What is Your Opinion? (2)

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Are Today’s Children More or Less Literate Than Their Parents Were at the Same Age?

Brief explanation: Frum education has been evolving constantly for many years. We’ve gone from Talmud Torah in the afternoons, to full time yeshivah. Many yeshivas have gone from off-hours public school teachers to frum women and then to frum men teaching secular studies. Some Yeshivas have done away with the English department altogether. How has this affected literacy in our communities? Meanwhile, the world of frum literature has grown immeasurably. Judaica stores don’t even have room for all of the titles now available that cater to the frum market. Has this raised the level of literacy in a measurable way?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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32 Responses to What is Your Opinion? (2)

  1. GH says:

    There are more Jewish books availble for reading, but they’re on a different level than most secular books, based on having the appropriate hashkafa than on a high literary content. Secular books too have gone down in appropriate content, so even reading them doesn’t make people more literate anymore. So I’d say the answer is no. More appropriate books to read, but lower level of literacy. TV and Movies also negate the necessity of reading.

  2. Yocheved Feig says:

    There may be many books filling up the shelves in the stores, but the surprising but true reality is that children are busy with other things aside from reading. There are definitely children who are the bookworms of their generation, but as for the others, they are usually choosing to spend their free time with some sorts of technological devices.
    The way I see it, our parent’s lack of reading materials is replaced today with gadgets and exciting lights.

  3. Bracha says:

    No, While I don’t think that today’s children are more literate than their parents were at their age or that the abundance of books catering for the frum market has raised the level of literacy per se, I DO think that this has made reading more exciting for those who already read and has inticed frum readers more towards appropriate frum reading material as opposed to secular, goyishe reading material. And I don’t feel that that is any less of any accomplishment for frum publishers than increasing the literacy level. As I run a community library here in Golders Green, I have actually noticed this among the people who use our library. People come in asking for a frum version of secular books and Baruch Hashem we have what to give them that will offer them just what they would gain from the secular book (literacy wise) but with the additional benefit of Torah true hashkafos. And for that all frum publishers deserve much credit.
    Also I feel that the reason today’s children are not more literate than their parents were is more due to different social and acedemic pressues which their parents didn’t have. An average child today spends most of his/her home time doing more homework, preparing for more tests and has a busier social life (even if it is on the internet- approved websites only, of course) than their parents had.

  4. R. Slomiuc says:

    Standard replies are unreasonable regarding your query as it varies per situation. In my case, yes. My children are less literate than I.

    Four definitions accurately encompass the word “literate.” The ability to read and write, knowledgeable, well-educated and well read and lastly, skillfully written. We appreciate an abundance of literature filling the bookshelves of Jewish lending libraries and bookstores but “book reading” is not the pastime it once was. Our children read and write, are knowledgeable, educated, well-read and can put pen to paper skillfully. On the other hand, book reports have become a thing of the past, grammar and pronunciation errors abound, written assignments contain a conglomeration of mixed language expressions, and whereas the previous generation prided themselves on the English education received by their children, our institutions have limited the teaching of secular studies. Furthermore, the instruction provided is done via instructors who are restricted in their knowledge due to the limitations of their education. Their unintentional errors become the legacy of the students in their classrooms.

    Perhaps your question should read: Of what importance is it that my children are not as literate as I? Phonetic articulations irk me, spelling errors and inappropriate grammar usage disturb me, but would I rather their education was more secularly based with time taken from the learning of middos, hashkofos and teachings which formulate the basis of our children’s existence? Definitely not.

  5. DL says:

    Today’s children are certainly less literate than their parents. Our educational systems today are stronger in their emphasis on limudei kodesh, and English skills are not valued among the frum as they were a generation ago. I doubt the abundance of English Judaica literature has had much of an impact on the level of literacy, since it is written for older readers, and literacy is established in younger years.

  6. Kohen says:

    Today’s children see more and read less. It is the visual, moving objects that catch their attention rather than the black on white written word. It used to be that children had fewer books to read, but nowadays although they have more books, they may prefer to do other things (there are, obviously, exceptions). Often unless a child has imagination, books are boring, and take too long to read. They no longer have as much patience for the written word due to the fast moving world around them.

