The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Exit Interview

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has published his second in a series of articles on chinuch. The article was originally published in the latest issue of Mishpacha Magazine.

(An aside. If you are reading this, Mishpacha subscription people, can you please work on getting your distribution fixed so that we don't receive the magazine on the Monday following it's Thursday publication date? Thank you).

Rabbi Horowitz begins by noting that when you cancel a credit card, the company will probably call you to request an "exit interview". That is, they will ask you why you are cancelling so that they can better understand what went wrong and how better to retain customers.

He writes:

Well, over the past twenty years, I conducted hundreds of terribly painful ‘exit interviews’ with children and adults who have abandoned Yiddishkeit. I can tell you in no uncertain terms what it is that they wanted – and why they took their business elsewhere. They were looking for respect and understanding. Acceptance. Safe and nurturing home lives. Hands-on parents who offer unconditional love along with their guidance. Caring educators who dealt with their admitted misdeeds gently and privately (firmly was OK). The ability to be a bit different without being labeled or judged. More time for hobbies and more recreational opportunities.
Consequently, writes Rabbi Horowitz,

I would think that the frightened parents in the community ought to shorten the hours that their children are in school, offer more extra-curricular activities, clamor for more tolerance, invest in the educators of their children, and boycott the schools that dismiss children for misdeeds. The community leaders would do well to meet with the mental-health professionals and those who deal with the ‘at-risk’ teen population, perhaps even with the troubled kids themselves, and listen – really listen – to their advice. I would love to tell you that this is happening. It pains me to report that this is usually not the case. Those of us who deal with at-risk kids are consulted in firefighter mode by desperate parents and educators – but little time and energy is being spent in fire prevention. They are asking us what to do with the at-risk kids, but not what we think should be done for all our children.

In many communities, I’m sad to report, exactly the opposite is happening. School hours are getting longer and longer. Kids have less time and opportunity to engage in desperately needed recreational activities. In fact, in some communities, normal sports activities are frowned upon or outright banned – sometimes for children above the age of ten years old!! (emphasis mine) Schools that dismiss children are valued and pursued. Acceptance criterion for high schools is getting increasingly more challenging. On many occasions, I have clearly stated that in today’s climate I would probably not have been accepted to any ‘normal’ high school when I graduated eighth grade thirty-three years ago!!

Most peculiar is the reaction of parents who respond to their fears by striving mightily to place their children in the most rigorous programs. The thinking is that their children will be safe there, as the ‘chevrah’ will be better and the ‘at-risk’ children will be excluded from those elite schools. However, this thinking is terribly flawed. For there is no guarantee that their child – or one of their children some time in the future of their family life – will not be one of those children who will need some adjustment, tolerance, or understanding. So, in effect, the parents are raising the bar – and the ante of this very high-stakes gamble – by opting to send their child to a program that purports to produce a ‘metzuyan’ or ‘mitzuyenes’ (exemplary children). But at the same time, they are greatly increasing the odds that their child may find the train running away from him or her. And, in all my years of dealing with the at-risk teen population, I have not noticed that the elitist schools have any lower percentage of kids abandoning Yiddishkeit. (emphasis mine) All the more so if you include those who were asked to “find another school,” midway in their school experience.
(Interestingly, there is a growing phenomenon among the Dati Leumi in Israel called Torani high schools with an extremely rigirous Talmud and Limudei Kodesh curriculum that are also designed for elite students. I wonder if they will also suffer from the issues raised by Rabbi Horowitz. I will address Torani schools another time).

I have written many times that I am grateful that our sons have not had excessive pressure put on them in high school. Also, the fact that they've had the opportunity to play varsity hockey has given them a fantastic outlet. I don't think they would have reacted well to a more rigid environment. On the other hand, we've seen much more pressure put on our girls (in two different schools) and I don't think it's healthy.



  • At 7:39 AM, Blogger and so it shall be... said…

    Well thank you Rabbi Horowitz.

    I've been saying for years that the so-called 'gedolim' of our generation have caused the 'at-risk' crisis.

    They are the cause of the new 'shidduch crisis,' and mark my words, deserve similar blame for the coming 'parnassah crisis.'

    Some gedolim!


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