Monday, April 23, 2007

A Letter about Rabbi Horowitz

Mishpacha Magazine recently published a letter to the editor regarding R. Yaakov Horowitz's column that R. Horowitz reproduced on his website (link). This letter has raised a bit of a stink on various blogs because R. Horowitz is, to some extent, a darling of the anti-frum-establishment community and any criticism of him or his agenda is unappreciated. While I happen to be a fan of R. Horowitz, and the one time we met was an extremely pleasant and rewarding experience, I think there is some truth to the letter. I do not remotely suggest that R. Horowitz should immediately abandon his life's work because of this letter. However, I am a believer in taking all criticism seriously and trying to see what truth and lessons can be learned from it.

Here is an excerpt of the letter (which can be found in its entirety here) with what I consider the most important section highlighted:

I’m surprised and upset that Mishpacha printed a column which, reading between the lines, recommends going back to the “old school,” where subjects were taught which opened up “more careers” for the students — computers, math, science, etc.

I understand the logic: If the “best schools” would teach subjects which were interesting to children on the brink, these children might remain. Now these schools teach only Gemara, so these children are bored and fall even faster.

If we teach many secular subjects in our school, will Torah giants emerge? Or does that not make a difference? How does Rabbi Horowitz know that it’s more important to save the falling children? Maybe it’s more important to save the ones with true potential to reach the greatest heights?

Rabbi Horowitz is worried that within a few years many children will fall off the derech. I’m afraid that if his plan for the yeshivos is accepted then the children will fall off the derech — if not this generation, perhaps the next. The responsibility of changing the schools based on a doubtful theory is very scary. (Is the dropouts percentage smaller in girls’ schools which teach secular subjects? I don’t think so.)
Let me repeat this key sentence, ignoring the poor grammar (at least the letter writer practices what he preaches): "The responsibility of changing the schools based on a doubtful theory is very scary."

One of R. Horowitz's key themes is that our current system of education is driving kids out of the community, off the derekh. We need to change how we raise our youth, R. Horowitz argues, because otherwise disaster is impending.

Is he right? I don't know. Where's the data backing up his theories? Where are the studies proving his point? As I pointed out in this post, a lot of the discussions on this topic use a few anecdotes and statements from "experts" (usually including R. Horowitz) to prove their points. While my gut tells me that he is right, are we really ready to make such a radical change without conducting rigorous analysis? Social experimentation is risky, especially when dealing with a community that is a link in a chain of tradition that spans thousands of years.

Will such studies silence the right-wing critics? Unquestionably not. But perhaps we owe it to ourselves to take this criticism seriously and proceed with due caution.

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