Respect for Secular Studies – Dear Rabbi Teitelbaum

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Dear Rabbi Teitelbaum,

My sons often come home from yeshiva with horrid stories of what goes on during their English (secular studies) class. The students display a terrible attitude of disrespect toward the teachers which I’m afraid may have a detrimental effect on my own sons who borch Hashem are very respectful boys. I’m greatly bothered by the fact that the yeshiva allows such behavior to go uncontrolled and unpunished and wonder what can be done about it. I’ve often thought of changing yeshivas but I hear that other places are not much better. What do you think can be done about it and what can I as a parent do to protect my own children from following in their ways?


A worried parent

Rabbi Teitelbaum replies

Unfortunately disrespect is a serious and quite common problem in many of our yeshivas that certainly must be addressed and needs much improvement and often gets swept under the carpet. While some blame it on the poor quality of the teachers, this is a poor excuse and nothing but a rationalization that allows it to continue. In truth we are all to blame. The lack of respect in our society can be attributed to many factors. It is picked up from the general permissiveness of society, and sometimes by the attitudes in our own home. When they see the in-fighting among us, respect everywhere takes a dive downward.

When a child comes home and tells us what’s happening in his classroom how do we respond? Do we criticize the teacher for not being able to discipline the class or do we tell our son how disgusting and horrid such behavior is and warn him never to dare follow in his classmates’ ways. When he comes home and tells us that he got punished or received an assignment for having done something wrong in class do we take his side and blame the teacher for “picking on him” as he may often claim or do we give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. All too often parents will accept their son’s version of what happened and criticize the teacher in front of their son for mishandling the situation without ever hearing the other side. After all, “My son never lies,” is what many parents seem to believe. Little do they realize how clever manipulators their darlings may be and how easily they manage to distort the true facts. Parents who criticize teachers in front of their children are only promoting disrespectful behavior. Problems with teachers must be discussed in private and with great respect. Keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions. Often the parent will discover that what they were told is not what actually took place and they were missing some important information. Let’s remember the story of the ten spies who easily misrepresented what they saw. While they didn’t lie, they misled the people by misinterpreting the facts. This happens all too often.

Schools could certainly do far more to promote good middos by rewarding students for excellent behavior rather than putting all the stress on scholarship and high marks. Children easily perceive what’s more important to us and can’t be fooled. If they get complimented and rewarded for their scholarship and not for good manners and politeness then they draw the appropriate conclusions. Good behavior doesn’t really count. Students who are disruptive or disrespectful must be dealt with appropriately and cannot be allowed to remain in the classroom even if their father is on the school board of directors, president of Chase Manhattan Bank, and their mother is the president of the ladies auxiliary. When one allows even a single moldy strawberry to remain even in the most luscious basket all the rest of them will soon become moldy as well. Showing any favoritism, bias, or prejudice, sets a dangerous example.

Boruch Hashem there are some yeshivas in our midst that have managed to confront this problem head-on and are doing a superb job in promoting proper derech eretz amongst their students. Let’s give them our full support and well deserved commendations.