Where Have All The Geniuses Gone?

By Zvi Zobin for TLS. Even though there are no signs of a “spring fever” running against our educational system, voices are rising up against certain aspects of it. Schools have long been accused of stifling the creativity and individualism of the child. Standardized curriculums and standardized testing force the child to be ‘inside the box’ and inhibit the ability to be and think ‘outside the box’.

Certainly, standardized testing is the antipathy of true education, denying the student of any recognition as an individual with unique abilities. And even with their seemingly advanced and sophisticated educational psychology, standards of of the secular world are still falling.

At one time, we Jews looked down on secular education as the ‘new kids on the block’. We have been into education for thousands of years, whereas secular public education for the masses has only been around for a few hundred years.

Education has always been our top priority and we have succeeded in producing an educated population of amazingly high standards. Originally, parents taught their own children. However, over 2,000 years ago, the Greek oppression so ravaged the People of Israel, that Rabbi Yehusha ben Gamla was forced to initiate public education and he decreed that towns should open schools for the education of Jewish boys. Mothers continued to educate their daughters until the some 150 years ago when the wave of Enlightenment prompted Sarah Schenirer to introduced schooling for girls.

Until before WWII, in Europe, boys were educated either in small chedorim or parents hired private teachers for their children. Now, after WWII, the norm is for children to go to schools with large classes –perhaps 20 – 30 children in a class.

However, this has been accompanied by the disappearance of a well-known phenomenon – the highly gifted child. Previously, every generation had its scatterings of boys who knew much of the Talmud when they were 8 years old, entered Yeshiva Gedolah when they were 10 years, started to deliver lectures when they were 14 years old and became community leaders by the time they were 18.

Where are they nowadays?

Sadly, Jewish education has integrated within itself many of the characteristics of secular education – with its accompanying deficiencies. 80 years ago, the idea of ‘standardized testing’ or forcing a child to remain
with children of his own age even though he was clearing developing faster than his contemporaries, would have been ‘laughed out of court’. Every parent and teacher looked out for a child who could develop into one of the luminaries of the next generation. Nowadays, the plague of oversized classes does not permit the teacher to relate to individual children in his class and standardized testing relieves him of the responsibility to relate fully to each and every child in his class.

 One important point is that many people defend the present-day system as being the “massorah”. This is very wrong.

Before WWII, Torah – including Gemorah, was never taught the way it is taught nowadays.

Many Gedolim of the previous generation and our own generation protest(ed) that the way Gemorah is taught nowadays is incorrect and will not produce real Talmidei Chachomim.

In Europe, most junior schools finished at 12.00 or 1.00 pm and the rest of the time the children played. Nowadays, children are being taught to read at increasingly earlier ages, often when the child is not neurologically ready for learning these sophisticated skills, and the long days and stressful curriculum lead many to precocious burnout.  However, because of the traditional high regard which educators have in the eyes of parents, criticism is abhorred – even constructive criticism – allowing many of those in education to be smugly self-satisfied with their educational achievements. This leads to an almost global absence of quality-control both of the teachers and their methods. Educational institutes tend to bask in the glory of their relatively few successes and ignore the growing numbers of their failures.

One answer is to have smaller classes. But this entails hiring more classes and having more classrooms. Actually, the payroll is only a small part of the costs in running a school. Services such as electricity, heating and lighting, maintenance and insurance drain huge sums from the school’s financial resources. Educational ancillaries such as private tutors and therapist add to the burgeoning cost of running a school. Of course, in the old days, Jewish schools did not need to be multi-storied emporiums of marble and hi-tech equipment and fees went from the parents directly to the teachers.

So what can we do?

Home-schooling is not a viable option in many places, such as Israel, the UK and Canada. However, parents do have the right to demand quality-control over the teachers to ensure that ineffective teaches are weeded out, and they have the right to demand that the curriculum should be down-graded so that schools become less stressful. But these do not solve our problem with gifted children.

Somehow – and I do not have an easy answer – we need to introduce into our educational system the ability to give the gifted child the individual environment which will enable him to develop into one of our future leaders.

