Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Things that annoy me.

This annoys me.

Is Early Childhood Too Early for Hebrew?” This was the question posed by Tani Foger, EdD, a 2006 graduate of Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and a school psychologist, at the inaugural colloquium of the new Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Division of Doctoral Studies at Azrieli Graduate School on Dec. 5...

Dr. Foger, a special education expert, focused her presentation on the immersion method of teaching Hebrew to preschoolers.

“Hebrew immersion programs in early childhood education will ensure that our day school graduates have a vibrant, facile and working relationship with the Hebrew language,” Dr. Foger said prior to the colloquium.

I really don't have anything useful to say about teaching American preschoolers Hebrew. It might be a good idea or it might not (all I remember from my preschool yeas was that I could master nuclear physics if cookies were involved).

What ticks me off is that there is a need for this. What ticks me off is that a conference needs to held in order to determine why kids can't speak Hebrew. What ticks me off is that after ten years of Hebrew classes I still futz around in the language. "Um ani rotzeh, I mean ratziti, I mean... Do you speak English?"

I have a question for the panel. How can it be that a day school student goes through ten years of Hebrew classes, gets straight A's, and cannot put together a coherent sentence? Forget about me for a second-- I was an awful, lazy student-- but I had friends who actually cared about school and got good grades. Their Hebrew is no better than mine.

The title of the conference should have been, "Why do our Hebrew classes stink?"

In my opinion there are two reasons. First, the stuff that is being taught has virtually no relevance to the actual spoken language. Kids come into tests knowing how to differentiate between poal and nifal, but really have no grasp of their practical ramifications. The second reason that the classes stink is that usually the teachers stink. When I was in school Hebrew teachers were almost always the rabbis who either did not speak enough English, or were not charismatic enough to give shiur... or both.

What we have here is ambivalence. On one hand modern orthodox schools are tied down to their bread and butter. We love the state of Israel, it is reishit smichat geulateinu, go buy Israel bonds, yada yada yada. Consequently,it would follow that it is pretty important to learn Hebrew. On the other hand there is still a small voice inside of them that cries Torah shebeal peh has been our legacy for two thousand years. Let's concentrate on that." So what then do we focus on? Learning Hebrew, or being Jewish? The answer? Neither.

The school that isn't concerned with this dilemna(and most of you can figure out which I school I am referring to) has no problem teaching their students Hebrew. They are quite certain which is more important. Ambivalence is the greatest obstacle to achievement. Take away the ambivalence and their is no problem achieving.

I am in no way suggesting that this school should be the model. However, if the modern- orthodox schools believe that learning Hebrew is important than what is needed is not to teach Hebrew in preschool. What is needed is Hebrew classes that don't stink.