Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Shevat 5765 - January 19, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Are Reading Problems New?
By L. Raffles

A lot has been written about "kids on the fringe" and the various causes. Problems at home and failure at school are often cited. If the child has problems at home but he feels a success in school, it might make all the difference. And, although a child may come from a strong and supportive home, it may not help the feelings of despair that overcome the intelligent child who feels a failure in school. So success in school and yeshiva can keep a child off the fringe.

A major part of success in school is being a good reader. But nowadays, there's a lot of talk about reading problems and learning disabilities. Are we just giving new names to old problems, or are these problems new?

It is possible that there are a few new problems. It is possible that the modern environment creates extra stresses on the eyes and brain. There are a lot of things around now that weren't around 100 years ago. Electric lights allow us to continue working all hours, so our brain and especially our eyes, work harder and longer and get more over stimulated (especially with computers) than they used to.

It is known that the incidence of shortsightedness has increased in the last century. One theory, supported by research, is that leaving the light on for babies while they sleep increases the incidence of short sight in later life. Also, due to the many social and technological changes since the industrial revolution, many children (and a lot of adults) are not getting enough sleep. So, besides working harder and longer, our brains and eyes are not getting enough rest, and this must affect learning and behavior.

Most likely, though, a lot of the new problems are not really new at all. It is just that these problems have consequences that they didn't have in the past. "Once upon a time," not all children were expected to be academic. Girls had little or no formal education and boys left school very young and went to work. Not every boy went to yeshiva. Who could afford to let a boy stay in school or cheder unless they were wealthy, and the boy had great potential?

A boy from a poor home had to be willing to give up everything to study Torah. Learning was placed on a pedestal and those who could do well at it were highly respected. However, each man was expected to learn according to his ability. No one was considered a failure for going to work.

Nowadays, we have to fear for our children's lives, physically and spiritually, once they leave the hallowed walls of our institutions. Now we want our children to stay in some Torah framework for as long as possible, especially as there is no alternative to school in the teen years. Nowadays, success in school is a must, not the `well, it would be nice' option it was 100, or even 40, years ago.

What we expect now is that every six-year-old read fluently and be able to translate Chumash. For the boys, we assume reading and understanding Rashi, Mishnayos and Gemoro before they are ten or eleven. Every boy is expected to go to yeshiva and stay in learning until he marries, and often beyond, for at least a year or two.

If he marries late, that can be a long time. For the boy who can keep up with the pace, it's fine, but not all can. The problem is that not everyone develops the right skills to be able to do this. The boy may be intelligent enough, but have some learning disability or just not have the reading skills he needs to succeed in school, and his self esteem will suffer.

If a youngster feels himself a nothing, and that our society has nothing to offer him, one can see how easy it is for him to get lost to us. And these children are not lost only to Yiddishkeit; they are lost in many other ways as well.

Girls are not immune to problems, as shown by the increasing numbers of girls on the streets. Unlike the boys, there is not the pressure to stay in full-time education, and everyone is supposed to realize that one doesn't need to be academic to be a superb homemaker. However, this message is not getting through to the girls, and much has been written elsewhere about the intense academic pressure the girls suffer. Shadchonim certainly take an interest in the girl's school performance, and which seminary she went to.

We all recognize the importance of a girl's education in the fight against assimilation, which is the legacy of Bais Yaakov. And we want our girls to achieve their maximum, intellectually, and keep their self esteem intact. However, in order to achieve this, we need to make sure that the girls also have adequate reading skills to succeed in school.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.