What Can We Do For Chinuch?

Op-Ed by Rabbi Zalman Shneur: “We complain about the chinuch “system” but the only way to solve these difficulties is through a system.”

by Rabbi Zalman Shneur – Director, Menachem Education Foundation

We often speak about the difficulties with the chinuch “system” today. However, we forget that the only way to solve these difficulties is through a system.

As Executive Director of the Menachem Education Foundation (M.E.F) for the past seven years, I have seen numerous wonderful initiatives for education rise and fall, and the reason for this is because they remained individual, disparate solutions that did not address the issues in a systematic way.

In halacha and in our history, as far back as the first Jewish schools, a school is intended to be a communal solution. Its purpose is not to provide education to children who have parents capable of doing so through their own means, but to fill that need for children who do not.

R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla is highly praised in the Mishna for starting the first chedorim in small villages all over Eretz Yisroel, which provided access to Torah education for all those who would otherwise be unaccounted for. “If not for him,” we are told, “the Torah would have been lost to the Jewish people!” (בבא בתרא כא ע’א).

A few centuries later, a tremendous innovation in education is credited to R’ Chiya. A Bas Kol once told Raish Lokish, “You learned Torah like R’ Chiya, but you did not spread Torah like R’ Chiya!” What did R’ Chiya do? He created a system to implement R’Yehoshua ben Gamla’s takanos! R’Chiya planted flax, turned the fibers into nets, trapped deer, skinned them for parchment, and wrote down each of the five books of the Torah on a separate parchment. He gave each of the scrolls to a separate orphan and taught them each their respective sefer. R’ Chiya then instructed them to teach each other what they had learned, until they all knew the whole Torah. He did the same for the six books of the Mishna. This is a powerful example of a strategic, systematic approach to education! (בבא מציעא ע’ב, see also כתובות ק”ג ע’ב)

There are so many interdependent factors to education, that without addressing them in tandem, strategically, there is little hope of making lasting change. As mentioned previously, there are so many isolated pockets of good in the world of Chinuch – tremendously dedicated mechanchim/chos, schools that are shining stars of quality Chinuch, promising curricula, and philanthropists who care.

However, how long can each of these continue to try chipping away at a mountain without burning out?

Similarly, we experienced this ourselves, when we worked with principals in our leadership training program, inspired principals were eager to take on the task of working with their teachers to implement new initiatives to reach every child. But the leaders soon realized that although their teachers were highly motivated and dedicated, they were over-burdened with oversized classes and limited time for preparation.

Our Teacher Induction (training) Program churns out dozens of truly exceptional teachers. However, so many of them tell us how difficult it is for them to implement best practices in education unless their administration is on board! And what happens to motivation for excellence if either principal or teacher is behind on their paycheck?!

Years ago, education was simpler.

When the Frierdiker Rebbe came to America, he sent Shluchim to open chedarim – like R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla – and teach Torah to Jewish children. Today, as the Rebbe emphasized many times, the job of a school is to not only convey knowledge, but to combat the perverse influences on the street and supplement the efforts of parents to raise upstanding, G-d fearing, chassidishe children. This job is infinitely more complex, and coupled with the explosion, Baruch Hashem, of the numbers of children in our schools, a systematic approach is needed to problem solve and ensure its success.

Because of such scenarios, M.E.F. is constantly aware of the need to create multi-faceted systems to support excellence in Chinuch. By continuing to tackle the “problem” of Chinuch from all of its angles, and working with a school community as a holistic system including governance bodies, supporters, educational leadership, teachers, parents and students, we are able to start seeing a difference that’s real.

Please join us and hundreds of supporters of Chinuch on Tuesday – 12 Kislev/November 24 – in investing in Chinuch solutions, by investing in Chinuch systems. Our work currently impacts 4,700 children in at close to 40 cities around the world, but this is not enough. There are 15,000 children in Chabad schools, and we need your help to implement system-oriented solutions so that we will reach them all.

We are all drained from so much negative talk about the system. Today, you can be part of the solution. Visit www.charidy.com/MEF to make a real and lasting difference.