Article by Mrs. Chanie Wolf: Lately, there have been many articles published expressing frustration with the mosdos chinuch in our community. It’s time that we consider what we, the parents, can do to help the situation.
By Mrs. Chanie Wolf
Lately there have been many articles published expressing frustration with the mosdos chinuch in our community. The sentiment is they don’t really care about our children; they should be doing much more to accept, accommodate and reach every child. Parents don’t feel heard, teachers don’t feel respected, and there is lots of blame to go around.
Let’s be honest: There is certainly much about our schools that can use improvement. As someone involved in chinuch myself, I am very aware of this. Not every teacher is a great teacher; not every principal is a great principal. Mistakes are made – sometimes big ones. The communication and transparency between some schools and their parent bodies leaves much to be desired. The curricula are often not stimulating enough, or way beyond the skill set of many students. And perhaps most painfully, many of our schools are essentially being controlled not by mechanchim but by businessmen. Pain is pain, and when we see our children suffering, it is natural to cry out.
At the same time, perhaps it would be helpful to consider another perspective.
Chinuch is perhaps the most complex endeavor any of us ever attempt. It is the molding of an individual, emotionally and bruchniyus. It requires a delicate dance between unconditional love, confident limit-setting, and inspirational guidance. As parents, it tests our patience, triggers our deepest insecurities, and mirrors all our faults. It also provides us with one of the greatest opportunities for real introspection and growth.
In Chumash Bamidbar, which we are currently learning, the Yidden fall into a mode of complaining. Despite the heavenly blessing of mon, they lament: “We recall the fish that we would eat in Mitzrayim for free…” (Bamidbar 11:5)
Ironically, the food in Mitzrayim was not free at all; they were slaves! And yet, as Rashi explains, “chinam min hamitzvos” – they were free of personal responsibility. It is human nature to subconsciously choose bitter suffering over responsibility for our choices. It is so much easier to blame others for the problems we face than to look inward and see what we can and need to do.
Schools certainly play a vital role in the chinuch of our children. Yet tall, beautiful buildings are only as viable as the carefully laid concrete underground allows them to be. Just as no amount of support from others can truly replace a parent’s love, neither can schools – no matter how excellent – be a substitute for parental chinuch. What happens in school matters; but what happens at home matters even more.
As the Rebbe says: “The Torah – Torah of Truth and Torah of Life – emphasizes that the main responsibility and concern for the chinuch of the child is placed upon the parents, whereas the school is only their ‘shliach’. Therefore, even when they send the child to school, the responsibility remains on the parents’ shoulders.” (Hisvaaduyos 5744 Vol. 3, pg. 1434)
Our children internalize our priorities. Seeing that their parents value ruchniyus over gashmius, that Torah learning, tznius, and chassidishe hanhagos are truly important to us, sets a strong foundation for their chinuch. And the derech eretz and ahavas Yisroel we demonstrate and model help them develop middos tovos. By mirroring our behaviors, speech and even our feelings and attitudes, children nudge us to constantly do better. We are their role models, and that awareness can be so deeply motivating.
The mandate of schools is to build upon this foundation and strengthen the child’s Yiddishe, chassidishe values. So rather than focusing on what schools can and should be doing differently, let us ask ourselves: Are we providing this strong foundation at home? We need to demonstrate that we value what the school values – the importance of learning and seder, policies for tznius, technology, or other, and derech eretz.
At times these standards may be beyond where we ourselves are at. But like parents who must speak with one voice for their children to trust and respect them, we can not afford to undermine the chinuch we are sending them to school to receive. Expressing frustration or cynicism with what they are being taught, or allowing the child to not follow the school’s rules, will all but ensure those we’ve asked to partner in their chinuch can not succeed. We want them to do all they can for our children; are we doing all we can to empower them?
Humility and Gratitude
Regarding the areas in which we believe the schools need to improve:
It is important to remember that those who invest their lives in chinuch, whether in the capacity of teacher, principal, or other positions, generally do so because they care. Helping raise Yiddishe, chassidishe children or young adults is a shlichus they take on with mesiras nefesh. The work is very challenging, and often extends way beyond the official hours. Do we take this for granted? Do we feel entitled to the mesiras nefesh of others?
And here’s the thing. Everyone can make mistakes. We need tremendous siyata diShmaya in the holy work of raising Hashem’s precious children, and we can never daven enough. Do we expect more of mechanchim than we do of ourselves? Should parents be criticized by their children or others for every fault, real or perceived?
