I've been invited to speak at a program after Succos, on the greatest issues in chinuch [Jewish education] of our children today.
I am going to skip the perennial items of (1) Good teaching and (2) The tuition crisis, because they are obvious and because I don't have much to add on those. But here are five items I have thought of; I'd welcome additions or comments:
1. Taking advantage of our advantages
We possess many potential advantages for modern education, including advanced research in educational methodology, greater educational technology and social connectedness, a social break (relatively) from anti-Semitism (in North America), parents who are yeshiva-educated, and access to the State of Israel.
The results of making proper use of these developments could be fantastic - but if were to attempt it without real thought and research, we would lose precious time and money on unworthy, wasteful, education-damaging projects.
This has been a perennial issue, due to our dual curriculum, the constant push for extra-curriculars, and the need for both parents to work full-time jobs, but it is worse today.
Today, our social connectedness means we all know of great programs running in other communities, and we feel pressured to imitate them, especially as that same connectedness means that the creators of those programs come market them to us.
Today, our children have resume pressure to take on outside activities.
Today, parents are aware of research that suggests kids need down time from their programmed lives.
The result is that children have gaps in basic areas of their Jewish education - halachah, tefillah, Jewish thought, Jewish history, gemara... and they form weaker relationships with their parents and mentors.
My own feeling is that we need a longer school day, and educational extra-curriculars for kids who would benefit.
3. Independent children
Our kids have lines of communication (email, IM, Facebook, cell phones, texting) that are not subject to parental permission. Those same lines of communication give them the ability to purchase whatever they want, without parental control.
The result can be poor relationships with parents and mentors, and undisciplined approaches to learning and life. To me, there is a need for parents and mentors to combat this not by trying to impose control [although I really believe that high school students don't need cell phones], but by building relationships with kids.
4. Sophisticated ignorance
Children generally migrate toward shallow and superficial presentations of information, because those are easier to grasp and they tend to sound good. Today, those presentations are all over - blog posts (like this one?), Wikipedia articles, chat room diatribes, and so on. It's everywhere, and reading it is often encouraged through school as teachers assign kids to read Wikipedia and similarly shallow resources, rather than wrestle with more complex material.
The result is that children become cynical, and they closed to real explanation and analysis. When it comes to Judaism, they read and absorb superficial on-line atheism, thinking that they have now learned it all.
To me, parents need to spend time with kids talking through the issues they learn about on-line, and helping them learn to think and analyze on a more serious level.
5. Lack of spirituality
Our culture prizes intellect over emotion (particularly in males). Add in the fathers who are yeshiva-educated and likely to pull out a sefer during davening, and the time pressure that causes people to give short shrift to tefillah, and kids don't see a whole lot of emotion in the religion of their role models. Combine this with the academic cynicism our children will encounter in their teenage years, and religion is in trouble.
My thought would be to help remedy this by having parents work on their own spirituality, and make it visible to their children.
That's my current list. What would you add/delete? What would you change?