Monday, December 10, 2007

Debate Team? Sign me up!

As many of you know, my high school experience, for the most part, sucked. I didn't participate in the few extra-curricular activities we had.

Every year, each girl had a "job," like Shabbaton, Yom Iyun, Layl Iyun...all the fun stuff. The few times I actually attended the meetings, I could have been invisible and inaudible. I figured, Why miss class for this? So I stopped showing up. And nobody cared.

In order to do something for these events, you have to be: rich, popular, a good dancer, or a good singer. Preferably all of the above.

So, you guessed it. I was forced to attend, but did nothing more. I am not much of a performer. Especially these cheeseball songs. I can sing in a choir, but I refused. They tried convincing me, but I wasn't going to risk having those dreadful lyrics stuck in my head.

So that was the extent of our extra-curricular activities. Many girls were excluded in the same way I was. They didn't fit the mold, and weren't part of the clique, so their ideas went unheard. Our events were yeshivish, cheesy, and trite. Not like I could have changed that. Censorship was rampant...but that's a story for another day.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with the principal of a large Modern Orthodox high school for girls. Not a Bais Yaakov. Not in Brooklyn.

I got very jealous very quickly. She described the various outlets that her school provides for the students to develop as people. She said she wants her students to know that they're good at something. So if it isn't volleyball, it's the school newspaper. If it isn't the mock UN, it could be the debate team. The list went on. (Obviously, this adds up to astronomical tuition. But I'm asking for maybe half of these activities in Bais Yaakovs!)

My school newspaper in high school was a bunch of kids who were selected at the beginning of the year who wrote some kiss-up boring articles. I wasn't allowed to join. I wasn't asked to be editor, despite my blatant interest in writing. Everyone knew I liked to write. Since 3rd grade. I mean it.

Anyway, I got to thinking about why the local Bais Yaakovs don't have these things. It led me to a "chicken and egg" debate. Which came first? The lack of interest in the kids, therefore, the schools don't bother? Or is it that since the schools don't bother, the kids are not interested.

I did some research. I asked random people who I knew graduated from a local Bais Yaakov (yes, they probably thought I was nuts) whether they would have liked these kinds of activities.

The consensus was a "no," and a look of, "why would you even think of that?" One person made a good point, "let's say you get three kids on the debate team," noting that three would be a lot. "Who would actually watch these debates?" she asked. "It would be considered so nerdy." So I said, "not if it's about where the best place to buy shoes is."

In these Bais Yaakovs, where they expect us to live in a cocoon until we hit the workplace--(which, of course, should be frum anyway, right?) Which issues would we be able to debate? Abortion? Chas V'Shalom. Legalizing Marijuana? What's marijuana?

UN? Huh? Considering I was the only one in my class who actually took notes in my American Politics class, something tells me that wouldn't be a success. (I highly doubt that girls in MO schools considered American Politics boring, but that's a story for another day.)

Why are these schools less intellectual/academic than the Modern Orthodox? Well, actually, maybe they're academic in different ways. You do know that I was expected to memorize which Gadol had 200,000 people at his funeral, and where it was? And who put his hands on someone's head and said something, and what did he say? Yes. This will help me grow and develop my talents. This will certainly prepare me for college.

The goals of the MO schools are to allow these young women develop their talents, nurture their hobbies, and grow into confident, capable, well-rounded women.

Goals of Bais Yaakov? Kollel Mommies. Go to Touro for OT, PT, Speech, Psychology, Special Ed, and support your husbands in kollel.


At 12/11/2007 12:06 AM, Blogger flatbush gal said...

I think my school is a great happy-medium. We have a debate team. No it's not too official but the girls who are obviously talented debaters do have a chance to shine. The school newspaper isn't exactly the most intellectual of publications but it has the potential to be if a talented writer signed up! I know that most of the girls are just not interested in anything intellectual which is one of the main reasons that these committees haven't gone too far, but they are there. It's a start.

At 12/11/2007 7:13 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

I was brought up modern orthodox and went to a Bais Yaakov, so I can definitely relate. But the fact is, we do need some of these "kollel mommies". Some men need the option of learning most of the day. And some women (myself included) would feel more fulfilled being a mother than taking a 9-5 (or even some "cool", laid back job). I guess what I'm trying to say is that you can't just write off an entire system because you felt it wasn't for you. Just remember that when you have daughters send them to somewhere that you think they'll be able to show off their talents best (but beware... one of them might become one of those kollel mommies whether they go to a bais yaakov or not).

