Hat Tip: Rosie
I was sent a link to this article by my reader rosie last month and I didn't want to sit down and write any thoughts without taking time to digest the article. In the next week or so, I have two Guest Posts on Education and Jobs and the Orthodox community, as well as some thoughts of my own on subjects related to jobs and increasing income. I think this article gives me a nice place to start.
I think my long time readers know that I am most certainly a supporter of vocational education at the high school level. Not every child will find themselves successful in an advanced academic track, but that shouldn't preclude success. And, perhaps on a more practical level, we need to recognize that there are many families who simply need their children to graduate high school with marketable skills because it is downright necessary. Every reason why I support vocational education in public high school is equally applicable to why I (theoretically) support vocational education in Jewish high schools.
But note the word "theoretical" and read along with me as I highlight a few selections from the article:
Located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Ohr Chana was created as an alternative to the
traditional high school in which pressure for grades, competition, and acquisition of often irrelevant information outweigh the quest for knowledge or the thirst for Torah and spirituality.
Ohr Chana’s evolving curriculum of applied academics includes mathematics, language, history and science – with a twist. In addition to the basics, students learn how to use math as it apply in banking, budgeting and business… English used in
writing articles, letters to the editor, grant proposals and speeches …. biology as it applies to health, nutrition and self care … and psychology in the context of marriage and child rearing.
Vocational training includes cosmetology, culinary arts, computer graphics, and information technology. Among the life skills on the program are time management, sewing, money management, crafts and music, in addition to knowledge related to running a Jewish home. One parent remarked that the personal skills curriculum reads like “everything I always wanted to do but never learned how.”
I was struck by the use of the word "irrelevant" because it is a very revealing word when used in the context of education, chinuch, and even vocation. If I felt compelled to seek out an alternative educational track for a child of mine that was within the kehilla (Lubavitch not being my kehilla, but I think this philosophy can be found in plenty of corners), and the director used such a term in regards to academics (either general or Judaic) or even extracurriculars, I think I would be compelled to exit stage left (and quickly)!
The only thing that might be "irrelevant" vis a vis the vast array of knowledge to be attained is what an educator declares "irrelevant." A child might need to pursue a different educational track for academic or practical reasons or a combination thereof, but that shouldn't be a commentary on the value or relevance of a liberal/classical education, Torah or general. Where it is, I worry that the children who fall under the tutelage those espousing such a philosophy will ultimately be shortchanged, and not just academically but likely vocationally too.
Further along in the article I note that the school intends to "apply" the academics. Of area of note is the application of English. Perhaps reading and comprehension were accidentally omitted from the summary of curriculum in the article, and I hope I am not reading into the article too much, but I have read a number of fascinating books citing (largely failed) educational movements of the modern era and I believe I recognize one here. But I won't get into a dissertation about the history of education in the modern era and why most high school graduates are such abysmal writers, except to say that I worry about a language program that begins with writing a letter to the editor, a grant proposal, or giving a speech. While I do not believe every student must be subjected to writing a thesis on an obscure theme in a Shakespeare play, I do believe that before you can "apply" your writing skills, you need to have something to write about and the prerequisite for writing something of value is a healthy dose of reading.
I once was handed some papers by a high school girls for whom I was friends with the entire family. She was enrolled in a high school where I believe that many books were off-limits. But that didn't preclude the class from writing. (Anyone want to venture a guess as to the subject matter of the papers? I will give the answer in the comments section. One hint: the English program was barely supervised, the teacher was non-Jewish, and reading was not exactly the emphasis of the curriculum).
As for the vocational programming, I'm not quite sure what vocational programming is most practical in today's day and age, but I don't think cosmetology wouldn't make my top 10 list for vocational programs I'd seek out if I were enrolling my own (Orthodox) daughter in a vocational high school. Culinary arts would also not make it into my top 10.
Readers, share your thoughts!