Institution Built Around The Child
By Rabbi Yeshaya Weber
the one hand, education is becoming more developed and organized, with curricula
planned ahead of time down to the last detail, learning is on a high level and
the environmental conditions are constantly improving. On the other hand, when
you look at the child/student – oy! From year to year he decreases in
knowledge, in understanding, in his feelings and soul-connection to his
learning, and in his motivation to learn. How do these two elements exist
the Rebbe Rayatz tells us a story about a Nasi, a Rebbe, in addition to
the wondrous message of the story itself, there’s a double advantage: 1) the
story is about a Nasi and 2) the story is related by a Nasi. In
the Rebbe MH"M’s sichos kodesh we find deep chiddushei Torah
derived from and based on these stories. We will relate one such story that
offers a dramatic message about our topic – chinuch, the education of
Rebbe Rayatz told a story about his father, the Rebbe Rashab, which appears in Likkutei
Sichos, Volume 20, Parshas VaYeira. When the Rebbe Rashab was four or five
years old, he went to his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, on Shabbos Parshas
VaYeira and cried bitterly: why doesn’t Hashem reveal Himself to me!? Among
other points, in the sicha the Rebbe mentions that one would think that a
child so young, with the soul powers and abilities of a 4-5 year old, wouldn’t
yearn for Hashem’s revelation so intensely. However, despite his youth, the
Rebbe Rashab strongly desired to see Hashem! This longing wasn’t buried deep
in his soul. It was so apparent that it was expressed with tears. The Rebbe
concludes that the story was told to us by a Nasi, the Rebbe Rayatz,
about a Nasi, the Rebbe Rashab, in order to reveal to us that every
Jewish child, even at a young age, has the mighty potential to yearn for the
loftiest things, including longing to see Hashem and crying bitterly over this!
This is despite the fact that the child’s abilities are underdeveloped and his
soul powers have not matured.
this episode, we see that there is no need for so-called early "personality
development." You don’t even have to work according to the Rambam’s
approach (in his introduction to Mishnayos) by bribing the child with
nuts and gifts. We might use persuasive means to get a child to learn or daven,
but to get a child to want to see Hashem, you don’t have to do a thing. Every
Jewish child, by his very nature, wants to see Hashem.
the end of the sicha, the Rebbe makes a radical statement that ought to
shake us up (namely, the parents and educators). The Rebbe declared that
nowadays, "nature has changed," and children today are different than
those of earlier times. Every Jewish child openly wants, to the point of tears,
to have Hashem appear to him.
sicha, which was said decades ago, did indeed make waves, primarily among
educators. I remember that when the Rebbe said the sicha, he added that
if teachers were still skeptical and found it hard to believe what he said, they
should ask a rav whether they were allowed to continue teaching!!
I never heard, and I don’t think anybody else has either, that any real
educational changes were made in Chabad chinuch in any of the mosdos!
Everything remained the same. The reason for this, I believe, is that what was
said remained abstract. Nobody had the nerve to bring this idea down, as
Chassidus says, into the world.
excuse cropped up as to why nothing changed – that the Rebbe was referring
primarily to those Jews who are still spiritually young. But that’s
farfetched, a way to avoid taking responsibility. This excuse in no way fits the
Rebbe’s unequivocal statement that "nature has changed," which
refers to an essential change, emotionally and intellectually, in the
development of a Jewish child. One ramification of this change is the strong
desire to see Hashem.
the justification for not making any changes has been that the Rebbe constantly
gave us new assignments. We were busy fulfilling the Rebbe’s requests, such as
the many mivtzaim, and we simply didn’t have time to address a subject
that needs a great deal of attention. Baruch Hashem, we were busy
with the Rebbe’s holy inyanim. However, we still must deal with this
vital subject. Understanding it would create an enormous revolution in our
approach to chinuch.
speaking, our generation is characterized by materialism. Cold and dry
technology has taken the place of ideology. Pnimiyus (inwardness) made
way for superficiality and shallowness, empty of deep meaning. Thinking is
superficial and quick. The main thing is to understand an idea in a general way.
The details are no longer important, and are even superfluous and burdensome. It
would appear that sensitivities, values, and ideals are all ideas of the past,
which were useful then but are now obsolete.
quick pace of life overruns even those areas which until recently, by historical
standards, we were certain were part of the deepest dimensions of a person’s
soul. This general striving towards a highly intense pace of living breeds
superficiality, and influences our education in no small measure.
example, take an average child who grows and develops in a regular school. He
sits with 20-30 other students his age, all of whom are operating within a
particular framework. Everything moves along predefined tracks, exceedingly
narrow, with very little room for deviation. The child is placed on the reading
track, and if all goes well, he moves on to siddur, Chumash, Mishna,
and Gemara. Upon reaching the age of bar mitzva, he will get a
ticket to enter mesivta and so on.
child, who made his way without any problems to the satisfaction of those
responsible for the program, who learns three to four folio of Gemara,
even learning them with some degree of analytical comprehension – what
precisely does he have? Knowledge of how to read and understanding of what he
reads. Knowledge of Jewish and Chassidic concepts. Knowledge and a grasp
of Chumash, Mishna, and Gemara. But is that what it’s all about?
