Teach the child according to his ability
Teach the child according to his abilityNati Shohat/FLASH90

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Every institution craves for the ‘box child’.

The box child is a child which fits the mold. No need for intellectual explanation.

He achieves like the norm, and does not deviate from the regulations of the institution. Unfortunately this trend has been adopted from western philosophy and has crept into our institutions to become reality.

Shlomo Hamelech states: Al Pi Darcho, “Teach the child according to his ability”, not “Darchem” – their methodology.

Before the Second World War, it was a common practice to hear about many children becoming illuyim (geniuses). Today I have asked many mechanchim and parents, “do we hear such terminology today regarding our children?”  They answered a profound “no”.

However there are many non-Jewish children who have gone on to become geniuses and some becoming celebrities. Where have our children gone?

We have created great orators, authors and Jewish singers, but we are missing our born and bred American Limoges. We have had 60 years to reproduce our gedolim. Where are they? Most of our greatest gedolim came from overseas. Why does importing need to happen?

My answer is yes, we have geniuses. We have many potential gedolim. Many of those potential geniuses are currently being medicated, considered out-of-the-box, have left the fold, or are in rehab.

I fully believe that if the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein or Rabbi Meir Shapiro, just to name a few, would be living today as young boys, they would all be thrown out of our institutions because they would not be considered “box” candidates.

Before the war, parents would come together and pay a rebbe to teach their child in small groups. After a number of years, and at the approximate age of 12, the rebbe would announce that it was time to move onwards to a yeshiva, because he could no longer teach the child.

I always wondered how a rebbe could say such a thing. Did the child have behavior problems? Is that the reason why the rebbe could no longer teach him?

Perhaps the reason why rabbeim would send the child away, at a tender age, for a higher level of learning, is because they themselves felt inadequate to go higher and the child would not benefit from their teaching any more.

Today, if the child shows to be smarter than the rebbe,or teacher. what normally happens is one of two options:

a) The rebbe/teacher throws the child out of class, as it appears the child is being chutzpahdik

b) He notifies the principal or parents, that the child needs medication or psychological help.

A story is circulating about a rebbe who called his student’s parents and informed them that their son needed Ritalin as he was very hyperactive during class time. The father replied and said, “I don’t think my son will take it.” The rebbe came up with a plan to make the child take it every day.

Every morning the rebbe would ask the child to make him a coffee, and as a result the child would get “a candy” aka Ritalin pill, as a reward.

Three months later at the child’s PTA, the rebbe informed the parents that their son was doing amazing and was much calmer in class, showing great results. He recommended carrying on with the Ritalin. The father replied; “My son told me that the first day he received the candy he did not like it, but he didn’t want to show you a lack of hakaros hatov, so he decided to put it into your coffee… ever since!

This easy cop-out must be stopped. Our children are not box children. Our rabbeim and teachers are not packagers!

Let me clarify a misconception regarding the famous Chazal which brings down the following. Chazal say that when 1000 students go to Yeshiva to learn, only one will become a posek.  Another Chazal states that everyone has the ability to become like Moshe Rabbeinu. These two Chazal appear to be conflicting in a contradiction between the two.

The answer to this conflict is that Hashem bestows upon people, characteristics and middos to bring out their full potential. It is a true gift from Hashem and if one can study and seek out his potential and utilize it to its fullest, he is considered to be in the same category as Moshe Rabbeinu.

On the other hand, regarding the 1000 students which go to study and only one becomes great, it does not infer that the yeshiva only needs to cater for the box child, and the ones who are not following the protocol should be discarded and left uncared for. This is the wrong interpretation of what Chazal meant. Rather this statement means as follows. Rather it means that all 1000 students will remain frum but only one will have the capacity to become a posek for klal Yisroel.  They will all certainly know how to read and enjoy learning Torah.  All 1000 children should still be taught the beauty and greatness of Torah Al Pi Darko. If only we truly applied what Chazal teach us, much of the problems we face with students today would be eliminated, and simchas hachaim would not be diminished in any way in Limud HaTorah, causing the child to lose interest.

As an after thought, sadly to say, this concept of fitting a child into the box has manifested itself unfortunately even outside the school system. There are religious Jewish groups which feel that if a Jew does not dress like them, act like them or speak their language, they are considered in their eyes as second-class citizens and these groups publicly call THEM goyim or even Nazis. This terrible outlook was created by our educational system and this is not Judaism at all.

Let us remember the great wisdom of Shlomo Hamalech “Al Pi Darchoi” – and not “Al Pi Darchem!”

Rabbi Dovid Abenson is the founder and director, author and lecturer at Shaar HaTalmud, a unique yeshiva based online program, featuring evaluations and remediation, working with students to upgrade skills in Hebrew reading, chumash/rashi and gemara studies, consulting school principals world - wide to improve their ability to help students who possess under-developed skills. Also available for in house training for schools and yeshivos.

He can be reached at [email protected] or 1-877-HATALMUD (428 2568).