Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Frum Kids in Public School: Tutor vs. Talmud Torah

When we made the decision to remove David from the day school system it was conditional upon the ability to ensure we don't compromise on his limude kodesh. There are basically three options available to us:

1) Home schooling
2) Private tutor
3) Talmud Torah

Home schooling for limude kodesh is not an option that we considered thus far for various reasons, so we're left with talmud torah or private tutor. Each has it pros and cons.


This alone should make the choice simple. Talmud torah is relatively inexpensive whereas a private tutor can cost just as much or even more than day school tuition.


If you live in a mid-sized or larger Jewish community, there is probably a decent pool of private tutors that you can choose from. Even though the pool will shrink once you determine the equilibrium between how much you want to pay and what type of a tutor you want, there should still be enough options. And if it seems like a particular tutor is not working out you can work one-on-one with the tutor to resolve the problem or fire him and hire someone else.

Depending on the particular community, however, there may be only a few, if any, talmud torahs to choose from. Also, once your child is enrolled a talmud torah, you will probably have little input into shaping the program the way that you can with a private tutor. You will have to contend with various parties, including teachers, administrators and even other parents. (Conflicts with other parents should not be underestimated and this is an issue I really want to post about.) At that point I'd be asking myself why I removed my child from day school, where one of my biggest complaints was that parental input was not welcome (with the exception of cash input).

Communal Learning

We all know that one-on-one learning is the best modality. Or is it?

David's public school subscribes to some new-fangled, post-modern, fluffy education theories that play a large role in determining the classroom experience. I'm not sure if I agree with all the theories, but hey, who cares . . . it's free (click here).

For one part of the day the students are paired up and they read to each other. I though this was silly and not productive. But then I happened to be in the classroom when this going on and I couldn't believe my eyes. Spread out across the room were pairs of kids on the floor with one kid reading as the other followed (and corrected). While obviously for didactic and supervision purposes you want a professionally-trained and experienced adult teacher at hand, maybe there is something to the group classroom experience, when properly facilitated, that encourages children to learn--or maybe just practice--better than in isolation?


I am leaving group vs. isolation with a big question mark, although I do think that for general content and skills acquisition there is nothing better than personalized, one-on-one learning. On the other hand, there is one aspect that I am convinced is encouraged better in a group environment.

I think it is very difficult for a private tutor to foster the acquisition of ritual behaviors and a child is most likely to adopt these behaviors when they are best learned and reinforced by repeatedly joining others in performing them. Specifically I'm thinking of davening. My son has learned certain parts of davening and he should certainly be leaning more. But although we do daven at home with him at home, he won't let us introduce him to new tefillot. I'm not sure how to do this without him being in the presence of a group of twenty or thirty other kids who all davening together.


One of the criticisms of home schooling is that children are not exposed to an age-appropriate social environment. Proponents respond that there is no problem as long as parents are careful to provide appropriate extra-curricular activities in larger social groups. I think a similar criticism can in certain instances be raised against tutors for limude kodesh.

Obviously we are reconciled with David having non-religious and non-Jewish classmates and we have no problem with him befriending them in and out of school. But as much as we are open-minded in these matters, at the end of the day we identify first and foremost as (Orthodox) Jews and we do want to him to grow up recognizing that he too is an organic part of a larger community of (Orthodox) Jews. Because where we live David does not have any Jewish (Orthodox or otherwise) playmates, we like the idea that in a talmud torah he will have the opportunity to spend time with other (Orthodox) Jewish kids and hopefully develop friendships with some of them.


1) One variation that I did not discuss above is hiring a private tutor to work with a two or three children. Most importantly this is more affordable than a one-on-one tutor and perhaps the social isolation problem can this somewhat be resolved in this manner. But there are other problems, mostly practical one, with a small group tutor.

2) For various reasons (not the least of which being laziness) we chose to enroll David in a talmud torah rather than hire a private tutor. We were very excited about a particular talmud torah because (at least the way it was promoted) it was designed to avoid the avoidable pitfalls that plagued the talmud torahs of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Unfortunately from what we've seen during the short time that David has thus far attended, we are less than impressed, to say the least. But we are not giving up on it yet and we are trying to work with some other parents to get the school to live up to its advertising. If we don't see real changes being implemented over the next month or two, we will most likely hire a tutor.

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