A child is vulnerable to many influences, in the street and home as well as the school. But while the school environment can be controlled, that outside is not so easily regulated. To ensure that children use their time outside school as productively as possible, programs should be arranged for outside school hours.
They who turn many to righteousness [shall shine] like the stars forever and ever
These are the teachers of young children
Baba Basra 8b
All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven
Pirkei Avos 2:12
Children are susceptible to all influences they encounter, long before they have developed the capacity to discern between right and wrong. Those schools which are concerned not only with feeding their students information, but with providing moral training as well, endeavor to inculcate their charges with the morals and ethics necessary to become decent, productive people. This development of a child as a complete person, teaching him that there is right and wrong, good and bad, is truly education.
But a child’s mind is constantly working, probing, seeking and absorbing new information. Everything a child sees or hears has some effect on him, however subtle or imperceptible. And because they lack a developed set of values, children are susceptible and open to the influence of any experience, good or bad.
In short, the education of a child includes much more than the academic information he absorbs in school. Rather, each experience and encounter throughout the entire day teaches something, and true education encompasses twenty-four hours a day, every day.
While parents and educators can control the type of education children have in school, that received outside of school is not so easily regulated. A teacher’s authority extends only to school hours, and a child is in school for six to eight hours at the most. What happens during the rest of the day? What kind of influences is a child subject to when not in school? Good? Bad? Neutral? Is there such a thing as a neutral influence?
Outside of school, the two most influential environments are the home and the street. Many parents truly try hard to make their homes compatible with the highest of moral standards. But even then, there are subtle influences not easily controllable. Television, which is found in many homes, is just one small example. How many parents can honestly say their children watch only shows which are fitting for them? And we must recognize that, unfortunately, there are homes in which there is not even an attempt made to maintain standards.
But the problem is more subtle than just adverse influences that creep into homes. Even if there are no such influences, the lack of positive reinforcement of that learned in school is damaging. There is no such thing as a void in education. If it is not filled with positive experiences, it will be filled by other things.
And the street. Children cannot be kept in their homes all day. Many hours are spent outside, in the company of friends whose character it is not always possible to screen. In the actual streets, in stores, and in every and any place, a child is confronted by many varied experiences. The behavior of adults as well as other children which they observe may directly contradict that taught in school. The influence of peers can carry greater weight than the teacher’s word; and we cannot be sure that children are always accepting the correct attitudes.
The results can have far reaching consequences. First, there can be direct contradictions between that which a child learns in school and that learned outside. Should the latter prove to have the stronger influence, who knows how that child will grow up? We certainly cannot be sure he will be a builder of society, rather than the opposite.
But that is a consequence in the future. There is a far more serious damage which occurs in the present, during childhood. The disparity between school and the outside world can be a bewildering experience which creates inner conflict. A child often finds himself pulled in two different directions, and the resultant turmoil within the mind and soul is far from healthy. Consciously or subconsciously, a young person is assailed by things and actions which bespeak the exact opposite of that taught in school. A tug of war is being waged, and the prize is the child’s soul.
Even if such outside influences are not contrary to anything learned in school, even if they are harmless, valuable time is still being wasted. Everyone agrees that schools are for the purpose of education, and if school hours are used for other pursuits, however harmless, valuable teaching time is being lost. So too in after school hours. Many hours are frittered away in useless activities, hours which could have been used constructively, to build further on the basis laid in school.
What then should be done? As always, we turn to the Torah for instruction. A wonderful passage in the Talmud gives us the key. The Talmud (Baba Basra 8b) relates the following: “The verse ‘they who turn many to righteousness [shall shine] like the stars forever and ever’ applies to the teachers of young children. Such as who, for instance? Said Rav, to such as R. Shmuel bar Shilas. For Rav once found R. Shmuel bar Shilas in a garden, whereupon he said to him, ‘Have you deserted your post?’ He replied, ‘I have not seen this garden for thirteen years [for he was busy teaching children], and even now, my thoughts are with the children.’ “
What does this passage from the Talmud teach us? When R. Shmuel bar Shilas said that “even now, my thoughts are with the children,” he did not mean he was only thinking of them, for that would be of no help to the children. It means that before he left, he arranged that his students would act in the proper manner when he was away — just as if he had still been with them.
This is the answer. It is the responsibility of the school to worry about its students’ welfare even after school hours — “Even now, my thoughts are with the children.” A school worthy of its name, one dedicated to true education, will ensure that its students use their time outside school as productively as possible. Rather than leave them open to other, possibly damaging influences, the school will seek to extend the education given at school to the student’s experiences after school.
Education does not stop at the school gates. It is not a business, run on a time-clock. It is a vocation, a sacred calling, the molding of future generations. In practical terms, schools must arrange programs for their students after school hours.
This does not necessarily mean extra hours of study. Rather, activities which are enjoyable, while simultaneously reinforcing the concepts learned at school. It does not really matter which activities are chosen, as long as they are wholesome, good for the soul as well as the body.
The goal is to ensure that every moment of a child’s life is occupied with positive actions. As part of this program, besides the activities arranged by the school, students should be encouraged to do individual good deeds every day. A suitable inducement would be to arrange contests in these things, awarding prizes to those who excel.
Guided by such a program, children will learn that there should be no distinction between their actions during school and after school. School studies are not just abstract matters, divorced from the realities of life. No such distinction can be made. Every moment of a child’s life prepares him or her for future adult life, and no dichotomy can be established between the two. It is all one.
If the above applies to all children, including non-Jews, it certainly applies to Jewish children, members of Tzivos Hashem — G-d’s Army. Every Jew from the moment he is born is a soldier in G-d’s Army, and Jewish children must receive the education commensurate with this status. A soldier is a soldier all the time, as much in the barracks as at the battle front, while eating as while fighting. At all times he is aware that he is in the army, and at all times he must behave as a soldier. A Jewish child is a member of G-d’s Army not only while in the synagogue or in school, but at home or at play.
Thus, special programs for after school hours must be arranged for Jewish children. Though they may be receiving the best Jewish education at school, it is not enough. Influences of the street and other places affect them also, and they too are susceptible to the inner contradictions between that taught in school and that learned elsewhere.
In short, they must be given a truly Jewish education all the time, not just in school. The difference is that in school the education consists mainly of Torah study, whereas after school, the education is mainly in applying what they have studied — how to play Jewishly, to eat Jewishly, even to sleep Jewishly. In the words of our Sages “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.” A Jewish child must not think that when he prays he is a Jew, but when he plays he has no identity. In play as well as prayer, in eating as well as learning Torah, a Jew is serving G-d. “In all your ways you shall know Him” — this is the truly Jewish way.
Adapted from an address given on 19th of Kislev, 5742