At 12/11/2007 7:20 AM, Blogger Bad4shidduchim(in exile) said...

Our school had two newspapers, and I was appointed on either one, but I did the journals for shabbatons and so on. I did the graduation video. There was enough stuff.

I do agree that there should be less "appointing". Let people do things because they want to, and not just because you think they'll do a good job.

At 12/11/2007 10:53 AM, Blogger Scraps said...

My school was sort of in between BY and MO, but we didn't have a whole lot of options because it was such a small school. It would have been nice to have more extra-curriculars.

It's interesting that your perception of the schools' ambitions for girls is that they should be "kollel mommies" but also go to Touro to learn a profession to "support their husbands in kollel". I have a couple of questions about that. #1, how does learning which gadol did/said what prepare you for a career in OT/PT/Speech/etc? #2, how is one supposed to be a good mommy when you're working full time to support your husband in kollel? I feel like you can be one or the other, but it's mighty difficult to be both.

At 12/11/2007 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh boy=do i totally agree 1000% Chaval...i WISH i went to a more left wing school than my really right winged, closeminded and snobby Bais Yaakov. Arrrggghhhh

At 12/11/2007 9:45 PM, Anonymous anonymous mom said...

i just happened upon you by accident so I don't know your full bio. i went to a middle of the road by type high school in Brooklyn. i have purposely chosen the MO path for my kids and am very happy. my kids go to a great middle of the road MO school. I don't know my kids' happy? ending, but I know that--not out of anger or bitterness, just good judgment--I am giving them what I think is best and true, what I wish I would have had growing up. You can fix it with your kids if you don't live in denial like most Yeshivish people.

At 12/12/2007 9:05 AM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Michelle, dont you know by now that "shtark" Bais Yacob/B Sheindel/Bais Keilas do one thing and only one thing and they do it very well. They produce Stepford Wives that fulfill the needs and wishes of De Fuhrer, I mean the Rosh Yeshiva.

The mere fact that you are even questioning this means that the chip-implant in your head is seriously malfunctioning, and you need to go back for reprogramming, as you pose a serious threat to Yeshivish soceity.

I am sure your high school had fun exciting things like the annual play, baking, and my favorite, Tznius Squad...

At 12/12/2007 9:38 AM, Blogger Kaila said...


a agree, schools should be more inclusive in their extra-curricular options.


whether or not you agree with the yeshivish outlook (and i don't fully agree either) "mistakenly" referring to any rosh yeshiva as "de[r] fuhrer" is extremely offensive. so kindly edit your post or apologize. i normally wouldn't ask for any correction but this was way over the top.

At 12/12/2007 9:39 AM, Blogger halfshared said...

Oh I never got chosen for anything. I was G.O. rep one year but in my senior year, I had no jobs of significance. It suited me just fine..just meant that I spend less time in school. I do wish though that the schools would offer more extracurricular PE every day, not every other week, Song, dance, drama clubs. We had nothing of the sort and never got to develop my talents.

At 12/12/2007 2:10 PM, Anonymous Ike said...

Michelle- you hit it spot-on. It's all about what the people want. Most people in this community don't want a rewarding, intellectually-stimulating high school experience. They just want a high school experience that will get them the best shidduch possible.

In many parts of the community, life is about developing a reputation, and hoping nobody looks beyond the smoke and mirrors. And we have high schools suited for just that purpose.

At 12/12/2007 2:48 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

"Why are these schools less intellectual/academic than the Modern Orthodox?"

Duh. Because their goal is not to educate you.

At 12/12/2007 2:55 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Jessica- you raise a good point. I didn't mean to write off the system. I also know that some young women are lucky enough to enjoy these popular careers, and not bec it's popular.
I think motherhood is certainly fulfilling as well. But I think, like many others believe, that kollel is for the "top learners" and sincere people, not just every guy with a rich father or father in law who thinks he's being "good" by "learning."

bad4shidduchim--Right. Less appointing--well, I don't know, I think I would have felt GOOD if they had approached me, and offered---not forced--me to be the newspaper editor, rather than choosing girls they liked and didn't allow others to participate.

Semgirl-- I think that was one of your funniest comments, LOL!! I like that computer chip thing :-)

Ike- Thanks :)

At 12/12/2007 2:56 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

perhaps you meant to say "not educate you"?? hehe

At 12/12/2007 5:11 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


I'm not sure I would go that far. In some cases, sure, but more often education just isn't the goal of the schools.

There's a difference when a school is anti-education and when it's just not on the list of things it cares about.

