By Rabbi Yosef Shubert
I may ruffle some feathers, but this is an important topic to address.
Currently, virtually all boys elementary schools, in most communities, have English studies during the afternoon. With respect to mesivtas, however, some do and some do not.
Now, I do not wish to address the issue of whether there should be English studies in yeshivah or whether yeshivah bochurim should or should not go to “English,” as it is referred to colloquially. As a youngester, I personally did go to “English,” or limudei chol, from 1st thru 12th grades during my years in yeshivah ketana and mesivta. Each person should follow the direction of their rov and do what they feel is correct and beneficial for them.
The issue that is on my mind has more to do with the mesivtas that do have limudei chol than those that do not. Let me explain.
When a bochur attends a mesivta that does not have limudei chol during the afternoon, the bochur and his parents understand up front what the daily schedule of the yeshiva is and what that entails.
Regarding mesivtos that do offer limudei chol during each afternoon, I happen to know some that have excellent English studies departments, which are run with an iron hand and where the classes and attendance are taken very seriously and where the program is an organized one with experienced and talented individuals in charge.
However, there are some mesivtos (and some elementary schools, too) where the English studies are merely an excuse to keep the boys busy for a few hours during each afternoon. There is a negative attitude toward the classes by the students, which often stems from the parents and occasionally the hanhalla. What results, in certain situations, is nothing short of a disgrace.
The teachers receive no respect from the students – and sometimes from the parents, too – and the boys come away thinking that they can manipulate the system and do what they want because no one really cares about the “afternoons.” Regardless of whether the teachers are Jewish or not, or what their level of frumkeit is, the freedom with which some boys feel they can act results in a terrible situation. In my humble opinion, either have a serious, structured English studies program or don’t have one at all. It is imperative to impart to these growing children that there is no middle ground and that afternoon classes are part of the seder hayom of the yeshiva. A boy who can’t follow the rules for that part of the day should be penalized just as he would be if he misbehaved during the morning class. (This is a point that has been stressed by many mechanchim in the past.)
I know firsthand that in certain institutions things have spiraled out of control. Some boys don’t show up to some of the limudei chol classes, while others bring seforim into the classroom and learn while the teacher is trying to deliver a lesson. The boys in the last category far from realize their misplaced righteousness.
While I understand that there are many complex issues involved here, including the difficulty in finding well-qualified teachers and the fact that boys generally sit through long school days, nevertheless, it cannot continue to be a free-for-all.
Those institutions with struggling English departments should make a concerted effort to crack down. Parents and students should be made aware that the classes will be taken seriously and that those who cannot adhere to the rules are in complete violation of the school’s policy. The punishment for such students I will leave to the many talented and experienced mechanchim out there. And, if the English department cannot be restructured and organized, perhaps it should be disbanded altogether.