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Monday, September 13, 2010

Critical Thinking: Important for All

(I'm going to digress from my planned programming to address an issue of education, but I will not publish any names although the response I am focusing on is not anonymous).

Dag has pointed me to a reply to a question in last week's Yated in the Chinuch Roundtable pointing that attitudes towards women's education, aka "let them bake cake" are a factor in financial issues. Background: A mother of a "nice-size" family pulls here daughter from school of Friday regularly enough that the principal send home a letter stating that the absenses were excessive and would likely be penalized. She explained to the teacher that she needs her daughter's help to prepare for Shabbos and writes "I wonder[s] why we stress academics so much and do not spend more time teaching our girls how to run a Yiddishe home. Pardon me for using this expression, but I think that you will understand me when I say that when our daughters get married, there should not be "bapitsm by fire." The need to know how to prepare for Shabbos." The mother would like to see Bais Yaakov schools adopt a Sunday through Thursday schedule, as Chassidish schools maintain.

Certainly running a Yiddishe includes learning how to keep commitments and one major commitment that children should learn to keep is their commitment to attend and achieve in school. Or, as my parents used to say when I wanted to take on commitments that they did not believe were manageable, "school IS your job."

Panelists in the chinuch roundtable explained that having such a schedule is not desirable:
*it is impractical, even if desirable, given parental work schedules
*girls can learn to run a home without a great amount of regular preparation, "the skills are not rocket science"
*the girls might spend the day sleeping or window shopping "since Maria or Christina might be helping Mommy 'make Shabbos' at home"
*A Bais Yakov principal really thankfully explained the necessity of women's education, both a strong Limudei Chol and Limudei Kodesh, to ground these young women who do go on to successfully establish homes without great torment. Furthermore he hit the nail on the head writing: "by keeping your daughters home on Friday, you are undermining the school and its goals. You are not showing proper chinuch to your daughters in relation to the needs, importance and values of our mosdos haTorah. . . .. " A boy's school principal said it straight: "There are schools that do not have Friday classes, and if you want to send your daughter there, you are welcome. But that does not mean that we have to dumb down the curriculum for the rest of Klal Yisroel. . . . . but the chinuch of young ladies generally begins at home. If fathers and mothers train their children to help at home, the children will do so regardless of whether they have school that day or not."

Two principals of Yeshiva (boy's) schools (just an interesting observation, which may or may not be correlated with their stance towards educating girls) took a very different stance, and one I find disturbing. One rights "Bais Yaakov education is certainly remarkable, but yes, it has become overly academic-ironically, more academic than yeshiva education." He believes girls should be off on Fridays and off from school a significant amount of time before Pesach to help with cleaning.

The other response with what I think it extremely disturbing highlighted: "I agree with you. We stress the wrong things to our bnos Yisroel. But it is hard to fight the system. Ideally, girls should learn how to become housewives. In truth, it seems somewhat pointless for a girl to memorize a Ramban and to be clueless as to how to bake a chocolate cake. [Insert famous story about Rav Schach and cake--or cookies as I have heard it]. Girls should learn in school and must take their studies seriously. But ultimately, the girls who knows how to keep her children and husband happy is the one who will be a successful Yiddishe mammeh. Nevertheless, the only reason girls have school is because the gedolim, in the early part of the 20th century, determined that it is "eis laasos laHashem heifeiru sorasecha." And this is true now more than ever." Ultimately he concludes the kids should be in school least they bother their mothers to go places and that you can't ask daughters to help you on a consistent basis. So "for now, with the system we have, she should be in school."

It is hard to know where to start, so I will just state two issues:

1. You don't build up Torah by demeaning Torah. In every argument regarding women's education "memorizing a Ramban" or what have you is labelled a waste or "pointless." I worry about an education system that demeans learning, in this case women's learning, whether it be Torah learning or any other subject.

2. Critical thinking, developed through avenues including academic studies, is tremendously valuable for mothers and for their families, regardless of their professional ambitions. Even if one's "only" responsibility is to bake cake and run a household, she will need to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff and, clearly, there is a lot of chaff to sort through even within the the daled amot of the kehillah that needs sorted through to build a bayit ne'eman.

And, speaking of the importance of critical thinking for married women entrusted with responsibility to help build a marriage and a family, I will refer my readers over to the Kallah Magazine Blog where Ariella looks at a *lack of* critical thinking in which a band-aid solution is proposed and promoted when the actual issue is not even put on the table. Regardless of internet availability, the external stimuli have always and will always be present and available(nothing new under the sun), and yet there is no mention of the internal issues such as lack of discipline or the state of the union which must be addressed to successfully combat many of the issues facing far too many.

