Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Be Kind To The Non-Conformists

If I had one, doubtless that would be my war-cry. "Be kind to the non-conformists!" I would shout. "They're the ones who will lead us someday."

In any event, it seems William B. Helmreich reported on this in The World of the Yeshiva.


The system that works well for most does not work at all for some. There are students who do not respond well to an authoritarian approach. They may agree with the school's objectives but resent the coercive manner in which it enforces them. Many yeshiva administrators and teachers seem to believe that allowing such individuals to flout yeshiva rules so jeopardizes the legitimacy of the system that it does not pay to be flexible toward them. One former rebbe, Rabbi Velvel Perl, who disagreed with this attitude, told of a young man with who the disciplinarian approach had failed:
    There was a guy in the yeshiva named Kronenberg. He was a genius and wanted to learn in Lakewood, but the parents insisted he go to college so he came to this yeshiva because here he could go to college. This was in the early sixties. And when he came to the yeshiva, they decided to knock out his gaaveh [conceit[. They made a project of it. They were going to cut him down to size. So they cut him down to size. He became an apikorus [heretic]; he married a shikse [gentile]. And he would have become a gadol [great Talmudic scholar]. They said things like: "He doesn't come to minyan, so what's his learning worth?"
According to Rabbi Perl, once a yeshiva admits a student it has an obligation to meet his needs, including a responsibility to adopt an approach that will be most helpful to him, even if such an approach runs somewhat counter to yeshiva policy. This should not be seen as the polar opposite of the "shape up or ship out" approach. Neither Rabbi Perl nor any other member of the yeshiva community would argue that a student who, say, violates the Sabbath ought to be permitted to remain in the yeshiva. The question of what to do arises in cases of minor infractions such as missing an occasional group prayer service, sneaking out to see a movie, and so on. It is here that pedagogic stands are taken and differences in overall philosophy emerge.

A small but significant minority in the yeshiva community expressed the view that nonconformists should be viewed with considerable tolerance. One prominent rosh yeshiva explained his position on this issue as follows:
    The majority of students are conformists. Those you get along with nicely. You enjoy them and they enjoy you. One should never neglect them and take them for granted. Yet on the other hand, they're the least neglected precisely because the rebbe enjoys them. As a result they frequently get more attention than they need. This is unfortunate because it is the nonconformists who usually have greater potential. They have more drive, vision, curiosity, initiative. They're the ones with breadth who will investigate and who will care more deeply about things. The conformers create the dictator because they're willing to let someone else make the decisions. You'll find in the biographies of the gedolim that most of them were nonconformists. In the long run they develop into greater people. The challenge lies in dealing with them. I think there is only one way and that's on a warm, personal basis. These people need someone whom they feel genuinely cares about them.
~pages 216-217


Attention Bais Yaakov: this ideal is not limited to yeshivot. In fact, every Jewish school would do well to create individualized programming for students who are slipping through the cracks, or alternatively, excel but have nowhere else to climb to since they are not permitted the opportunities they so desperately need. Be kind to the non-conformists; you'll never win them by asserting your position, power and authority over them. It's only your kindness that will make them yours- for life, incidentally.


MYG said...

One principal (of both boys' and girls' schools) told me that in his experience, the people who were the biggest troublemakers as kids made the best teachers as adults.

The Cousin said...

In fact, every Jewish school would do well to create individualized programming for students who are slipping through the cracks, or alternatively, excel but have nowhere else to climb to since they are not permitted the opportunities they so desperately need.

You make a very good point. The problem in both Day Schools (and some public schools) is a lack of resources. Be they financial to support such a program, or the scarcity of qualified individuals to serve as "instructors" to these students (sometimes these people are just hard to find--or hard to get into the education field).

True, in public schools (and I suppose some day schools) there are things like IEPs and Section 504s; but it is one thing to have a IEP/504 on paper and another thing to see it fully put into actual practice.

Charlie Hall said...

I was a big problem for every one of the (public) schools I attended. A bright but unsatisfied student who couldn't follow rules, they didn't know what to do with me. I sometimes wish I could have had a yeshiva education as I struggle with an Artscroll talmud, but this post is a reminder that maybe HaShem sent me on exactly the path that I needed. Thank you.

yitznewton said...

I second Charlie's remarks. I grew up in a well-regarded public school system in Connecticut, and was a passive nonconformist. When a Torah authority figure tries to impose on me now (I'm 29 & observant since 21), I feel the hair on my back bristling. I wonder what would have become of me in yeshiva life growing up... B"H, each of us is given his/her own road.

SemGirl said...

You are funny as usual Chani..

Most BY high schools that Im familar with will toss out a girl for sweatshirts with writing on it, or wearing earings that hang down from the ear, or shoes that are considered inappropriate (ie: anything but nebby looking flats or slippers). And it has absolutely nothing to do with the girl's spiritual growth. The school just needs to say that they have only 'good' girls, I still am not clear what that means, vis a vi all the Hashkafa books Ive studied.

Since what the schools stress the most has lil to do with middos, yiras shomayim, and growth in ruchniyos and everything to do with being a clone