  7. Beitar says:

    In my opinion, the level of literacy is very comparable. Granted our Bais Yaakov and Cheder educated children may not be given the whole version of the classics to read, but they are given high quality literature that has purpose and that will not implant foreign ideas into their heads. I do not want my children reading some of the works that I was assigned to read in school. There are “kosher” textbooks available today that are contain high quality literature, just edited to exclude inappropriate or insensitive material. We all know that our children’s minds are like sponges, and that they will remember what they learned and read for years. Mosdos are doing a great job of achieving high literary standards while being sensitive to the delicacy of the neshamos of our children. Anyone who I have personally spoken to that has called these textbooks sheltered is involved in the secular wold in one way or another, and their opinions don’t stem from a completely holy source.

  8. ST Fry says:

    In my opinion, English literacy had highly improved generation to generation. The government had made it mandatory for students to go to school and learn proper English for a long while. This time allows for student to achieve a better English, a better understanding of the complex English language- an understanding which by far surpasses the literacy of the generation before.
    In addition, children today have a lot more leisure time to read, which also greatly improved literacy in today’s children.

  9. C.F. says:

    The level of learning in schools has gone considerably in recent years. Children REQUIRE to meet bigger expectation now, more than in years past.
    This does not necessarily mean that children ENJOY reading more then their parents did at the same age. In all times there were people who enjoyed literature and would read anything in print from the list of ingredients on a food package label, to a thick novel, reading from cover to cover. There were also people who had very little interest in the printed word.
    Since there has been an influx of high quality, interesting judaica reading material on the market, it is so much easier to encourage children to develop that love for reading, in comparison to years ago when all that was available was secular reading material that had to first be censured by an adult. This, more than anything had changed the base with which we can encourage a love for reading in our children.
    Books today, are not cheap, which poses a challenge to families struggling financially, and even lending libraries reserve the new titles to be lent out as “rentals” for a small fee which can still be difficult for struggling families. This, restricts a growing part of our society from having easy access to ALL the “Judaica titles now available.” It’s a piety that our Jewish Libraries are not like the public Library counterparts, where all titles are available equally to all who nameless cardholders in those libraries.

  10. S. B. from East 7 Says: says:

    I thing that children today, who enjoy reading, are definitely more literate the the children of past generation, since there’s much more reading material now. I also believe since there’s a lot to read, their more educated than the earlier generation.
    But, of the people who don’t enjoy reading, I think the older generation was more literate. Firstly, because today there is so much more technology on the market then in the past. I-pods, MP3’s, palms, and computer games… all keep children very busy so they have no need to sit down and read. The older generation did not have all this, therefore, even if someone did not enjoy reading so much, they still need more than the children of this generation. Another reason I feel, is because Yeshivas today don’t encourage English literature so much. The teachers are all Frum men, and teach the kid’s that the main thing is Torah learning. While i agree with them, and am happy that their infusing our children with a love for learning, I think it is a shame that they don’t encourage them to read more. There is so much you can learn from books, they could read about different Gedolim, and different things in Jewish history…

  11. A.K. says:

    I do not think that the increase of Jewish Literature is raising the literacy of our youth. Reading books can not substitute for a proper English education. Granted that reading broadens one’s vocabulary, but that pales in comparison to an English education.
    In essence, there was a stronger emphasis placed on secular studies in our parent’s generation. The average child attended schools that provided a secular curriculum, which was encouraged and backed by many parents. As such, their language art skills were learned predominantly in school, and reading just added to their proficiency.
    In our society, however, there is an increasing amount of children that are not attending secular studies. Even the one’s who go do not put inadequate effort and crawl lackluster through their studies. No amount of reading will ever replace a proper education.

  12. YL says:

    I would venture to say this generation is less literate. Literacy does not only refer to reading rading books, but also to having command of a language. The lack of skills in spelling puncuation and grammar that abounds today (even in books) forces me to come to the conclusion that today’s generation can be called illiterate.