child acquired knowledge, but unfortunately the knowledge is general and limited
relative to his potential. When we test the personal desire of the child
to learn Torah (as opposed to the knowledge he has managed to acquire) to
determine whether his natural yearning is to increase his knowledge of Torah,
the picture we see is rather grim, and doesn’t validate us nor the education
in which we invested our energies for so many years. Yes, the child traversed
the path we paved for him. He received prizes and punishments as needed and
acquired knowledge and information, but did not internalize and develop the
tools which, in essence, drive the eternal quest for the constant acquisition of
explanation we are accustomed to hearing with regard to this failure is – yeridas
ha’doros (the descent of the generations). What can we do? There’s
yeridas ha’doros. We are comforted that "when Moshiach comes, it will
all straighten out."
answer, however, only applies when you relate to things in the spirit of the
times superficially. If you examine things more closely, however, you realize
that the situation is not all that rosy. You discover a precipitous descent in
knowledge and skills as well, in understanding, and in the motivation to learn.
the other hand, we see a seemingly odd phenomenon, in that materially we are
doing far better. Perhaps the two are intertwined! The educational structure is
well planned and prepared. The curriculum is figured out down to the smallest
details. Nothing is omitted. The level of the learning materials is going up and
the environmental conditions are constantly improving. The public consciousness
regarding teachers’ terms of employment has been raised and teachers’
salaries have gone up. There are enrichment courses, lectures, and workshops,
which raise the level of the teachers’ competency.
short, education in the 21st century is organized, structured, and better than
it ever was. But the child, the student – oy! He keeps going downhill
in knowledge, understanding of the material, in his feelings and soul-connection
to his learning, in his inner motivation to learn.
answer to this paradox is shocking in its simplicity. It’s lack of attention.
Yes. We have taken care of all angles of education except for one: the child.
The child is relegated to measurement by the rules of relativism – relative to
the rules of the organization, which progresses and develops so much. A
situation is created in which the child exists to serve the goals of the school.
He must fit the demands of the system; otherwise, he has no place, when it
should actually be the other way around! The school was founded in order to
service the child, to develop him, to provide his needs in accordance with his
a child can get nearly anything he wants. In our generation everything is
readily available, even for young children. There’s no need to "wait
until you’re older," and this goes for far more than the nuts and gifts
the Rambam refers to. The material abundance today is so great that children are
disgusted by it. Even things that excite them lose their value and importance
quickly, and they look for the next attraction, which doesn’t last long
child searches. He needs something personal that will speak to him. Having no
other choice, he turns to external things that sprout up and are introduced to
his world daily. He is confused and perhaps is unaware that the things he needs
the most are attention and educational appreciation, being treated pleasantly
and with true caring. All these items have become rare commodities. They barely
exist. Adults find it hard to give, yet children yearn to receive. Thus, they
look for superficial substitutes, which do not provide real satisfaction.
vacuum has been created, an air pocket from which the child does not succeed in
escaping. Sometimes the child actually grasps for the slightest thread of a
relationship, but even that isn’t available.
points I raised aren’t new. Perhaps they haven’t actually been raised in a
public forum, but they have definitely been heard here and there, in one form or
another. The reactions I get are, "Is there a solution?" and the
answer is yes. How? By overturning the general educational structure and
dividing it into group and individual models.
in the background, we hear more and more voices expressing the need to create a
personal structure. Even educators in public schools around the world have
concluded, after professional and thorough checking, that there is no way to
approach a child and to reach him without constructing a personal learning model
tailored to him.
is really nothing new at all. The main complaint that principals have is that
although they understand this need, the system is not set up financially for
changes of this kind. An undertaking of this kind is beyond their budgets.
Additionally, the staff is not ready for such far-reaching changes. Changes such
as these can ruin the system entirely.
unique frameworks are not like any other general frameworks – not in content,
not in perspective, not in our belief in the child nor in the training we give
him. The educational modes are similar but the approach is different.
our present state, the educational responsibility falls on the system. In light
of the prevailing situation, which becomes clearer with every passing moment,
despite the inherent difficulties, the system must reflect on these necessary
changes, which will enable it to truly reach the child, every child.
Rebbe declared that an enormous change has taken place – that the very nature
of children has changed. It is, therefore, incumbent on us to do careful
research and focus on these changes. Our findings will enable us to know what is
the proper approach for each child.
the child will receive personal direction aimed at the nature of his midos and
soul powers, the day will come when his natural desires for Torah, yiras
Shamayim, and the yearning to see Hashem, which were previously buried, will
many eyes have been opened. Those involved in chinuch, and even those who
aren’t, see the gravity of the situation and the quick rate of deterioration.
This is a tragic situation and it seems as though everybody feels the need for a
change, a revolution. Since this is the case, the time has come to publicize the
fact that there are tools and there are plans. Without a significant investment
of money, we can change the general educational philosophy to one that is
individualistic and personal. Learning in such a way will bring the child to want
benefits will be numerous: The teacher will know what he is teaching and who he
is teaching. The principal will no longer have to deal with serious discipline
problems and with constant challenges. Instead, he can devote his time and
energy, as well as his knowledge and vast experience, to organizing this new
educational system and fine-tuning it.
parents will be energized by their children and will be influenced by them. When
they see their motivated children, they will get caught up in the excitement,
too. When they see how important it is to their child, and that this is his true
desire, they will learn a lesson for themselves and emulate him.
the Rebbe concludes the sicha, this revelation within "meshichoi,"
i.e., the schoolchildren, will bring about the revelation of Moshiach, may it be
speedily in our days.