This article will hopefully address some of the reasons why homeschooling may be good for a Jewish family in the 21st century. No two Jewish homeschooling families are alike, but one family would like to share with you some of the benefits of homeschooling.
Benefits of Homeschooling, a Jewish perspective
As the number of Jewish homeschooling families is on the rise, many people often ask what are the reasons for homeschooling? Here are some of the values that we would like to preserve in our Jewish homeschooling family.
Keeping the family together
As many families find it the norm to have two working parents instead of one, we find that it is worth the mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) of one parent losing an income (mostly the mother) and raising the children with the gifts that Hashem has endowed the parent to nurture the children starting from birth. Children need dedicated care-givers whom they can trust and build secure attachments to.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is not uncommon for a working mother to leave her infant to a stranger since infant hood and lose all possible ties of bonding and relationship with her infant. Children also need their parents beyond the toddler stage and continue to yearn for a good relationship with their parents at various stages of life.
When a family homeschools, their interaction with their children increase and they gradually build a strong family unit. They have lots of opportunities to learn together, work together, and play together.
In addition, not every Jewish mother has in her the desire to spend so much time with her family. We have had occasion to speak with other Jewish mothers from various professions. A Jewish parent told us that she cannot possibly spend so much time with her children as she has no patience for her children. Ironically, she is an elementary school teacher in a Jewish day school.
The most common answer that Jewish mothers give to us about not homeschooling is that they feel unqualified to teach their children Limudei Kodesh (Torah subjects). Many Jewish homeschooling families hire a melamed to handle this part of the curriculum. In fact, many of our Jewish sages including the Vilna Gaon hire melameds for their sons. The Vilna Gaon was taught by his father. The Rambam also was taught by his father. For some Jewish homeschooling families, the parents are actively involved in learning and teaching their children at the same time, be it Jewish or secular subjects. It all depends on the desire and the commitment that the parents are willing to do for their children.
It is not uncommon in yeshiva circles for parents to send their children off to faraway places to learn Torah since six years of age. They only see their sons during holidays and some off-Shabbos. We cannot fathom such actions. How do they get to know their sons? How do their sons get to know their mother? This reminds me of an article written in memory of a great Rebbetzin by her son who admitted that he did not know his mother and wished he did.
Chana, the prophetess, who longed for a child for many years, and had one after pouring her heart out to Hashem at the Mishkan in Shilo, agreed to return her son to the service of the Bais HaMikdash after she weaned him at three years old. This is rather an exception than the normal. When Hashem gives us children, He wants us to raise them properly as they are our future, the guarantors of the survival of the Jewish People. The prophet Shmuel, the son of Chana, was an exception.
Preserving good behavior in children
Schools do not take care of everything including nurturing our children. When children are left to the charge of a teacher or a baby sitter who has to watch a group of children who is not his/her own, you cannot expect this teacher to raise your child to your liking.
You are exposing your children to the undesired behavior of other children as well as other adults and there is plenty of undesired behavior out there. Children like to mimic behavior whether it be your own or someone else’s. If you don’t catch any undesired behavior (which may only be displayed when you are not looking) when they first appear, you lose the opportunity to nip it at the bud.
Bullies are common in schools, among both boys and girls. Girls bully their peers in a different way than boys. Girls hurt their peers verbally whereas boys use their physical size to intimidate. If you see that type of behavior in your own children, you have lots of opportunities to curb it and end it once and for all. Unfortunately parents of abusive children are defensive about the whole matter when they are notified of their children misbehaving. Some of them are even oblivious to the whole thing.
At a Shabbaton that we once attended, we were shocked to encounter two little cute girls who were dressed very “frum” (long skirts and long shirts) who had problems with teasing other children, destructing property and acting rude toward adults. Their Mom was pregnant at the time, totally oblivious to her daughters’ misbehavior.
Preserving healthy eating habits
A school is not a place where you will find healthy food being served in the cafetaria or at social functions in the school. Junk food or food laden with high cholesterol is usually the norm. If you want to preserve healthy eating habits for your family, you will be challenged when you send your children to school, or to a social function outside the school. It is a rarity to find other parents who value healthy foods.