35 comments:

Ariella said...

I'm saying this not to boast but to bolster your point. I can tackle a Ramban and bake a chocolate cake, as well as prepare food for a 3 day Yom Tov without having to take a single thing out from our many take out options. I also don't keep a cleaning lady, and I do train my kids -- boy included -- to prepare for Shabbos with designated chores.

What is frummy is not necessarily what is best for family. I'm all for female education -- even a PhD -- but a woman also has to have a sense of priorities and balancing. I notice some women who actually have no higher education and would not think that women should be bothering their heads about Rambans actually ignoring their children while their pursue other things. One woman was very pleased with herself that she devoted a Shabbos afternoon to saying Tehillim. What did she do with her kids? She had her teen son drop them off at the park to be left with some young girls from the block to watch. Now, it's perfectly fine to take a break from one's kids, but they should not be foisted on to other people in that fashion. I review parsha every week, but I don't just drop my kids off at the park with neighborhood teens to give me the time and space for it. Priorities and balance are key to being a good parent -- and even women who think of themselves as housewives only do not necessarily have a better angle on this than do women who feel a woman does not have to say that she has no interest outside her home.

Ariella said...

Another thing I was thinking of lately is the fact that the argument of not teaching a girl Torah b/c it is teaching her tiflus [nonsense or immorality] has to be reassessed in our times when girls are simply turning directly to tiflus with nothing else to fill their heads. They know all about brand names, hair treatments, and who is hot in the world of celebrities, and this is considered fine b/c it is not a threat to the status quo. The young girls of today are much more likely to be found in the nail or hair salon on erev Shabbos, or just hanging out at various stores, sometimes trying things on just for fun, than to be at home preparing the house for Shabbos. After all, their moms have cleaning ladies and access to all the takeout they want.

LeahGG said...

I think if you know how to read, you can learn how to bake a cake, though I'm actually working on a website at the moment which will address the whole issue of cooking for people who don't know the difference between a spatula and a ladle, because I think people over-complicate cooking to the extreme and then spend their whole lives afraid of it, wasting too much time on it, or just feeling burdened by it.

I think a girl who can't earn a salary is in much worse shape than a girl who leaves her parents' home unable to bake challah. I can learn to bake challah in a day (and I can buy it at the baker in 20 minutes). Proper job training takes months, if not years.

LoZ said...

1) to each his/her own. if this is the type of education people want for their kids, so be it (although the parents will get what they deserve). but why bust your tuchus to pay for a dumbed-down education that won't lead to anywhere?

LEAHGG:

"address the whole issue of cooking for people who don't know the difference between a spatula and a ladle"

for cooking? i used spatulas in pharmaceutics lab to compound medications. but why would you need a spatula for cooking?

Orthonomics said...

Ariella-The point is well taken. I hope I speak for many, but I have gained a great deal from your insights on Torah. I have no where near such insights, but I'd like to think that my children gain a lot more from the little Torah insight that I do have than from my chocolate chip cookies which can be quite easily replicated. Certainly my children have directly benefitted and will continue to directly benefit from my educational background, as incomplete as it is. A shame to lower the bar even more.

Additionally, your point about tiflut is right on the mark. It doesn't seem that by avoiding a more rigorous academic program, our girls are off running massive chessed programs. They are more likely shopping as other principals pointed out.

LOZ-I am not naming the city or name of the roundtable participant, but do realize that in that community, until more recently, this was the boy's school. In NY it is a lot easier to take it or leave it.

conservative scifi said...

Loz,

I hope you are kidding. Kitchen spatulas are somewhat different than those used in the lab (generally not metal or fluted, but rather plastic and rubbery). A kitchen spatula is indispensible in squeegeeing out all of the batter of a cake into a pan, of putting icing on that cake or for flipping a crepe in a pan.

I know the rest of you are not kidding when you react to the devaluation of education for girls, but even if your fondest hope for your little girl is to be a yiddishe mamma, what if, heaven forbid, her husband dies, is crippled, or simply can't get a job. If she had actual skills, she would be much better off than if she had to depend on someone else.

Oy Vey

(And gmar chatima tova)

megapixel said...

I went to a school that had school sunday instead of friday and I hated it!!
Didnt like having to help.
Now that I am a parent though...
I think a nice compromise would work well. hey! how about... half day on Friday AND half day on Sunday. That way they dont waste ALL day on sunday, and they do have plenty of down time. and you could teach your daughter to scrub a toilet and bake a challah on Sunday too.