At 12/12/2007 6:23 PM, Blogger Jewboy said...

Semgirl's use of "De Fuhrer" to refer to a rosh yeshiva should offend any of as Jews and people. It is disgraceful to at all equate a rosh yeshiva with Hitler, and this is coming from someone who doesn't always agree with rosh yeshivas. That was way over the top and I'm sure anyone who survived the Holocaust would be offended. As should all of us.

At 12/13/2007 6:20 AM, Anonymous Ike said...

Take a joke, people! Semgirl, I liked your line. Anyone with half a brain knows it's all in jest.

At 12/13/2007 8:08 AM, Blogger Kaila said...


we all know it was a joke. it was extremely offensive nonetheless. some things are not said, even in jest. it was an extremely insensitive and immature comment.

At 12/13/2007 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, agree that it wasn't nice comment aout Hitler).

Second, Michelle, I hate to burst your bubble, but in the boys yeshivos the situation is 1000 times worse. At least your HS had stuff, even if they were boring. So there was some outlet to allow you to express your talents. Okay, so maybe the logistics weren't great, or not as many as you wanted, but there was something.

In the boys yeshivas, there is nothing. NOTHING! Either you learn up a storm or do nothing. If you are not a learner, forget it. There is ZERO chance to use your creativity or pursue outside interests.

I know Yaakov Horowitz has said the same thing, but I don't know that any yeshiva's done anything about it.

So I'm not saying that you're wrong, but realize that others have it way worse.

At 12/13/2007 7:02 PM, Blogger Jewboy said...

Ike-My half brain told me that it was a joke. Nevertheless, it's sad that you don't realize that some things should not be joked about.

At 12/13/2007 7:36 PM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Will you all just chill out...Ok strike Furher, how about master controller or Darth Vader. I happen to know for a fact that under all those black crocheted snoods, lies a seemingly android head preprogrammed with only Yeshiva dogma.

I have spoken to numerous women in Lakewood, who said, "I dont want to talk about it" or "Im not a deep thinker". Translation: not programmed to respond in that area...not programmed to respond in that area...

At 12/14/2007 4:59 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

semgirl- spoken to lakewood women about what?

At 12/14/2007 12:28 PM, Blogger Semgirl said...


This very topic, why girls dont receive well rounded educations. My Hebrew/Judaic studies in High Schools was abysmal, and while the secular subjects were ok by comparison to non-Jewish girls I met in community college, I would say that I learned more and participated in extra-curricular activities ten-fold more in the first semester of college than all of high school and Sem.

At 12/16/2007 12:29 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


I'll be honest with ya. I went to Flatbush HS and I hardly involved myself in extracurriculars. I found the course load kept me plenty busy and with the long school days, I just didn't want to spend more time at school.

In any case, you shouldn't rely on school to teach you things. That's something you really have to do on your own.

At 12/16/2007 8:25 AM, Blogger Kaila said...

michelle and semgirl--

you both obviously had bad experiences in hs. so i guess i'm lucky that i went to a hs that encouraged creativity and actual education. fortunately, there are schools out there that do value education, even boys' yeshivas. they are not the majority, but they exist.

you talk about being programmed. well, i wear a black crocheted snood at times and i don't shy away from such topics. many girls do not receive a proper education. please note that while the school is at fault, it is also the choice of the parents who send their children there. if you were so miserable in your school as a student, you should certainly have discussed it with your parents.


a few things:
a) i urge you to take a course in holocaust studies, it will be worth it for you.

b)curiousity- if you have such bitterness towards the bais yaakov system, why do you identify yourself as semgirl? isn't seminary something that is "programmed" into b.y. students?

c) do most women in lakewood really wear black crocheted snoods? what's the snood to wig ratio?

At 12/16/2007 1:37 PM, Blogger Semgirl said...


Number one, I wrote several term papers on the holocaust in college, I probably know more about it then you do.

I call myself semgirl, because I am a semgirl, I went to a bais yacob high school and a Seminary in Israel, if you read my blog from the beginning, you'll see that I meant it whimsically.

Cant really comment for all of Lakewood, just my neighborhood. But its not a snood/wig ratio, its either or, casual wear on the blog or errands, you wear a black croqueted snood, otherwise you wear a black croqueted snood. Wearing a very fashionable elegant hat is social suicide.

At 12/16/2007 4:49 PM, Blogger Kaila said...


my apologies. based on your comments i thought you hadn't had much of an education in the history of the holocaust. one wonders why your tone was what it was when you have done extensive research on the topic...

i admit i have not read your blog, so pardon my ignorance on your self-given title. i will have to remedy my ignorance soon.

hmmm. so a hat is social suicide, i suppose there's no surprise there. no one wears only a wig? i know so many people who wouldn't be caught outside in their snood if it was an emergency.

At 12/16/2007 8:34 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Not like this counts, but I plan to wear bandanas when I get married IYH...where do I stand, then?

At 12/17/2007 6:40 AM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Like a very modern Flatbush lady. "Not a heimishe fro, nebach", lol.

At 12/17/2007 4:50 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I'm okay with "modern.." whatever that may mean.
"Flatbush"? I'll hunt you down, lol...j/k

At 12/18/2007 11:44 AM, Anonymous Lance said...

Loved the post! While I don't usually agree with you, your latest was dead on.
I too went to a really religious High School with little or no extra activities, but have been working hard to make up for the lost time now that I'm on my own.
But I'm always shocked by how boring many Brooklyn girls I meet tend to come off as. I can't believe how they have such few interests.

At 12/18/2007 5:33 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

lance- that's, you think they have fewer interests because of school?
I don't know, I think it could be a combination of their home lives and school, where their three main interests seem to be clothing shoes and shopping

At 12/19/2007 4:07 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

michelle - it can be argued that that's the three main interests of most teenage girls, whether they're brought up in a bais yaakov school or not.

At 12/23/2007 1:49 AM, Blogger Bas~Melech said...

So here I am, thinking there's finally a new post and I'll add an intelligent comment, then I get to the bottom... 32 comments?!

Whoops, gotta be quicker next time...

At 12/24/2007 12:44 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

bas-melech--I'd still like to read what u have to say :-)

At 12/24/2007 7:31 PM, Blogger Bas~Melech said...

Oh, awright... flattery will get you everywhere. ;-)

Basing my views on the BY-type HS I attended, what we have here is a kind of catch-22 situation. Suppose the school started a debate team. Interested students would fit into two categories: Those who won't say anything original for fear of offending the admin, and those who would be thrilled to offend the admin and will be punished for it, leading the in-betweens to say, "see, they're not letting us debate, anyway."

But how schools can be more open to discussion is a different topic altogether, so I'll resist getting caught up in the allure of a debate team and read the rest of your post. :-)

I am definitely party to your gripe about the way extracurriculars are run. First of all, they should involve a learning experience of some sort. Most current extracurricular activities in BYs no longer fit that description; they're more about shtick. Ick.

Then there's your point about the way members are selected. Also valid. People should be able to sign up for various clubs out of interest, and then within each committee leaders can be nominated and elected based on valid qualifications (as overseen by a faculty member.)

I'll add my own bit, too. Down with the major plays! They exhaust everyone, take over school for a good chunk of the year, and then plunk everyone gets depressed as they're hit with the work that piles on afterwards for the long stretch. IMHO, drama and dance should be committees that are active all year, but in smaller doses. Do I need to explain myself or is it obvious why that's so much more beneficial?

OK, I'm giving back your soapbox now. That was fun. :-)

At 12/25/2007 6:07 AM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Gee, Bas Melech.. Why dont you tell us how you really feel.. Just teasing.

At 12/25/2007 12:07 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

michelle- most of the parents of the students in these bais yaakov schools, and the male equivalent for their brothers, aren't intellectual. thus why would these people who either a) are on the board of these schools and control the curriculum b) give them tons of money request a challenging and stimulating courseload, let alone intellectual extra currics. its really a symptom of flatbush parents who think a loaded bank account is the same as culture and class.

At 12/26/2007 4:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, in the boys high schools, we're not even having these conversations.

At 12/26/2007 8:55 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Bas Melech-you raise a valid point. I might have touched on that with "what would we debate anyway?"
However, you're right: I was remiss in considering what the authorities say. Like, whatever "kosher" issue we'd be debating, obviously the school will feel a certain way. Who will be the one to disagree. Hmm, that's something to consider. Thanks.

IYH By You- I couldn't have said it better myself..hehe.Unless you're teasing. Even so.

At 12/26/2007 10:08 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

trust me, i'm not teasing.

At 12/27/2007 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting because every generation has different issues with the way schools are run. From what I hear, there's becoming more of an emphasis on academic standards so much that if you don't do well, they don't like you. It would seem that these extracurricular activities that most schools lack would do wonders for many people's self-esteem. I wonder if many schools are willing to make some changes for the sake of their own children. But I suppose I'm slightly off topic.

