Thursday, 16 February 2012

My school taught me nothing.....

Below is a blog from The Times website. There is little to add other than to disagree with the writer’s statement that the religious education at many of our schools is ‘as high as you might expect.’ The sad truth is that despite more than half a century of phenomenal growth in Torah institutions and tens of thousands of children and teens who have studied little else but Torah and related subjects, the general ignorance of the laity and even of some of the cloth is breath-taking.

Fed on an almost exclusive diet of Hebrew texts from the age of 5 and Talmud from 11 and yet some of the most popular books for adults are basic and often crude linear translations of rudimentary texts in the prayers books and the Talmud. There is barely any study or even knowledge of the Bible beyond Deuteronomy. Psalms are chanted endlessly with few comprehending the meaning of the words let alone appreciating the beauty of the poetry. Hebrew poetry, even by ‘kosher’ authors, is simply not available in frum bookshops nor taught in schools. Those compositions that have found their way into the liturgy are chanted once a year and promptly restored to the bookshelf. Jewish thought is not so much frowned upon as ignored altogether and the very idea that there may be doubts about some of our ‘certainties’ is simply denied.

Such is the standard that very few of these graduates outside Israel can compose a simple letter in Hebrew despite studying it, in Yiddish despite speaking it or in English despite being born and bred here. But then I suppose that’s what wives are for.

So, so much for our ‘high’ standard of religious education.

My school taught me nothing.....
Sarah Ebner Yesterday, 2:15PM

I have two fascinating new guest posts to share with you, both from Joe Miller. He's 23, and currently working as a freelance journalist and copywriter, but his journey from school to university, and then into the workplace, has not been a straightforward one.

Religion is back in the headlines, especially with Richard Dawkins comments about Christianity and the news that the applicants for the next set of free schools include an evangelical Christian group. This seems a good time to run Joe's first piece.

"The primary school I attended had not one female member of staff. Not even in the nursery. None of the teachers had any form of training, and many of them were unable to speak English properly. A total of two hours per day was set aside for the combined study of English, Maths and Science. Physical punishment was commonplace and the atmosphere was one of perpetual fear. Religious studies were the core focus, and any form of dissent, even something as slight as not concentrating during daily prayers, was harshly penalized. You may by now be assuming that I was educated many decades ago, or under some fundamentalist regime. But this was in London. In the 1990s.

This was an ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys school; one of many similar institutions in the area. I was sent there in good faith (pun not intended) by my religious, but by no means extremist parents, who wanted their son to gain a Jewish education alongside a secular one, and to do so within an acceptable distance from home. What they were unaware of was that behind closed doors this institution was run in manner more akin to Dickens' Dotheboys Hall than a modern school under John Major's government.

I emerged relatively unscathed from this experience (I was naturally compliant), but I know of several others who were not as fortunate. Contemporaries of mine suffered extreme physical abuse at the hands of some of the teaching staff, with one boy getting his finger broken for speaking out of turn, and consequently requiring medical care. Others suffered severe beatings, and some even had soap or chalk put in their mouths for uttering so-called profanities. Some of this wasn't even illegal for most of my time at the school. Corporal punishment in private schools was only banned in 1998.

Yet, horrendous as these incidents were, the school's real crime was providing its pupils with an abysmally poor education. I was lucky enough to supplement my inadequate lessons by devouring our home library and by learning from my parents, both of whom had received a regular education. Had I not been able to do this, my literacy and numeracy skills would be of a debilitating standard. The school's mission was to prepare its pupils for a life of religious study - all other considerations were ignored. Conversation and teaching outside of the two-hours of secular study took place exclusively in Yiddish.

You may be wondering why Ofsted did nothing to prevent this. Well for a start, the inspections were scheduled well in advance, giving the school enough time to clean up its act and instruct the pupils on how to respond if questioned. Students were warned to be wary of giving the school a bad name, as this would in turn desecrate God's name. Additionally, the inspectors were often practising ultra-Orthodox Jews themselves, and thus perhaps sympathetic towards the school's ethos.

Ultimately, even if the school had been given a damning report, Ofsted has little power to enact any changes. The most recent report was dreadful, yet I doubt much will be done to improve the school, and it will remain oversubscribed due to the burgeoning community which it serves.

I don't wish to paint a wholly condemnatory portrait, as there were some good teachers in the mix, and the standard of religious education was as high as you might expect. But this was a school (and there are many like it), which crippled its students by denying them the education which they had a right to receive and preventing them from flourishing into active members of society. If only for the sake of those who continue, by all accounts, to be held-back by institutions such as this one, some form of housecleaning is well overdue."

No comments: