has made four tracks so that every child can participate. they have catered to the top bracket with the IYUN track. most kids find it too hard to get into that track.

      If there is a kid going on the trip because they are not learning hard enough then their parents should be setting the standard at 90% to get into IYUN.

    2. I started studying with my children for the Chidon and I must say that’s been the best gift. If your children are not motivated to study, sit down and do it with them. Put away your phone and focus on them. You’ll see how quickly the stakes change. They’ll be excited to please you and then will end up pleasing themselves. They’ll work hard and do as well as they can. And more than all the trips and prizes, they’ll have earned the biggest gift ever– your time and attention and a bond of Torah learning together.

      1. This was the best comment made.

        People don’t understand the power of what you can give your children by sitting down and learning for Chidon with your kids. I have learned through all five books with my kids and I am starting again. This program has truly changed our family. I am wondering if the parents complaining about too many prizes and trips and the cost of the program sat and learned with their kids?

        It does make any sense to me. we struggle financially. we don’t have money to send our kids to camp but I would pay for Chidon much faster than sending my kids to camp,

        I can only encourage any parent two take full advantage of this program and learn with their kids and I don’t believe that you will ever complain again. your kids will do well and they will feel good about their accomplishments and you will feel good about the money you spent.

        1. I’ve also been studying with my kids and it’s been a game changer! As a matter of fact I feel bad that my older kids don’t have any such program anymore because I miss learning with them- the other subjects just don’t go as well as Chidon did. It was literally the best gift I have been given as a parent handed to me on a silver platter, totally engaging and ready to go with all the tools I could have needed. And yes it pushed them to work far beyond what they could. We were in this together! One of my kids earned a trophy, let me tell you it is quite the challenge! And what a special simcha it was to celebrate this as a joint effort!

  4. It’s interesting that chidon, something so positive, has become the punching bag for everyone’s complaints. Some of these complaints border on absurd. Chidon is to blame for kids lack of focus in Gemara because they’re used to colored books???? What about videos and video games?? What about regular comic books with made up stories?? How can you take the positive and turn it upside down?Bh chidon is exciting and engaging. Now it’s time to challenge the Gemara teachers to get out if their comfort zone and create curriculum that will enthrall this ADHD generation of kids

    1. Yes, Chidon is a beautiful program. But being a Lubavitch-wide initiative with thousands of participants, the standards they set for children are very impactful and thus a huge achrayus.

      The level of gashmius rewards – from the mega trip to the multiple prizes and swag – are teaching all our children what to expect for even minimal effort in learning. Not only is this an unrealistic standard for schools and parents to meet; it’s simply wrong as it is not “Chinuchi”. Torah learning is yogata umotzasa – the reward is the satisfaction of accomplishment, not prizes. And it requires real learning in a Sefer.

      The shtus all around is enough of a challenge; confusing our children about what Torah learning involves is even more problematic.

      1. Nu, so what should be an alternative effective motivator? davka BECAUSE there’s more shtus around

        1. More shtus requires more light, not kosher shtus in the hope that it will bring them in.

          1. It’s the over the top gashmiyus that is ridiculous. While in the short run it may bring the desired results, it does harm to their overall chinuch.

            We need to mindful of the entire child and educate them responsibly.

      2. You write: The level of gashmius rewards – from the mega trip to the multiple prizes and swag – are teaching all our children what to expect for *even minimal effort in learning*.

        What if your child was working very hard and earning those rewards? Would you still write this?

        I am just trying to understand, Because my child does work very hard and she would not do this without the rewards. So if your child does not work hard, I totally understand, and perhaps they are on the wrong track. But for my child to pass the Havona takes her 45 minutes a night of learning with a friend. and I don’t see it as even minimal effort in learning* and I believe the rewards has been what got the Chidon to grow to 7000 children.

        In fact, the reward has been cut down tremendously from a 4-day shabaton to a one-day trip with prizes and swag. we used to pay over $700 a kid to fly our children into the shabaton and are much happier paying the $200 a child now. I pray that Tzivos Hashem does not listen to comments like this because I am sure that if they do and they cut back on the prizes and swag many children, mine included will not go for Chidon.

  5. Tzivos Hashem you are very brave for not only being so open to feedback but even approving it to go online. What you have done for our children no one has. Everything can be improved. our schools, our homes, and every program that is run can always be better.

    Why is Chidon the one program that is always under attack? The Chdion is the program that got our children to be motivated to learn Torah in their spare time. The program that gave our children such a powerful sense of belonging. The program that’s so highly subsidized and costs so little in comparison to everything else we pay for. The program that has united all of Lubavitch. The the program that has brought about so much Limmud Hatorah. The program that has given the children so much knowledge. The program that has illuminated our homes with Limmud Hatorah. The program which has connected so many children with their parents and grandparents who learn together. Yet this is the program we constantly attack.

    I am blessed that Hashem gave me very smart children and they don’t have to work hard to get into the IYUN track. Yes they get over 90% without working hard. Chidon even on the IYUN track is not challenging for them. The ONLY challenge they have is to win a GOLD trophy. and even that has been thought of. Yes Chidon has 5 tracks. Yesoid, Yedia, Havona, Iyun and the top trophy winners. it’s set up brilliantly. whats not set up is that kids are abusing the system by getting rewarded for the track THEY should not be on.

    So I ask you dear mother that wrote this article: did your child pass IYUN? Did they get a trophy? or did they just pass Havona?