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  1. Unrelated, just would like to state that last week u posted to say Tehilim for Chaya Dreizel Merka Bas Malka, I’ve been davening for her & i would like to know an update. Good idea when you ask the Tzibur to daven for someone to give an update a little while latter, especially when most of us dont even know the ind. we are davenig for. May she have a refuah shlaima bsoch shar yisroel Amen.

  2. My little grandson is a genius like Einstein, but, he doesn’t fit the mold of what school’s expect from their students. I hope going to school won’t put a damper on his creativity.

  3. Happens to be that I personally know of two yungerlight who grew up in the modern system and are boki in shas and poskim in their early twenty’s.
    Just open your eyes you will spot the unique gifted masmidim who succeed.

  4. Who says the schools don’t have enough money? I think that every mossad is obligated to have transparent financial practices. Every parent is getting squashed to pay tuition building fees and supplies fees and more for trips and events. We have a right to know where all our money Is going to, I know the teachers aren’t making money…

  5. This is as old as the hills..there was a fundamental argument regarding the chinuch of bachurim in our times between r yeruchem levovitz of mir and the alter fun slobodkeh. the alter held that each boy should be taught to bring out his potential individually. R yeruchem held that one general mehalech should be adopted by all. The alter would tell r yeruchem ir macht soldoten( you are making soldiers- not geared to the individual) r yeruchem held that to many would be lost by gearing to the individual. Hence there was only a shiur klalli in slobodke and only once a month(I think) as opposed to mir were there was a blat shiur.

  6. Why can’t the schools have a “resource room” for gifted children?

    it doesn’t need to cost a lot because it doesn’t have to be run by a special ed grad or therapist or have any equipment. just a teacher/Rebbi that teaches more complex ideas and this could be an incentive for kids to try to excel in regular learning for the privilege of going. it could be something interesting like astronomy etc…the boys are VERY interested in this.

    of course there will be comments stating that it will incur jealousy among the students and a better than thou attitude but if we are not going to do this we will never realize the full potential of the gifted student.

    this is all from the public school with the no child left behind act and all the other liberal ideas. Dumb down the whole education process so that everyone could at least get a 65. The 65 of nowadays is equivalent to the 35 of a few years ago. some people just were not created with a high intelligence just like some people are ugly,short,fat, etc…..and the smart kids should not lose out.

  7. A newly hired Rebbi went to Rav Hutner and asked him if he has 10 different methods of teaching something will he be ok. Rav Hutner asked him how many boys are in the class he will be teaching. The Rebbi answered 25. Rav Hutner told him he is mechuyav to come up with 15 more methods of teaching something in order to reach every single boy in the classroom.

  8. I remember a kid who (hey, this is true. The Eighth Grade teacher wanted to put this on his report card as a comment, but the Principal vetoed it.) was a genius at preventing anyone from teaching him anything in class.

  9. I can’t relate to a system where elef nichnosim ve-echad yotaei lehoroah is excpected, while the 999 are meant to fall to the wayside. Rachmona leeba boey.

  10. What insight and how thought provoking!!!!

    But instead of people thinking, they comment and miss the whole point.

    #2 If America’s schools had an alter he would probably leave or been thrown out

    #4 yes we know some by mistake turn out ok, in spite of the failed system

    #5 you probably missed the math class. and you are not one of the geniuses he talked about. Who has money????

    #6 Both great men would faint if they looked at the current system

    #8 looking for Tzadikim.? What are you saying?? We are looking for children make use of their capabilities, THATS IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    #10 missed the whole point, Yeshiva should be for everyone without making everyone avarage.

    #12 takes the cake puts in Hebrew, misses the point, and can’t relate to a failing system. Well that what the article tried to address!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Let kids be kids. Gifted children are not usually that gifted. They are probably the older kids in the class whose minds have matured a drop faster than the younger ones. In the long run they are just a mediocre. They will have their chance to run the gauntlet . Until then let the kids be kids

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