In response to the recent uptick in homeschooling, Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf, dean at the Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day Schools in Chicago, Illinois, shares his concerns regarding the recent movement encouraging parents to keep their children home.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf
Dean at the Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day Schools in Chicago, Illinois
As a Mechanech of 40+ years, I’ve Boruch Hashem seen the ongoing improvement of Chinuch in general, and our schools in particular. That said, there is a change unfolding that gives me much concern. There is a recent movement to encourage parents to homeschool.
Pre covid there were 2.5 million American homeschooled children. Today there are 4.5 million. For the right child and the right set of reasons, homeschooling can be necessary, perhaps even advantageous, but those cases are scant… truly few and far between.
Why would a parent choose homeschooling? Some parents find that their local public schools, or even private schools, don’t align with their core values. Some parents seek individualized learning that isn’t available in the traditional classroom.
In general, parents that are homeschooling are using internet-based curricula, such as acellusacademy or Study.com, to teach from. They provide automatic grading and record-keeping, conveniently record student progress, and give you more hands-on teaching time. The students are provided with fun multi-dimensional educational experiences that include video and audio clips, learning games, interactive exercises and immediate feedback.
There are absolutely no such online curricula for Limmudei Kodesh available for a Chabad or other Jewish parent. As such, for an average student, a home-based curriculum for Limmudei Kodesh taken from a Day School Rebbi or Morah is set for failure.
Limmudei Kodesh is text-based, and unless you are a skilled Mechanech or Mechaneches, it is difficult to provide a structured home-based Kriah and Chumash program. I have seen so many mainstream 12–13-year-old Talmidim and Talmidos struggle with simple Siddur reading. The primary reason for this weakness is that from an early age they were not provided with a step-by-step Kriah curriculum, with proper testing as the student progresses from Alef Bais to Nekudos, to combining letters, and proper Kriah. The same applies to Chumash and Rashi.
In short, online schooling can bring an adequate amount of structure that is so critical to a developing child that [Judaic] home schooling simply does not, to the detriment of the child’s development.
In addition, the greatest downside of homeschooling is the lack of interaction with other students. The Covid-19 experience made children homebound and caused a lack of social interaction with others, and we have seen catastrophic consequences. We need not elaborate.
Even if you are on Shlichus and reside in a community that doesn’t have a school up to snuff with your values, the Shluchim Online School is comparable in many ways to brick and mortar traditional schools. Record keeping, homework, ongoing testing/evaluations and periodic gatherings of the students has done so much for the social and emotional development of their students. Given the choice, the Shluchim Online School is a no brainer.
I don’t fail to see the challenges of online school. The staff at our Cheder has studied the success of our [Covid] Zoom school vs. our in-class schooling. Unsurprisingly, our in-class schooling success exceeds our online school success. (Boruch Hashem we’ve long since resumed in-person classes for our students).
Nonetheless, we felt content that we were reacting to an unconventional situation and giving it the attention due to replicate the school experience at home, to the greatest extent possible. In this sense, we saw the strides that technology is making in affording the unserved child an acceptable education in an online, structured, school setting.
It is certainly more challenging for a child to meet his/her social needs in a home school setting, vs. traditional/online school. Social development for a child isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. The Shluchim Office Online School has done a brilliant job in bringing a sense of community to their students, and they see friendships flourishing amongst the classmates in the afterhours.
For the parents at home to replicate even merely the academic aspect of structured schooling, they would need to set aside all professional engagement (during school hours), and make it his/her full-time occupation in educating their child. Of course, this is assuming that the parent has the necessary teaching skills, and doesn’t have various ages/stages of children that they’re homeschooling. If there are children of different ages, I find it infeasible to give the children their age/stage appropriate Chinuch simultaneously. However, even if you’ve defied all odds and manage to provide the academics at home, there still remains the other aspects that schools provide that are impossible for homeschool to provide.
It is for all of the above reasons that I’m so gratified by the Shluchim Office Online School’s existence and find it a grave mistake for any parent to deny a child a structured schooling and have it replaced with a homeschool curriculum.
Wishing all parents a Ksiva V’Chasima Tova and much Nachas from their children.