    1. I never thought of it this way, Why does chidon not tell this to parents at the beginning of the year? If I had made up with my child at the beginning of the year that he can only go on the trip if he gets into Iyun then he would have worked hard.

    2. In defense of the op-ed writer: I did not feel that the writer is trying bash the chidon. Rather he’s trying to make such a great thing as the chidon even greater! and yes: TYVM Tzivos Hashem for this great thing!

  6. You write:

    It’s the over the top gashmiyus that is ridiculous. While in the short run it may bring the desired results, it does harm to their overall chinuch. We need to mindful of the entire child and educate them responsibly.

    You sound like a professional mechanech. So i want to respectfully ask you to explain. please understand that I am not suggesting that you are wrong. I just want to understand.

    Tzivos Hashem has been known for going over the top. I remember the first Matzah ball race before Tzivos Hashem was officially established and there were ten vans rented each one had a speed bike ontop. these vans went from school to school and they gave out 250,000 pesach missions (called the matzah ball race). in those days a $100 speed bike was like a $500 electric bike today.

    and ever since I have seen Tzivos Hashem through crazy prizes at our children. but in the long run, I have not seen what you are describing. I have seen children who have become true Chayolim. they are dedicated soilders of the Rebbe, they learn for the chidon, they learn tanya and mishnayus baal peh for the Rebbes birthday, they say tehillim on shabbos mevorchim and they have moved on to learn chitas and Rambam every day. my boys are learning mesehchtos of gemora and my girls are part of the bas sheva chidon learning Rambam and Mamorim.

    I don’t see the long-term damage. I see that tzivos hashem has captured their hearts and minds and at first, they are caught by the prizes and trips but once they are finished the 613 mitzvos they are captured by fulfillment of learning and knowing all of Hashem’s Mitzvos and it drives them to do more and more.

    Connection point is another great example. they offer amazing prizes to the kids and my kids started watching full rallies of the Rebbe and now he is watching full fabrengens of the Rebbe.

    I am sure you have a source for what you are saying and I would very much like to hear it. because I believe that Torah is correct and even though my eyes see very different results than what you are saying I know Torah is correct. please share more information with me.

    because what I see from Torah is that first you start with shlo lishmo and then from that comes liosmo. and I have seen it with all my kids.

    1. At the end of the day, the deciding factor of whether a child will value something his how much his parents (or some other adult he looks up to!) values it. Your children are excited about Torah because you are excited about Torah. Prizes will just “sweeten the deal” and give them an extra push.

      If the child lacks an adult who values Torah, then when the prizes stop, they will discontinue. בדוק ומנוסה.

      With that in mind, the size of the prize will not make a true difference. A nice and reasonable reward will sweeten it enough, and an oversized reward won’t accomplish more.

      1. is it possible we are talking about different types of children?

        I am talking about the many hundreds of children that have TV’s and X boxes and VR goggles and much more in our homes and yet they have given up all of that to sit and learn for the chidon. This is בדוק ומנוסה. and they even got their mother to sit and learn with her.

        Those children are doing it because of the reward. Take away the kind of reward that chidon offers and you will see how your numbers will drop.

        Let’s say you are right and this child will never learn again in his life outside of school. they wouldn’t anyway. how is the prize hurting?

        Honestly, I am just scared that because of posts like yours, Chidon will cut back on the rewards and my kids will be OUT!

  7. Doesn’t the Rambam himself say you are supposed to reward children with nuts and sweets for learning Torah, mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma? Chidon gives the child his age appropriate modern day version of nuts and sweets.

    1. There needs to be balance. Too much material reward leads to an entitled child who won’t do anything without top rewards.

      Kids expectancy of rewards depends on what is offered. Offering more just broadens their appetite.

      1. you are entitled to your opinion.

        one can say that sending kids to camp and spending $5000 a kid is not balanced. one could say that spending hundreds of dollars on leather Teffilin bags is not balanced. one could say spending $6000 on a Lechaim is not balanced.

        I would like to know the source for what you are saying. personly I would rather spend $200 on chidon.

        My Kid comes home with a leather Chitas with his name on it and plaque and medal after going on an exciting and meaningful trip. for a davening in 770 with 1000 boys who leaned for the chidon and then onto a grand event at Newark symphony hall to celebrate limmud hatorah and then to bowling and the American dream water park.

        why is that not balanced after 5 months of learning. yes we learned together day in and day out for 5 months outside of school.

        Rather than me having to find ways to entertain him and keep him busy or for him to get busy with all sorts of things I don’t want him to do, he sat and learned with me and I dont get what you are saying.

        are you learning with your kid every night? or your kids are Tzadikim and they don’t need incentives? I can tell you one thing that if you are successful and these incentives stop. my kid will not be doing chidon next year.

        Maybe chidon should go back to pre covid and have a shabaton every year for all the kids

  8. Now I’m a mother BH, but I did chidon in its early days, and it was the first time I actually had to work hard, and the success was sweet. Only the top 3 marks in the school could go in for the Shabbaton and I earned it the first year. However the next year, when my classmates heard I was gong go about running again, and they were average students, many gave up and didn’t try. I did win internationally that year, but so many girls didn’t enter chidon because they felt they didn’t have a chance. I think it’s wonderful that chidon has so many tracks so each child can win at their level. And I agree parents should work with their kids/ teachers to make sure they’re on the track that’s right for them

  9. It’s great to hear firsthand from the people on the ground how you felt and how you appreciate the changes that were made based on how children were hurt by being knocked out of the chidon. at the same time, you appreciate the sweetness of hard work and recognize the importance that parents choose the track that’s best for their child.

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