Bear in mind that sincere appreciation will encourage, while criticism makes it all that much harder and is unlikely to accomplish anything productive. (For more on this topic, see The Moshiach Page in the Tammuz issue of Nshei Chabad Newsletter.)
Let’s endeavor as a community to change the vibe. Since negativity speaks much more loudly than positivity does, what if we could publish at least two appreciative articles about our devoted mechanchim and mechanchos for every critical one? It would raise morale, motivating more of them to do even better.
And it would attract more talent to this crucial shlichus – individuals who could do great work but see any other vocation as way more rewarding. Right now, most schools are desperate for teachers, and many are searching for principals as well. Going into chinuch has become an unattractive – and for many, financially unsustainable – option. We are doing ourselves no favors here.
Partners in Chinuch
In addition, we need to consider the impact of this criticism on our own children. Yes, at times we may disagree with the school. However, parents and the schools are partners in a child’s chinuch, just like spouses. One may have legitimate disagreements and complaints against their spouse and think their approach to chinuch is wrong. But other than actually harmful behavior, discord and mistrust between the parents is generally more damaging to the child than any particular misguided decision.
When a child is upset over something that happened in school, it is important that we empathize with his or her feelings and provide a safe space of love and support. But then we need to do our best to convey trust, respect and a perspective that can allow our child to be receptive to the guidance of his or her mechanchim and mechanchos.
Regarding the approach parents should take when they have complaints against their children’s schools, the Rebbe writes:
It is understandable and obvious (and very surprising that they need to ask me about this):
- It is the obligation of parents to express interest in the way their children are being educated, and whatever is not understood – to ask and suggest.
- This does not mean at all that every father and mother of a student are the hanhallah of the mosad or stand above the hanhallah.
- For the good of the student, the mosad etc, all of this should be without tumult or controversy etc, especially when it (is an institution that) belongs to Chabad; especially as it is an explicit command: love peace etc.
- In a matter of a difference of opinion with hanhallah etc, it is explicit in Shulchan Aruch: (act according to) the instruction of the Beis Din of the community.
- For parents to involve the student in all of this – this is contrary to Chinuch and the good of the child, contrary to Shulchan Aruch etc.
In other words: Rather than criticizing our children’s mechanchim to our children, to fellow parents on WhatsApp chats, or to the community via op-eds, the right thing to do is to communicate respectfully and openly with the school and try to come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Maybe there are things they see that we don’t; maybe there is a perspective they can share that would be enlightening. Come with an open mind and ask. With an approach of respect and trust, transmitted wholeheartedly to the child, many things can be worked out in a reasonable manner.
Ideally, parents should encourage and advise their child themselves to speak – respectfully and openly – to their teacher or principal. This sends a strong message to the child that it is not, chas vesholom, the parents and child against the school, with the parent protecting the child, but rather, all of them are on the same team! And when the student shares his or her feelings and perceptions directly (“It feels like I am being picked on”, “The classes are challenging for me” etc,) the conversation can go a long way toward healing misunderstandings.
Behind The Scenes
Sometimes, however, despite our best efforts at communication, nothing seems to help. In these situations it is important to bear in mind that there is a lot behind the scenes of schools that we may not be aware of. There are two major challenges facing mosdos chinuch:
Firstly, schools run on financial deficits; as a result, teachers are underpaid, classes are too large, and vital services and support are simply missing. With schools forced to operate on very limited budgets, are we setting reasonable expectations?
Secondly, the mechanchim have to balance the needs of many different students, with varying levels of Yiddishkeit, skills, and needs. Sometimes extending themselves for one who is struggling may mean jeopardizing the chinuch of all the others. These are painful scenarios and there often aren’t easy solutions.
Someone once said: “Before I had children, I used to lecture on ‘The Ten Commandments of Parenting’. Once I had my first child, that became ‘Ten Suggestions for Parenting’. After I had my third child, I stopped speaking…” Like the perfect parent who hasn’t yet had any children, it is easy to know exactly what the teacher or hanhallah should have done without having been in their position.
Which leads us to one more very important thing parents can do when we notice something lacking in our children’s schools: Offer to help. Get involved. There is always a need for a lot more staff and a lot more resources for any school to be able to cater to every individual student properly. With the prevalence of mental health challenges amongst today’s youth, this is a greater challenge than ever. If you see room for improvement, ask “What can I do?”
May we all be bentched with abundant siyata diShmaya and hatzlocha in the chinuch of Hashem’s precious children – both those who are biologically ours, and those who become like our own. May the Rebbe have nachas from all of them and may we begin the coming school year already in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh with Moshiach now.