Building good lasting social skills
It is a myth that people should only socialize among their peers. Our personal experience is that you don’t need to have so many friends who are your peers, you need good friends and they are hard to come by. Good friends can be found from the older generation who are wiser than you and who have been there and done that. If you look at your life, can you count the number of “real” friends you have? Do they number by the tens or mostly by the hand?
In a school setting, where your child spends most of his time socializing only with his peers, he will most likely adopt whatever peer pressure from his class if he is not mature enough to know that he can be different and stand by his convictions.
Some homeschoolers tend to be those who have strong convictions of their own and are not afraid to do what’s right for their family instead of copying their neighbors and fall into peer pressure. Your children follow after you. If you raise them in an environment where they can be easily influenced by the peer pressure of their environment then, they will be blind followers. However, if you raise them to utilize their intelligence to think for themselves and raise questions and not be afraid to ask, then you are building leaders who will influence the world around them.
Building good learning habits
When you homeschool, you are not confined to a “classroom”. The world is your classroom. You are also not confined to a 9-month academic calendar either, where you have to be pressured and squeezed to learn a limited amount of material from over-pressured, under-paid school teachers. Usually the depth of learning under this time pressure is not sufficient and often produces mediocre results from the students. See our other article on this regarding Limudei Kodesh curriculum .
Homeschoolers tend to learn all year long and are free to adjust their daily schedules to meet unforseen circumstances of life changes such as birth, death or sickness in the family, or moving.
A typical school child expects to “play” only in the summer months and be entertained. Schooling parents don’t enjoy having their children home from school for such a prolonged period and can’t wait for them to return to school. They often think that their children have to be constantly preoccupied such as in summer camps. Do you think children really want to be herded from a school to a camp? Do you believe your children would rather not be left alone to enjoy their ‘freedom’ from school and just being themselves and relax?
Homeschooled children tend to be more mature in that learning and playing are part and parcel of normal, healthy lives. They can find activities to entertain themselves without having to have their play time all scheduled for them by parents or campers. Homeschooled children tend to learn about responsibility for their lives much earlier than their non-homeschooled peers. They learn to cook, wash and perform chores around the house without being bribed.
Homeschooling under responsible parents is a very good thing. Every child is different and learns differently. Our modern educational system is broken and has been broken for decades. Rabbi Rietti, a professional educational consultant, explains that our educational system has been focusing on only one type of intelligence (mainly text-based learning) and ignoring the various other types of intelligence (audio, visual, musical, artistic, kinesthetic, etc.) and have failed parents and their children miserably over the generations. The over-emphasis on “success” of a student based on the number of “A”s obtained from book learning and correlating one’s success based on one’s achievement in school is erroneous and dangerous.
Success as a human being measured under the barometer of kindness, good morals, compassion, and understanding is under-emphasized. Secular society correlates success with material wealth; our Jewish society should regularly emphasize success with spiritual wealth such as acquisition of Torah, good middos and accumulation of mitzvos to help us build a better society and world-at-large, here and in the next.
Sarah Schenirer’s vision of educating girls in her generation
Sarah Schenirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov movement, was a pioneer in her time circa 1920’s. One of the reasons she felt impelled to start a school system for girls is because she believed that the mothers in her time were not imparting the correct Torah values and education to their daughters. There were a lot of assimilation of foreign ideals in Poland where she was and there was a lack of religious observance among her peers. Sarah had impeccable values and was a unique, positive role model to her students. She often over-extended herself for the needs of the community. Some of her students showed tremendous chesed (kindness) in their roles during World War II when they sacrificed their lives for helping others in all kinds of challenges under the cruel Nazi, y”s, regime.
Be a Sarah Imenu
As a committed religious Jewish homeschooler, you, the parents are responsible for imparting correct religious Jewish values to the charges in your care. You can be a Sara Imenu and nurture your children according to what Hashem demands of you as a Jew in the Torah. You can choose to delegate that responsibility to the schools of your choice or you can take charge and build a family unit whose good characteristics and values will reflect Hashem’s values. You can do it.