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

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More on Chinuch

Charles Murray writes in the first of three articles to be published in the Wall Street Journal that we do not take into account intelligence when accessing our schools systems. He points out that 50% of all children in the system have below avergae intelligence (as measured by IQ). Consequently, we have unrealistic expectations for our schools and design politically correct but bound-to-fail programs such as No Child Left Behind.

(His second, fascinating, article postulates that there are WAY too many people in four year colleges).

I think Charles Murray articulates a problem that also envelopes the yeshiva system, across the board, from MO to Chareidi. Most MO education does not properly account for differences in intelligence. The secular curriculum is generally very demanding and if you can't cut it you are an outcast. (Even though the schools typically have different tracks, I don't think even the lowest tracks account for the fact that, for example, some kids simply can't get math or science).

In the chareidi world, all the boys are expected to excel in learning. But we all know that learning Talmud requires a certain type of logical mind. Nevertheless, if you can't cut it, you are an oysvorf. And, as Rabbi Horowitz has repeatedly pointed out, being forced to produce in an environment where you are not capable of succeeding is a sure recipe for "children at risk".

(Taken to the next step, the kollelim are full of yungerleit who simply do not have the skills or intelligence to succeed. They are wasting away when they could be learning vocational skills or going out into the work force. They would be happier, their wives would be happier and there would be much less poverty in the Jewish world. If you read Charles Murray's second article use your imagination and simply substitute the word "kollel" for the phrase "four year college", the article still works.)

Parents also really need to be careful and objective about assessing their kids' skills and abilities. Kids have enough peer pressure to succeed as it is. If parents put too much pressure on their kids (particularly demanding unrealistic results in light of their kids' abilities), they are doing real damage to their kids and are asking for trouble.

(Our kids know that I couldn't care less how they do in school. The only thing I want to hear at teachers' conferences is that the kids have nice midos and are making an effort. At the end of the day, it wworks itself out as long as you don't make your kids meshugah).

I think we can all learn alot from Charles Murray.



  • At 12:25 PM, Blogger Chaim B. said…

    I made some of the same points in a post on this yesterday
    The issue definitely needs to be raised in yeshivos. Something that stood out in the article: Statistically, IQ is an average, so by defintion 50% of the population will have 'below average' intelligence and 50% above.

  • At 1:22 PM, Blogger kishke said…

    The 50% below statistic is ridiculous.

  • At 2:10 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    I don't really think you made the same points that I did at all. Your focus was on testing. My point has nothing to do with testing. My point has to do with the metzius that many kids simply can't cut it in an environment that is very demanding and that caters to the best acheivers.


    I'm not sure I get your point. By definition, 50% of all kids are below average intelligence. I think it is fair to assume that in the yeshiva system, most kids are probably above average, when the average is the IQ of all kids. That doesn't impact my point; the system is designed for those at the top and does not adequately take into account children in the yeshiva system who don't have the intelligence to cut it at the high level demanded.

  • At 3:22 PM, Blogger Fern @ Life on the Balcony said…

    I agree. While I have no problem with setting minimum standards of education, the standards should be based on an objective understanding of the amount of knowledge needed to adequately function in today's society (and for Jewish children, an adequate knowledge of Jewish studies subjects to be a functioning observant Jew).

    Also, there really needs to be many different approaches to learning available to students since not everyone learns in the same way. I once read about a Yeshiva in New York for boys with ADD. They had desks that you stood at instead of sitting, and they only worked on a subject for a relatively short period of time before taking a break. Also, they had a lot of physical activities interspersed throughout the day so that the boys could use up their energy in a positive way instead of using it to disrupt the class. We need more schools that are thinking outside the box like that.

    Finally, I completely agree with Murray's argument that there are too many people in four year universities. I would take that one step further and say that not only are there too many people seeking a four year degree, but there are too many people doing so right after high school. Based on my experience at a public university, I think many of the students are too immature to take their studying seriously and don't have enough life experience to choose a major that is well-suited to their personality and expectations.

  • At 4:21 PM, Blogger kishke said…

    If we're talking median average, which is the point at which half fall above and half below, then Murrays statistic is entirely meaningless.

    But even if we're talking mean average, which adds all results and divides by the number of cases, it's still pretty obvious that about 50% are likely to fall below the average, since it's to be expected that IQs will be clustered within, say, 40 points of one another, with only a few showing major deviation above and below. In which case Murray's statistic tells us nothing.

  • At 5:00 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    I still don't get your point about "his statistic". It's a non sequitor. Did you read the articles?

  • At 5:29 PM, Blogger kishke said…

    I did not read it (yet). I'm responding to the sentence that reads: 50% of all children in the system have below avergae intelligence.

  • At 7:12 PM, Blogger yitzchok said…

    my wife, and other concerned parents led an initiative to bring a program from Canada that addresses learning difficulties at the source.

    it enables students who have learning issues to absorb the material.

    this program works great with the resource rooms, where the child first gets the capacity to learn, and the resource room catches them up with what they missed.

    Many students with average and above intellegence can have learning difficulties that cripple their ability to master the material. The program's set of exercises are based on nueroplasticity research(the brains ability to increase capacity by stimulating various cognitive areas). customized schedule of exercises are designed to treat each child, who work through various exercises (oral, written, visual, computer based) during the day.
    The program was introduced at HALB in Long Beach, NY, and can make a tremendous difference in our childrens lives.

    the big difference between traditional resource room and this program is that resource room teach children strategies to cope. However, as the years go by, new strategies are needed to address the increasingly complex material. This is a nearly endless cycle.
    The Arrowsmith program increases the childs capacity to learn. When completed with the program, the child no longer needs strategies.

    for more information, see

  • At 10:51 AM, Blogger kishke said…

    I just read the article, and see I was being dumb. From reading your post I somehow I got the idea that Murray was presenting the 50% below as a new statistic, which he obviously was not. I guess I'm just not smart enough to read blogs. Sorry.

    Regarding the substance of your post, I certainly agree that full-time yeshiva and kollel learning is not for everyone. I'm not sure I agree, though, with respect to placing Gemara at the center of the curriculum. Gemara can be learned at many different levels, and each level has value in terms of the obligation to learn and becoming Torah-literate. Even people who are unable to grasp deep lomdus are often able to achieve satisfaction in their learning by embracing bekius-type, wide-but-shallow learning.

    Also, I would worry about the error factor were we to try to separate the underachievers from those who are just dumb and educate them differently. We could end up with horror stories of smart underachievers trapped in the dumb track.

  • At 10:37 AM, Blogger the questioner said…

    I hate to have a one-track mind, but if out Kollelim have people in it who ought to be learning a vocation, if our schools have many who are not as intellectually gifted as we'd like to think, wouldn't that suggest that many learning Daf Yomi should be channeled towards a type of learning they can actually do and gain from? The Questioner

  • At 2:39 PM, Blogger MoChassid said…


    Of course they should. But it's a bracha livatalah. People aren'y going to go to Navi Shiurim. Daf Yomi has become a social thing as much as a learning thing.

    There are many benefits to daf Yomi. Just the idea of having a set schedule of learning, the k'vias, the comeraderie, are very important benefits. But the mastery of gemorah by the mass of participants isn't one of them.

    But that's the way it is and it isn't changing.


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