I shall conclude with some practical suggestions for making our schools more inclusive. The goal of schools should be chanoch l’naar al pi darko,
(Mishlei 22:6) to find each child’s strengths and abilities and work through these to develop his or her potential. This demands an individualist approach rather than a one-size-fits-most methodology.
I witness the devastating effects of holes in kriah mastery in my work daily. A solid foundation in kriah is essential to all Torah learning and meaningful davening and I would recommend regular testing throughout the elementary years. The most effective way to teach kriah is according to our mesorah. Unfortunately the modern phonetic methods that have seeped in from secular culture lead to difficulties with comprehension down the road.
It is the teacher’s job to make sure children truly understand the material. The goal should be total clarity, starting with kriah, through Chumash then mishnayos and Gemara. Every word should be clearly and accurately translated. The grammar should be learned.
With Gemara a grasp of the give and take of the argument is essential. When kids have a clear grasp, learning will be a delight and no additional motivations will be necessary. It goes without saying that this cannot be achieved unless the rebbi himself possesses this level of clarity.
Bright children who are behaving disruptively require more stimulation. The Sea of Torah is vast. A creative teacher should be able to find ample material to engage a thirsty mind.
The home should be a place of refuge and warmth. Setting official homework introduces stress into this environment. Motivated children may choose to learn at home or enjoy learning with their parents but the school should not impose this on families. (See With Hearts Full of Love, R’ Mattisyahu Solomon pp. 79-83).
Educators should receive some kiruv training in order to learn how to transmit Torah values with simcha and positivity. Children need to feel comfortable asking questions and engaging with hashkafic issues without their teachers feeling threatened.
Using Torah learning as a punishment e.g. writing out a gemara is counterproductive. I have seen adults who still cannot look at a page of gemara they were punished with in this way as children.
Medication is a last resort. Much of the time when children’s educational needs are being met, behavioural problems will disappear.
If even one child’s neshama can be saved by addressing his or her unique educational needs it is as if we have saved an entire world.
Rabbi Dovid Abenson can be contacted at:
Email: [email protected]
Rabbi Abenson is the founder and director of ShaarHatalmud, a unique yeshivah-based online program, which incorporates learning all Kodesh subjects, from Kriah all the way up to learning Gemara, Rishonim and Shulchan Oruch. He also conducts evaluations, remediation and training, and consults with school principals to improve students’ underdeveloped skills.