Anonymous said...

i see here a principal voices one of my problems with schools: he says that the parents are undermining the school. but the school is undermining the parents, who should have the final word!
also, i wonder if the kids grades were affected, or was it just an issue of attendance. if the kids grades were unaffected then apparently missing 15% of school was not detrimental to her education, something which should give us all pause.

tesyaa said...

I think girls more or less have half a day Friday ANYWAY. Some of my girls end at 1:00 and the other ends at 1:45. All year round. Even when Shabbos starts at 4:10 they have some time to help.

Anonymous said...

Having school a 1/2 day Friday and 1/2 day Sunday will increase the costs for schools and parents -- 1 more day of heating/cooling and lighting the schools, 1 more day of transportation costs, etc., not to mention the negative environmental impact.

Anonymous said...

What are these people thinking? First, its minimizing secular education for men and encouraging men not to work, or not to work in a whole swath or careers that require degrees and now its denigrating education for women. Throw in mandatory private school, camp and expensive lifestyles and large families.

LoZ said...

i think the question of secular and jewish education needs to be separated. dumbing down secular education is extremely myopic for practical reasons (i.e., parnasah), particularly in communities where the women might be expected to be the major bread winner. i think in this regard the schools (i.e., communities and parents) are shooting themselves in the foot.

but i really don't understand all the surprise about dumbing down limude kodesh and emphasizing homemaking skills. it's very nice that ariella above can tackle a ramban (and probably better than most of us batlaning menfolk here), but who cares? seriously. do you really think hashem prefers that she study torah rather than make/raise babies and bake her husband cakes for shabbat? you may not agree with this hashkafah, but in a nutshell this is the hashkafah of large swaths of the orthodox world. you can sit here all day explaining why girls should learn torah (and i personally would chime in), but at the end of the day this is mostly post facto justification for people who see everything in simple terms of either metzuveh vs. not metzuveh.

sethg-prime said...

My own over-academic background has made me familiar with the concept of the arms race.

In a community where girls are generally at school on Fridays and women are generally housewives who can’t afford maid service, the standard for socially acceptable Shabbat prep is whatever one woman can accomplish in a day. A woman who has her daughter home on Friday can one-up her neighbors by taking advantage of the extra labor and having an even more spotless dining room, even more elaborate meals, or some such.

If that community changed its school schedule so that all girls get Fridays off, then the standard for the entire community would be shifted upward.

LeahGG said...

well, while Tatti's off in Yeshiva or wherever, someone has to tutor Moishele, since his rebeim haven't been paid in six months because Tatti's off in Yeshiva instead of earning a salary, so the Rebbe has to go schnor to make ends meet so he certainly can't afford to spend extra time on teaching...so Mommy better be able to teach some mishnayos, at least...

Plus, a lot of keeping a Jewish home kosher and Shabbasdik involves at least knowing the halacha, and you don't know the halacha well without knowing at least the l'chatchila and b'dieveds of each situation...

For example, it's important to learn the halachot of Yom Tov beyond just watching what your mom does so that you don't think you can start cooking for the next Yom Tov on the first day of a two-day chag because you made an eruv tavshilin... (my husband - who studied in yeshiva - thought it was ok, until I made him look it up in the mishna brura.) There is a workaround, in which you eat a piece before the first chag is over, and if you did it, the food is ok b'diavad, but you shouldn't do it l'chatchila...

When my mom had studied less, she actually threw out pots (the pot, not the contents) if she found a single bug in something she cooked.

The best balabusta skills are developed by knowing halacha!

LoZ said...

LEAH:

i repeat, lechatchila there is no reason for women to learn torah.

all you're doing is giving more bedi'eved justifications.

(worse yet, your second justification is mezalzel on hundreds of generations of women who knew exactly what to do by watching their mothers rather than by going to bais yaakov or worse yet learning from actual seforim.)

Anonymous said...

LeahGG: There are generations of jewish women over the millenia who had superior balabusta skills without knowing much halacha. Of course, most of the men also did not know much since nearly everyone was illiterate or close thereto. There are far better rationales for providing good educations and thinking skills to both women and men than knowing when to throw out a pot and when not to. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

JS said...

I can't say I'm surprised. There is an ever-growing movement in Orthodoxy to return to this mythical European shtetl lifestyle which never existed in the first place (but don't dare say that). So, I think it's only natural that the next step would be turning back the clock on Bais Yaakov and returning to the "ideal European existence" of every woman being a homemaker, unable to even read Hebrew let alone daven or learn, and having minimal if any secular education. After all, the menfolk have already returned to the "ideal European existence" of learning in kollel for years on end and shunning an education or a job.