  13. Wall about says says:

    In recent years, the amount of Jewish literature available has increased immensely. The obvious and expected result is that Jewish books readily read more Jewish literature than their parents did at their age.
    Their parents, however, also had a thirst to read and desperately wanted to get hold of a good books to lose themselves in. They had no choice but to resort to secular literature. Heidi, Bobsy Twins, Hardy Boys, O’Henry, and Sherlock Holmes became the norm in every home with children who loved to read.
    The level of literacy today is probably not more than it was years ago. The only difference is that the quantity was available, the quality, unfortunately, not.

  14. C. Wiess says:

    I think that today’s kids are more literate for a few reasons. Firstly, there is a heavy focus on vocabulary and spelling today (Hebrew and English). Also, there’s so many books and publishers- like Israel Bookshop (kudos to you!) that you will find today’s kids WANT to read more then the generation of yesteryear. Because, even if a kid has every gadget and gizmo their is just something to sitting down and reading a book! Although their are some tight knitted communities where their main language isn’t English the overall population today is more literate.

  15. E.L. says:

    There is more “kosher” literature for them to read.

  16. O.S., North Miami Beach says:

    In today’s generation, especially in recent years, technology has been hitting us in no time at all. Alongside technology is fun, games, school, outing, and so much more to grab attention. Although Baruch Hashem as frum Yidden we sensor what we and are kids do, this generation does not have as much leisure time. In older generations girls stayed at home while the boys went to Talmud Torah and in free time they played with friends and read and wrote. Kids have to find things to do, imagination was exercised much more. Especially since the Yeshivos cut out English Our boys don’t have much literature.

  17. Mindy Mashinsky from Brooklyn says:

    The truth is, we can’t make a general statement on today’s children. If we’re talking about children Chassidishe Yeshivos, where there is hardly an emphasis on English literacy then definitely their parents were more literate then they are. (The Chassidishe Yeshivos going back 15 years had given stronger English Ed. But children attending Yeshivos where their have an established English Curriculum, these children are definitely more literate than their parents were. They are capable if taking advantage of many judaic books out there that wasn’t available to their parents back then thereby making then more literate then their parents were at that age.

  18. R. Title says:

    There are many more books that are out there that are published and geared for children (especially Judaica). Teacher’s are also incorporating reading.

  19. C.L. says:

    We read more and were not busy with computers.

  20. Y.T.K Chicago says:

    As an 8th grade student in today’s school system, I have mixed feelings about the literacy of children nowadays. I can say though. that (at least in my class) the difference is more about the interest in being literate than the English department parse. Personally, I’m interested in knowing how to speak clearly and expressing that in writing.
    Reading books of “frum literature” has certainly helped me, be it novels, short story books, or humor books (such as Mordechai Schmutter’s new book “A clever Title Goes Here”). Seeing how authors write their stories in an organized fashion, describing things well, and the English content as well and how they apply it, has certainly educated me in quality writing.
    It is true that many schools have hired frum men and women to teach but this had really helped me more then taken away- for students, although unfortunate, respect frum people more than non- frum or non-jewish. In my school they have even began to hire Rabbeim to teach English and other secular studies.
    Although this hasn’t, to my knowledge, lessened the level of English competence in comparison to previous year, it has added a certain degree of unimportance (to an extreme) to English.
    As Yidden, English is very much secondary and this should be emphasized. However, being that we are still in Galus, knowing how to speak English clearly is important. This lack of interest is leading to a “non-literacy” but it is a gradual decline. As of now, I couldn’t make much of a clear difference between the literacy of children now and their parents when they were that age.

  21. English Teacher says:

    The most basic definition of “literate” is, “able to read and write; having or showing knowledge of literature, writing, etc.” Purporting that today’s frum youth are more literate because there is so much frum literature available is akin to asserting that our children are better nourished because of the superfluity of kosher food.

    While there are dozens of frum fiction titles now on the market, they offer little intellectual “nutrition.” They pass through the mind with no need for brainwork, much as junk food passes through the body with little need for digestion. Years ago, few families banned secular books in the home. Parents chose reading material with care, but understood the value of good literature, following the dictum “chochmoh bagoyim taamin.”

