An incomplete musing on Jewish schooling:
Last week I heard about a local Junior High School limudei kodesh (Judaic studies) teacher who spoke with his students about September 11th. I'm glad he did it.
I am not among those who want the junior high Rebbe to stick to the curriculum. Sure, I will be frustrated when the curriculum is not completed, and I will want the kids to know much more tochen (content) than they will receive in school, but to my mind the kids need a Rebbe at this stage, far more than they need the tochen.
In my junior high school years at HALB in New York, a Rebbe of mine urged us to get out of our Hebrew Academy world and go to high school at Chofetz Chaim; he even gave us a strategy to convince our parents. (“Tell them you want to go to Telz, and they’ll settle for Chofetz Chaim.”) [Whether I like the idea of teachers undermining parents is another discussion...]
Another rebbe allowed us to draw him into conversations on matters of being “shomer negiah” (avoiding intergender physical contact, in accordance with Jewish law) and “the M word”. A rebbe brought us to his home and neighborhood in Brooklyn for a Shabbaton.
At that age, many kids cease to view their parents as sole role models, or role models at all, and they need healthy alternatives. If the instructor is limited to curriculum and lesson plans, the connection to the students cannot evolve into a broader, role model-oriented relationship. So where will the kids find their mentors?
I wonder if any of the “half-Shabbos” phenomenon stems from teachers who are told to be instructors rather than rebbeim.