While it's all a simple progression, I wonder if they'll take it to the next step and start their own actual shtetl in, say, upstate New York or Nebraska. Who knows? Maybe this will be a way of keeping this no/low income system afloat - a communal existence in a low cost area.

What I simply don't understand is why it takes so much effort to cook and clean for Shabbat. My wife and I both work long days and often don't get home till 10-11. Yet, somehow, miraculously, our house is clean and we have food for Shabbat and the week. Maybe the gedolim should come to our home to see this open miracle. Maybe fliers can go out telling people if they donate money, a group of rabbis will come to the JS house and pray for them that Hashem should give them the ability to also have a clean home and food for Shabbos without needing several days of preparation and the aid of one's daughters.

sethg-prime said...

JS: the amount of work that “must” be done to prepare for Shabbat expands to fill the time available. See my comment above about arms races.

tesyaa said...

sethg-prime: Parkinson's Law is timeless & universal.

LoZ said...

"the amount of work that “must” be done to prepare for Shabbat expands to fill the time available."

so is this the proper place for me to harp on my pet peeve and complain that next week my son has off 2 days for erev sukkot? or to keep it within the context of the post, i can understand why girls have off 2 days, but my son?

Ariella said...

LOZ, he's off b/c the teachers want to be off. That's always the case with younger kids who create extra work for parents who have to keep them occupied and supervised while also preparing for Yom Tov.

On metzuveh veoseh vs. eyno metzuveh veose, check out Hakthav Vehakabala on women's obligation to attend Hakhel. I guarantee you that most women today do not learn all that they are obligated to learn , i.e. halachos. I'll add it into my post that links to this Orthonomics post.

It is not unheard of for girls to have school on Sundays in Borough Park. I do not know if they are off altogether on Fridays, but my husband actually had that schedule for half the year in MTA. In my girls' school, the younger ones get out at 1:30 and the older ones -- from 6th grade up -- at 12. So they, actually, do have time to help.

tdr said...

"What I simply don't understand is why it takes so much effort to cook and clean for Shabbat. "

Um, JS, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you guys don't have kids yet?

Not that it takes me so long to clean for Shabbat since I don't actually clean anything just shove everything off the dining room table and sweep the floor.

Dave said...

"Is it clean?"

"Man clean."

"What does that mean?"

"Don't open any doors, don't open any cupboards, and don't look under anything."

JS said...

Correct. Our first is on the way.

But, we do have guests for Shabbos. We try to invite three couples since our table fits this many, the conversation is more enjoyable, and it's a bigger "bang for the buck" for almost the same effort.

We do the shopping on Sunday or late after work and stay up a few nights doing the cooking and cleaning. We don't take a day off or hire cleaning or cooking help or whatever. It's just the two of us. And, I'd note we're not the fastest or most efficient either. I imagine someone could do it in half the time - for example, by doing more in parallel than serially.

Also, we cook far more for these meals than we ever would even if we had lots of kids (several mains, sides, salads, desserts, etc).

If you don't have the time, you make things fit in the time you have. The same is true when you have too much time on your hands - the work expands to fill the time, as was mentioned above.

LeahGG said...

JS: cooking isn't the problem. I could cook you a fancy 5-course meal with 3 hours of prep time if I didn't have children crawling under my feet.

Cleaning when there are children wrecking all over the place... is a whole different story...

When you've got two toilet training and one of them is obsessed with scissors and play-doh, it's a whole different ball game.

JS said...

Well, I suppose I'll be finding out soon enough... :)

We save the cleaning till right before Shabbat generally. We find there's no sense wasting time beforehand since it will just need to be redone. I think you also need to adjust expectations. For example, I'd expect our house to be a whole lot cleaner if we both had more time. Similarly, when our baby is born, I expect things will be a whole lot messier unless we get cleaning help. If your expectation is that everything needs to be spotless for "Shabbos Kodesh" then I imagine it would take a lot of time. I'd rather adjust my expectations than spend hours of my life cleaning and pull my kid out of school to help.

conservative scifi said...

LOZ,

Do you really think that five hundred or a thousand years ago, the ordinary Jew was looking for bugs on broccoli or strawberries, went to yeshiva and kollel until 30, and had four complete sets of dishes, pans, ovens, (and for all I know, you believe they had 4 dishwashers as well)? Do you believe that most of the women of these times knew (apparently without ever being taught) all of the halacha which developed over the last thousand years?