    Recent frum publications may have added to our children’s factual knowledge base, but it is clear that they fail to improve their literacy. In my classroom I am careful to select books following publishers’ guidelines regarding grade-level, generally selecting titles that are rated at two or more grade levels below what I currently teach. Never-the-less, Hashem has not blessed me with sufficient appendages to count the number of times a student has told me that she “reads only frum books” and in the next breath that she “doesn’t understand a word of what we are reading.”

    To find further proof of our collective illiteracy, one need look no further than the grammatical mistakes found in the printed entries to Israel Bookshop’s last question! One can argue that a deficit in literacy is a price worth paying for the value offered by censorship, but no one can argue that frum titles available thus far have improved literacy.

  22. Bracha Hackner says:

    No. While I don’t think that today’s children are more literate than their parents were at the same age or that the abundance of books catering for the frum market has raised the level of literacy per se. I DO think that this has made frum reading more exciting for those who already read and has inticed frum readers more towards appropriate frum reading material as opposed to secular, goyishe reading material. And I don’t feel that that is any less of an accomplishment for frum publishers than increasing the literacy level. As I run a community library here in Golders Green, I have actually noticed this among the people who use our library. People come in asking for frum versions of secular books and Baruch Hashem we have what to give them that will offer them just what they would gain from the secular book (literacy wise) but with the additional benefit of Torah true hashkafos. And for that all frum publishers deserve much credit.
    Also I feel that the reason today’s children are not more literate than their parents were doesn’t have to do with the books offered. I think it’s due to the different social and acedemic pressures which their parents didn’t have. An average child today spends most of his/her home time doing more homework, preparing for more tests and has a more demanding social life than their parents had.
    Bracha Hackner
    London UK

  23. Boruch Rich says:

    Every time a new Jewish newspaper is released, I make a very fun sport out of finding all of the grammatical and spelling errors. Some are minor, but many are just so blaringly wrong I wonder how anyone could write this, and I come to a very simple conclusion: Literary levels have decreased significantly from the past generation.

    Decades ago, all yeshivos offered a competent English studies course to entice parents into sending their children there. Nowadays, very few yeshivos need to convince parents to choose a yeshiva as opposed to a public school, and the scholastic level of general studies have decreased expotenttially. It is not a joke to say that hardly anyone speaks properly or writes properly these days.Most chldren these days can barely write an entire logical essay, let alone write a sentence that is gramatically correct.

    What many yeshivos don’t understand is that English studies do not detract from learning, in many instances it complements learning with its own logical way of thinking. Obviously learning as much as you can is the pinnacle of achievement in Judaism, but Hashem placed us in this material world called Earth, and we must learn how to properly navigate the ruchniyus side of it and the gashmiyus aspect.

    It is true that many of the English Judaica books are written with an advanced vocabulary, but these books are not read often enough to make an impact on the literacy level of most readers. I cringe when I hear people talk in backwards sentences such as “It was great, the vort”, and grimace when I think of the chilul Hashem that is caused by posters placed all over Jewish neighborhoods with awful mistakes. As a final answer to your question, I must say that I firmly believe that the literacy level has decreased, and that action must be taken.

  24. Shimmy says:

    I think there are a few issues here to discuss.

    1. There is so much out there nowadays for children to keep busy with that there is probably less time available for them to read. Schools also try to give them as much work as possible to keep outside influences away from the children. This alone, would make the children much less literate than their parents. Also, reading is much less exciting than the other options out there that also contributes to this.

    2. English department in the school and yeshiva systems are not what they used to be. I was in Yeshiva High School in the early 1990’s, and even though we only had 3 hours a day and it was obviously not the most difficult curriculum, it was still taken seriously by the rebbeim and in turn by the talmidim. It’s not like that anymore. I deal with High School age bochurim and bais medresh bochurim who don’t have the basic english skills needed in the world. They are definitely NOT reading english books.It’s a chaval.

  25. Chedva says:

    Literacy is definitely down, but not only due to different secular curriculums, but also do to the computer game/Internet/kosher DVD’s etc that pervades our culture. Children read less and are entertained more, so that they are not as literate as the pre-computer generation that we grew up in, where reading was one of the main options as far as entertainment and recreation available.

