A Reader Writes: A Look at Pressure in Girls Schools

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bais-yaakovDear Matzav.com Editor,

Thank you for making Matzav.com a place that helps us grow as Yidden by highlighting what is important and explaining why it is important to us. Matzav.com has become a primary place for the frum community to exchange ideas and feelings with people we might never otherwise meet. Regarding a recent discussion as to whether the ‘matzav‘ in our girl’s high schools puts too much pressure on the students, I’d like to share the following.

I have had the great privilege of being affiliated with a large Bais Yaakov high school as a student, teacher and parent. In the teachers’ room, faculty members often joke that the ‘extra’ has taken over the ‘curricular activities.’ But, as people truly concerned for the full development of our students, we recognize that the non-academic aspects of school are not just nice frills, but are actually lifesavers for some girls. Our school has knowledgeable and devoted mechanchos and secular studies teachers who strive to help the girls grow in yedios and self-study skills. This provides wonderful opportunities for the academically gifted girls to develop their abilities, to reap satisfaction, honor and credit, and to share their gifts with others in peer tutoring programs. The extensive chesed program has so many different ways for girls to gain a sense of belonging to the klal by contributing to its welfare. Shy and outgoing, leaders and behind-the-scenes workers, are all given scope for their kishronos.

Numerous artistic productions and dramatic and musical presentations further enable girls to use all aspects of the kochos given to them by the Ribono Shel Olam to learn and to express that which a Yiddishe tochter must know. Sometimes, the performances by the students themselves can teach something to the whole school in a way that the most gifted teacher cannot do within the confines of the classroom.

As to the topic of pressure: Having all these activities available, on top of the expected academic performance, surely could create pressure. The girls often stay in school until the wee hours of the morning, preparing their extra-curricular work. Then they feel they do not have enough time to do justice to their studies. And they are often right.

On the very first day of school, I tell my students what the requirements are for doing well in my class. They are further told that I do not like hearing the phrase “take into consideration” regarding their myriad other obligations. We all know that time is a limited resource, so we need to make choices regarding its use. If they and their parents feel that helping at home has higher priority than studying for my quiz, I cannot impose my ‘values’ on their parents’ chinuch. But they must acknowledge that there is an opportunity cost: If I take the time for X, I cannot devote too much time to Y. And who says they must excel in all areas of life? Do we adults expect that of ourselves? Does every man expect himself to be a talmid chochom, a skilled handyman, a leading member of Hatzolah or other chesed organization, a wise father, a devoted friend to countless people and a Rockefeller-like breadwinner all in one lifetime?

Why can we not encourage our daughters (and our sons) to try to do well at every task assigned to them, while realizing that we are equipped by Hashem to do better at some than at others? A 60% on an exam is not a catastrophe if it is the result of a conscious decision to do chesed, prepare a play, be mekarev a shy classmate, help a kimpeturin, bake a cake for a younger sibling’s birthday – any one of which can be worthwhile pursuit. If we candidly discuss with our children their kishronos and in which areas they can expect to struggle/succeed, they will be more accepting of themselves and less likely to feel the pressure of having to do well at everything all the time.

Regarding the recent growth of some girl’s high schools which seem to put emphasis solely on yedios and academic development, I wonder if they are trying to produce female yeshiva bochurim. Don’t laugh. At a recent seminar for educators, one mechaneches complained that her eighth grade students were so immature since they asked for stories to explain some concepts, while the teacher felt she had to push yedios. Certainly, yedios are important; how can one fear a Yiddishe shtub without them? However, there so many aspects of personality and character that need nurturing; why focus on just one?

Perhaps it is the demands that are inappropriate to our resources that creates the pressure.

Trying to Make a Difference in the Matzav


  1. My wife has mentioned too many girls school teachers why is there so much pressure on the kids. The answer they all give is the same you are correct but that is the curriculum and there is nothing we can do.
    Someone should wake up and stop the kids preasure.
    Then rebaonim want to know why are there so many kids going off the derech???The answer is partialy there is to much preasure

  2. There is a slight problem here. One of the sought-after characteristics for shidduchim is that the girl excel academically. Besides the snob value, this also indicates that the girl is better prepared to support the family via some profitable career. Less tangible midos frequently get pushed aside.

    Before we encourage girls to “prioritize” their lives rather than being academically obsessed, we will have to pursuade the boys’ parents to also prioritize their requirements for shidduchim.

  3. Many years ago I asked a choshuve mora why the girls must memorize Mishlei. It was causing great resentment, and we are not even supposed to say torah shebicsav outside.She told me that the girls have a mitzva of Talmud Torah (wrong) and that she enjoys when a girl can quote a posuk, When I told her that my daughter wasn’t in school for her enjoyment I became a personna-non-grata. The principal told me that she agrees with me but the teachers don’t listen to her. I pointed out that an employee who doesn’t listen in my business gets fired, she became less forthcoming.

