Thursday, October 22, 2009

"What Did You Learn about the Parshah?"

A parent in my community recently sent out an email to the community listserve, complaining about many shortcomings he perceives in the local school. Among his complaints he noted that,
But we were tired of kids coming home every friday without knowing anything about the parsha
Truth be told, I don't agree with what he wrote about the school. We've had great experiences with our children at that school. But what bothers me here is how many if not most parents evaluate much of their children's religious education: through the d'var Torah they expect on the weekly parshah.
Schools spend very little time teaching Parshat Hashavua, for good reason. It's not in the curriculum. The weekly parshah has very little to do with the study of chumash, navi, halachah, or gemara. It doesn't build skills nor good study habits, and were schools to simply relate the information contained in the parshah, the children wouldn't really have something "good" to say. Sure, it's part of the Jewish cycle and an important part of the davening on Shabbat (notwithstanding the personal obligation to review the parshah each week), but it just doesn't fit into the framework of most schools. And yet, come Friday night parents around the world ask their children the question: what did you learn about the parshah this week? They act as if they spend all that money on their kids' education simply to hear a good vort after their chicken soup, knowing full well that the parshah really doesn't fit into the curriculum. Teachers know this, so they make sure to give the kids a good "vort" to repeat at the table, creating a ridiculous kind of circle: parents want to hear a dvar Torah at the table, so schools spend precious learning time giving children relatively meaningless divrei Torah for them to repeat, sacrificing important learning time in the process.
School isn't for my children to learn a good vort on the parshah. I want them to spend their time studying, working, reading, and focusing on skills. Moreover, our children aren't performers, and they don't really know how to give a d'var Torah. (How many parents do?) And yet, we judge their schools based on whether they come home with a parshah sheet to read at the table.
Our kids are not teachers. Instead of expecting them to teach us Torah, shouldn't we be the ones teaching them at the Shabbat table? And instead of asking our children what they learned about the parshah, why not ask them to take out their chumash and share what they're learning in their real chumash class - even if it's not this week's parshah? Our children will have something intelligent to share, and that's the best and only way to find out what they're really learning in school.