  26. Chaya says:

    They are definitely less literate. While I think it is not necessary for my children to be reqired to read all the literature that I had to read, and they may be better off not reading some of those books, did our schools throw out the baby with the bathwater?? Can the novels they read in HS (example – soem of the Holocaust Diaries) , while decently written, compare with the language and expression that appear in some of the old classics?

  27. eve gellman says:

    At the age my children are today, i was exposed to a wide array of literary classics written by literary giants such as Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas and Dostoevsky. While their books were works of art, their contents often entailed apikorsus and blatantly inappropriate text. they worked to enhance my vocabulary and to spruce up my English language yet was it worth it at the expense of my spiritual growth? so i will conclude that my children may be less literate in the intrinsic sense of the word, but perhaps they are richer in the areas that count most: Yiddishkeit.

  28. R. S. says:

    Standard replies are unreasonable regarding your query as it varies per situation. In my case, yes. My children are less literate than I.

    Four definitions accurately encompass the word “literate.” The ability to read and write, knowledgeable, well-educated and well read and lastly, skillfully written. We appreciate an abundance of literature filling the bookshelves of Jewish lending libraries and bookstores but “book reading” is not the pastime it once was. Our children read and write, are knowledgeable, educated, well-read and can put pen to paper skillfully. On the other hand, book reports have become a thing of the past, grammar and pronunciation errors abound, written assignments contain a conglomeration of mixed language expressions, and whereas the previous generation prided themselves on the English education received by their children, our institutions have limited the teaching of secular studies. Furthermore, the instruction provided is done via instructors who are restricted in their knowledge due to the limitations of their education. Their unintentional errors become the legacy of the students in their classrooms.

    Perhaps your question should read: Of what importance is it that my children are not as literate as I? Phonetic articulations irk me, spelling errors and inappropriate grammar usage disturb me, but would I rather their education was more secularly based with time taken from the learning of middos, hashkofos and teachings which formulate the basis of our children’s existence? Definitely not.

    • Miriam says:

      According to your theory, middos and hashkafos should be at a higher level today than they were a generation ago, now that we have sacrificed literacy for a stronger emphasis on those areas of learning. Have you found this to be so among your children or students? I certainly haven’t; most emphatically not in the realm of middos!

  29. Sender Zeyv says:

    This generation is a lot less literate than the previous generations of American Jews. Thirty or forty years ago we thought that would be an advantage not a disadvantage. We presumed that if Frum educational systems demoted secular studies to the periphery, our children would concentrate their efforts in Torah study and observance. Thus, I ask, are our generation of children stronger in Torah knowledge and values? I would answer, there is no evidence this is true. In my day in Bais Medrash level yeshiva, most fellows knew how to learn very well and also knew secular studies, literature and yes, even TV programs and sports. I certainly am not advocating TV or sports, but I think the Philadelphia Yeshiva had it right; if we must offer a secular curriculum, it must be top notch. There is no question, if a particular yeshiva was geared only for the top Metzuyanim who excel in intellect and Hasmada, then Kulo Torah is the way to go (the Riverdale paradigm). But for 95% of the population, it is not a workable formula in Galus America. I think the push to marginalize secular knowledge and literature has contributed to the growing problem in recent generations of learning challenged children and children at risk. In addition, quite a bit of the Frum literature that is considered kosher is of inferior literary quality. The diet of that stuff may be innocuous spiritually, but it could be very unhealthful for the intellectual development of young adults by keeping them at a fourth grade level. After forty years in the Yeshiva World, I have concluded that Rav S. R. Hirsch’s approach to education (with some right leaning modification) and his Hashkafa in general are the most beneficial approaches for Klal Yisroel in this generation and especially in America. Rav Hirsch’s approach is actually a revival of the Rambam’s approach, but that is another discussion.

    • Concerned Bibliophile says:

      I agree with this comment. The yeshiva community has totally thrown out the baby with the bath water on this.

      Literacy is more than just for business and entertainment. Reading builds communication abilities, imaginative abilities, and experiential abilities. By stunting literacy, we are stunting maturity and ultimately, the very spiritual growth in whose favor it was abandoned.

  30. Longing for days of old... says:

    chazal said, “hadoros holchos u’mismaatos”… how so very true :-( …

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