    We are playing with nefashos. A good portion of the girls of that class became non-frum. My daughter, too became lax and when she is remonstrated with, she says would you rather I be like so-and-so in my class who isn’t frum? You should be happy with me.

    The schools should concentrate on hashkofa (very little of that), a good understanding of yidishkeit (without all the Rambans on the parsha) and skills that will help them build a bayis ne’eman – yes including cooking and sewing. Halocha that pertains to them is critical but memorizing Mishlei is ludicrous.

  4. #2: The wives don’t do that anymore, they’re busy working 2 jobs to support their kollel husbands. Beis Yaakovs won’t teach otherwise.
    #5: I agree with your idea of what the curriculum should be. I don’t think Sara Schenirer ever meant the schools to end up like this.

  5. A 60% on an exam is not a catastrophe if it is the result of a conscious decision to do chesed, prepare a play, be mekarev a shy classmate, help a kimpeturin, bake a cake for a younger sibling’s birthday – any one of which can be worthwhile pursuit

    What a ridiculous statement! 60% is a failing grade in any school. Should we be raising our daughters to accept failure? Baking a cake or preparing for a play is no excuse for failure. We send our children to school in order to receive an education and more importantly, to learn about responsibility. Education and responsibility are equally necessary to prepare them for adulthood. Teaching the girls that it’s okay to fail a test because they were busy doing extra-curricular activities, is teaching them how to be irresponsible adults. If I was late for work or made a terrible mistake on the job, can I tell my boss, “Sorry, I was up all night baking a cake”, or “I cannot concentrate because I have all these other community projects I’m working on”? I would get fired in an instant! Learning and taking tests would not be considered pressure if the girls were taught how to prioritize properly. They must be taught that succeeding in school should be their number one priority at this stage in life and this will be the best preparation for adulthood.

  6. After reading this sensible article, and all the shidduch crisis alarms, I honestly think your society as a whole has a thing or two to learn from the chassidishe way. (Of course we chassidim have a thing or two or 100 to learn from you too. That’s why H’ gave us the internet, no?)

  7. I dont understand . There are many different types of schools for many different types of girls . Let every girl decide to go to the appropriate school for her .

  8. School is about education; it shouldn’t be about extra-curricular activities.

    I attended Bais Yaakov, and I believe that the time, effort, and money placed upon “concert” and other like productions is not what school is about. My parents weren’t paying hefty tuition so my class could goof off for half the day because they have visions of grandeur.

    However, I did also find a good chunk of the Hebrew curriculum to be contrived and not necessary. I had a few amazing morahs who taught me life lessons by delving deeper into Tanach, but the rest of the teachers spent their time contradicting the Torah in order to push their own agendas. That really frustrated me, and b’H I had wonderful parents who were able to set me straight after I came home confused.

    There is no need for every girl to “shine.” A good ego is dependent on one’s parents, and it should be a school’s policy that only after the curriculum has been aced by the students, and if their parents can spare them, can the student body indulge in “extra-curricular activities.”

  9. Today I am a bubby of high school and post high school aniklach K’AH. Many years ago when my girls were in 7th or 8th grade my husband A”H said to me that since he had no sisters and no experience with girls he wanted to ask a Gadol how to be mechanech his daughters. We went to Rav Moshe Feinstein z’l and posed the question to him.

    Rav Moshe answered that the most improtant thing in being mechanech your daughters is to always let them know and reassure them that you love them. To give them presents even when they don’t deserve them. To instill in them a love for Torah and mitzvos. And lastly comes the academics if they are so inclined.

    These were Rav Moshe’s words and priorities for chinuch habonos! I wonder which Bais Yaakov school ever went to him for hadracha.

  10. I chose not to enroll my daughter in a BY because of the pressure of academics. I feel it is so not necessary. Today, she is in a smaller school where the emphasis is on middos tovos and ahavas yisroel. Although they do not focus on grades, their Hebrew and secular curriculum are excellent.

  11. # 13 there are lots of things that Rav Moshe,Rav Aharon,Rav Yankov,and Rav Ruderman even other gedolim in the pass has said things but our generation thinks they are better then those gedolim.I heard from many R”Ys telling boys who been married 1 or 2 yrs go get job or go learn some trade.The girls school are killing there kids(so are the boys yeshivas).There are some out of town schools that all they care is what others schools and seminaries think of them.I don’t why some girls schools still have men as principals for today.

  12. #13, thanks for quoting rav moshe feinstein!

    people really need to reflect on the ‘pressure’ aspect. chas’v that kids go off the derech from pressure. r’ feinstein’s words are very wise: he is teaching how to instill healthy love of self,family, torah, mitzvos and klal yisroel.

    i hope more educators and parents will heed his words.

  13. good discussion, things to look into when my little girl starts school. I believe that just like these parent that go to ask their rabbi on how to raise a good torah observant girl to do mitzvah of allowing her husband to learn which i believe is an obligation to whatever degree that is what we should just do…go ask the rabbi…

  14. The morah makes some interesting points BUT – if chesed, family, extra-curricular are important, there should be time built into a girl’s schedule to allow for at least some of them (I’m not saying to do everything). Yet, the girls have so many subjects & so much hoemwork that they’ll go to school with 102 fever because if they miss a couple of days it’s almost impossible to catch up. I would call that being over-scheduled!