At 12/27/2007 5:30 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Anon-come to think of it, you're right as well.
Yes, I suppose part of the reason my school didn't love me was because I wasn't a top performer. (I was also a "modern bum," but that's another story.)
I guess you could say that they've become academic, but in a different way. Maybe academic, but not intellectual. Memorizing random facts about Gedolim is not something that makes girls think.

When girls think (or people in general), it leads to doubts. Something that, understandably so, many Bais Yaakov teachers simply aren't equipped to deal with. It's an unrealistic standard to consider when hiring teachers.

A debate team makes the students think, Why do you feel this way? Why would the other side feel this way? But we're generally taught to just follow what we're told and not think about why we're doing it because that's what leads to "trouble"

At 12/28/2007 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 12/29/2007 8:49 PM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Michelle, isnt that the same reason the media is severely monitored and censored in communist countries, cant have the masses thinking..

At 1/02/2008 3:26 AM, Anonymous Yonne18 said...

If I may add my 2 cents :)

Unfortunately most of the schools wish to 'mold' ppl into what they think is a Torah Jew. They go too far as they feel that everythinh else is Bittul Torah.

Whats wrong with having co-curricular activities? Part of being a Torah Jew is to be knowledgable in the 'ways of the world.' A part of any education is not only the syllabus (math, English, Torah) but is also the teaching of life skills. Some skills you can only learn out of the classroom. Also, we neeed to take care of ourselves by broadening our experiences. I went to a Yeshivish school for most of my school life where the only co-curicular activity was Chassidus learning after school. I also went to an MO school where they offered a list of co-curricular things (drama sports etc). I found that the frum kids at the MO school are bettter equipped to deal with the Taavos of the world than the Yeshivish kids who are locked away.

At 1/07/2008 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you're being fair. Just because you had a bad attitude toward the few extra curriculars that your school provided doesn't mean they are responsible for your talents not being "nurtured." I know Bais Yaakov schools firsthand and I know girls who don't get involved are the same girls who are not only uninterested but also nasty and snide toward those who are.

At 1/09/2008 5:52 PM, Blogger Bas~Melech said...

Can you please post a teeny bit more often?

In response to iyh and others,
There is a very good reason why "they" should want the girls to be intellectual. It is because "they" want these same girls, as soon as they graduate, to suddenly be able to manage a household, including bringing in the dough, often while still studying a profession to bring in more dough so they can manage a bigger household... while simultaneously running all the chessed organizations that the community lives on, keeping track of many kids and all their schoolwork (which we know isn't getting any easier)...

I think there are some very good reasons to encourage our girls to think constructively. And they don't need to cost any money. Put some creative teenagers to work and I'm sure they can fundraise very nicely. Compare that to the ridiculous school plays that everyone must have nowadays: they cost so much to produce, they barely turn a profit.

At 1/10/2008 5:54 AM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

bas melech:
please don't confuse one being intellectual with one having a strong educational background.
all jewish schools want to provide its students with a strong educational background so that they will be prepared for grad school etc. (for better or worse, scholastic achievment is prided in our types of schools) yet intellectuality (if that's a word) is entirely different from simply being smart and a school's wish to have its students excel in "limudei chol" and it is something jewish schools, or at least these one dimensional bais yaacov and yeshivas steer away from. the formation of a debate team would indicate a school's disposition towards cerebral and intellectual practices, as would, for example, a school that offers an art class etc. my point therefore still stands: the fathers and mothers of students in these crapy brooklyn schools don't care about intellectual things because they are a bunch of vacaous morons, who, as i said confuse culture and class with the biggest g*ddamn lexus on the planet.

At 1/10/2008 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Officially one month since your last post.

At 1/19/2008 10:40 PM, Blogger Bas~Melech said...

iyh -- Yes, I am aware of the difference between "intellectual" and "educated." And I still stand by my previous post: In order to do all those things that are demanded of the contemporary Jewish woman, one requires a well-developed cortex.

At 2/05/2009 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, you are really negative. I really thing that you need some psychological help- I'm really not kidding. This is coming from a psychologist.
Listen- I also went to a BY HS and had a dreadful experience. I don't think that this means the system is flawed. I had my own issues that I worked out- and I probably should have switched schools.
You need some help. Really.

At 2/05/2009 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, you are really negative. I really thing that you need some psychological help- I'm really not kidding. This is coming from a psychologist.
Listen- I also went to a BY HS and had a dreadful experience. I don't think that this means the system is flawed. I had my own issues that I worked out- and I probably should have switched schools.
You need some help. Really.


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