Do you really think that in the time of Ezra, any of the Jewish people were doing all these things? Did the women of that time (not the idol worshipers, but the Jewish ones) know all of the halachot codified in shulchan aruch?

If not, then we know that most of these things are, at best, stringencies which are not essential to Judaism. If so, then kol hakavod to you.

Anonymous said...

I think that the answer to the original question can be seen in the woman's letter. She doesn't want her daughter to experience married life as a "baptism by fire." Yet maybe her daughter needs a more serious Jewish education so that her world of metaphors will be Jewish and not Christian.

Ariella said...

good observation!

LoZ said...

ARIELLE:

"he's off b/c the teachers want to be off"

no kidding.
the official reason i was given for 2 days before sukkot is that the rebbeim need an extra day to put up a sukkah. (because they can't do it any other day of the week they get home at 1pm? or manage like other parents who don't get off even on erev itself? and why do i want someone isn't rushing to build a sukkah as soon as yom kippur is over being a role model for my son?)

"Hakthav Vehakabala"

if you're trying to convince me, then you're wasting your time (preaching to the choir). if you're trying to make a larger point regarding the concensus i mentioned above regarding girls and education, then it is irrelevant because he is not part of the concensus. and in any case i think you are reading too much into it as well as retrojecting your own anachronostic concept of what "learning" entails

LoZ said...

ARIELLA:

(btw, it is an interesting observation)

Ariella said...

LOZ, with all due respect, I am not only writing for your sake, and truth is never irrelevant. The Maharal decried the deviation of the ideal education for boys in his time. Was he wrong to waste his time when no one listened? Why should Supreme Court justices bother to write dissenting opinions when the law was set otherwise? One is allowed to speak up for what one believes is true. Torah learning entails much that is essential for every practicing Jew to know. In the time of Chezkeyahu Hamelech, Chazal say, every single child --boy and girl -- was an expert in hichos tuma and tahara, laws that are very intricate and largely skipped over today. And the way this was accomplished was with a sword stuck in the doorway of the bais medrash as a concrete reminder of the consequences for not learning.

Lion of Zion said...

ARIELLA:

your "truth" is irrelevant. this has nothing to do with your right to free speech or moreover your obligation to speak out on matters of importance.

your truth has nothing to do with the accepted concensus on jewish gender roles in general and in education in specific. it also has nothing to do with the fact that jewish girls did just fine for a thousand years without formal education as we understand it today.

all i was saying is that i'm surprised that people here are suprised that many people think girls get a better education in the kitchen than in school.

have an easy fast.

Ora said...

From what you wrote, it doesn't sound to me like the speaker was criticizing women's Torah study as pointless. He was saying it's "somewhat pointless" if a woman knows Torah but doesn't know life skills. For the most part, I agree.

I think the secular equivalent would be, say, someone getting a college degree but having no idea how to present themselves or write coherently. What's the point of a college degree, if you still don't have the basic skills to get a job?

And what's the point of having memorized this or that bit of Torah, if you still struggle to do basic mitzvot? Isn't knowing how to make Shabbat, even if you don't know what exactly the Ramban said about specific Shabbat observances, more useful than the opposite?

And before anyone feels the need to ask, yes, I think the same can be said for men.

Now as for the question of how to teach life skills - I think that should be done in school, with a serious course on home economics. Something that teaches things like nutrition, budgeting, and the way different ingredients work.

I think it's silly to argue that such-and-such a person didn't know how to cook but learned quickly. I learned a programming language in less than a week. So? So let's not have college courses in programming anymore, it's something that can be quickly learned at home... There's no end to that argument. Some people know nothing about how to cook and learn quickly (just like some people pick up any topic quickly), but others struggle for many years. Bottom line is, it's a crucial life skill and so schools should teach it, whether or not there are some people who manage to overcome their ignorance without help.

(I actually do agree that many people could learn life skills at home if their parents were to teach them, but OTOH I think that of everything. Most of what schools teach - math, etc, included - could be taught in 1/5 the time if it were taught one-on-one when the student is in the mood to learn).

And JS, there is no comparing making Shabbat with children to care for vs. without, no matter how many guests you have. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to downplay the difficulty of what you're doing now, but even people who can make Shabbat for a crowd on Friday afternoon may find that they need help (or need to start much, much earlier in the week) to make a simple Shabbat when there are children in the picture.

Orthonomics said...

Ora-You can see the link here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1448492/Yated_Spero_Answer.pdf (Credit to Dov Bear)