    B”H some schools are understanding and if you tell them your daughter is overwhelmed they might excuse her from a test or a subject temporarily.

    As I wrote in another discussion:
    Look around next time you are at a chupuah. (I speak of Litvishe, I don’t know many Chasidishe). The women are almost all either crying, davening, or saying Tehillim mechulak. The men are spacing out, shmuzing (in learning?), texting or even TALKING on their cell phones. Of course, this may be because the women are gullible enough to believe it’s an Ais Rotzon, the Shechinah is present, etc, while the men can be cynical & quote plenty of mekoros why women are too gullible…and maybe it’s only an Ais Rotzon for the chosson & kallah (& for sure why do you start davening before the chosson & kallah are both under the chupah?)…

    So, who is doing a better job, the Bais Yankevs or the Yeshivos? The girls are often more mature, responsible (what responsibilities does a bochur have?) and have more Yiras Shomayim due to more emphasis on hashkafa in school and additional voluntary shiurim (because they girls have no yetzer hara to be mevatel Torah).

    This may explain why there are more girls looking for shtarke learners than there are shtarke learners…

  15. Very simple . The purpose of a school is to give girls hashkofas and keep them busy with good things while feeling accomplished ,so they dont end up doing the wrong things . Some girls are highly motivated and need the high academics to keep motivated . Others are not as bright and not so motivated and need a less academic school setting . That is why schools are different and parents need to be honest where to send their girls . It is bad to send an average bright kid to a very academic school ,but just as bad to send a hard worker and very bright and motivated kid to a weak academic school where she gets bored and ends up hanging out at the mall

  16. PL, (comment 12) you wrote, “However, I did also find a good chunk of the Hebrew curriculum to be contrived and not necessary. I had a few amazing morahs who taught me life lessons by delving deeper into Tanach, but the rest of the teachers spent their time contradicting the Torah in order to push their own agendas.”

    I was wondering if you could give an example of this. I have a daughter who will soon be entering high school and I would like to understand better what you mean so that I can be properly prepared.

    Thank you!!

  17. for please clarify . . .

    I’ve been out of BY for 5 years. I’m not exactly sure if the agenda has changed, but from what I gather from my nieces, it isn’t much.

    Many of my morahs believed that it was a woman’s job to support her learning husband. Practically every meforush was twisted to say: “Men should sit and learn,” when it was not warranted.

    I had classes on subjects simply to fill in time. I can remember only one amazing lesson from 4 years of Beur Tefilah. Perhaps they should have focused more on Hebrew, while there was only one semester on conjugation.

    The emphasis on tznius, ad nauseum, distracts from real issues. The majority of my classmates came from fine homes and knew what was appropriate. I now have 6 year old nieces terrorized over sleeve length. They’re infants!

    Today a number of my classmates don’t abide by tznius. That’s because it is a symptom of what is inside. That has to be worked on first.

    I come from a European influenced family, where one goes out in public with a hat over the kapul and tzitzis tucked into the pockets, as to not flaunt one’s religion. In one class, a motah advocated that it was proper and necessary. for a boy to walk around with tzitzis blowing in the wind. When I offered how my grandfathers comported themselves in public, my morah said, “So, when in Rome.” I was near tears that my Holocaust survivor grandparents were being so disparaged as not being proud of their Yiddishkeit.

    My niece came for Shabbos and snuggled into my lap. “My principal said today that the Arabs can kill us all.” She was terrified. How many wrong messages was relayed to a 9 year old—no bitachon? If we are going to fear anyone, it is Hashem!

    Wow, I seem to have gone on a little rant. I hope I didn’t terrify you!

  18. no you didn’t terrify me, don’t worry…

    It sound like you grew up in a solidly frum home (in the truest sense of the word) and that you are therefore well-grounded hashkafically. Kol hakavod!!

    A for the messages your 9-year old neice receivied in school – I think that is a symptom of a larger problem which is that teachers talk about too many scary things with children too young to handle them. For example, in a Kindergarden class, a Morah told a story which focused too much on how Hashem judges us on Rosh Hashana. Yes that happens and yes kids need to know that, but is it really age-appropriate to scare little kids? A pre school Morah should focus on having a sweet year and such not on “eimas hadin” As an inexperinced middle school teacher (i.e. I had taught for several years but did not yet have my own middle-school aged children), I discovered that even 8th graders don’t need to be told about the fear of din we should have on Rosh Hashana. One of my students broke down crying when thinking about the concept that everything is decided on Rosh Hashana. Did I really need to “freak her out” like that at that age??

    Anyway, sorry for rambling but I agree with so much of what you say that I felt compelled to respond…

    Have a great Shabbos!!

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