Rabbi Gil Student writes on Hirhurim:
Atid published a new booklet, Teaching Toward Tomorrow: Setting an Agenda for Modern Orthodox Education, that contains essays from a symposium on the current state and future directions of Modern Orthodox education. The essays are fascinating and, I found, somewhat depressing. Basically, educators and scholars sat down to write what they consider the biggest problems. However, there was such wide disagreement that you basically have a long laundry list of terrible problems. The authors were so far apart that there are three different essays trying to sum up the discussion.
In a few sections of my recently published book "The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs: Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth" I touch upon modern orthodox Jewish education. I think my comments there are relevant to this posting by Gil.
"Does belief in TMS and related Orthodox doctrines have any negative intellectual consequences?
I think that it does…
I…have in mind the educational consequences of the Orthodox approach for the ways in which their children will learn to think about religious and moral questions. The attempt to suppress serious exposure to biblical scholarship is futile with respect to young people who are intelligent, intellectually curious, and who take seriously the professed Orthodox belief in the value of emet—truth. Although some modern Orthodox day schools do expose their students to biblical scholarship, with a traditional ‘‘spin,’’ the bright student will sooner or later see the spin for what it is—an attempt to indoctrinate rather than to educate—and he or she may become bitter at his teachers and school for underestimating his intelligence. Many Orthodox day schools do not even acknowledge the world of biblical scholarship despite the fact that their students are spending years studying the Hebrew Bible. Every so often these youth will encounter in the mass media, in their private reading, or later, in a college course references to and findings of biblical scholarship that contradict what they have been taught in their Orthodox day school." (pages 64-65).
"… Are the tough challenges to Orthodox Judaism from history, archaeology, and biblical scholarship simply to be ignored by Orthodox educational institutions, including modern Orthodox ones?
This is what occurs daily in Orthodox schools, including modern ones…
…is it reasonable to teach Torah as TMS without expecting or encouraging students who are being taught to think critically in their general studies to apply those same critical skills to the assertions of the tradition? And if the students do challenge the tradition because they become aware of biblical and other scholarship, as one would expect of a significant portion of students of high intellectual caliber in modern Orthodox day schools, what is the modern Orthodox response to their critical examination of the beliefs that Orthodoxy is attempting to indoctrinate?" (pages 189-190).
Whatever the year or two in Israel is meant to do is irrelevant. It allows kids a year to grow and mature (or even just blow off steam) without the pressure of grades in an environment conducive to developing an appreciation for learning.
The payoff is that when they go to college they are able to orient themselves and function without having to deal with the "OMG, I’m free" experience at the same time.
From personal experience and talking with others who teach at the undergrad level: more than 50% of 18-19 year olds are not prepared for college. Not simply because they bearley learned to read and can’t write a coherent sentence, but because they are emotionally immature. If nothing else, the year in Israel helps to avoid this problem.
The best thing we could do for higher education in America is to make kids do something else first for a year.