Double-Dipping to Disaster

by Joel Lurie Grishaver

The Hebrew part of the supplemental school is the part most rapidly sliding into the abyss. First we made it impossible. Research clearly shows that second language acquisition takes one interaction every seventy-two hours in order to move material from short term memory to long-term memory. We (and by we I me the American Jewish Community—not the educational professionals) shortened the three day a week school that was sufficient; into the one and two day a week studying Hebrew school that is insufficient. The very time frame of the school mandates a good deal of failure. It is not the school’s fault. It is not the teacher’s fault. It is the time-frame’s fault. So we abandoned Hebrew language and focused only on prayer Hebrew, the very path that led to the self-destruction of the vibrant Jewish community of Alexandria, Egypt.

Our solution is to constantly reteach that which we were insufficiently able to convey the previous year. We see schools that spend two or three years learning to identify the letters (using pre-primers) then another two years learning to read that alphabet (using two primers sequentially). When you add to that the schools need to devote a month or two reviewing the basic Hebrew alphabet every fall (to compensate for summer), it is now possible to learn the Hebrew alef-bet seven years in a row in some supplemental schools.

Once the complaint was, “All we ever learn about is the Jewish holidays.” Today, the complaint could easily be, “All we ever do is learn the Hebrew alphabet.” I am not telling you that some students fail to show mastery. I can tell you who they are right now: The oral-aural learners, the psychomotor learners, the whole to part analytical learners. If you are not a part to whole, visual, linear processor, Hebrew phonics is not the road for you—and that can be some thirty to forty percent of our Hebrew school students. Our solution is to reteach exactly the same material two years in a row. If one pre-primer doesn’t take, reboot and stick in a second one. When one primer doesn’t do the job, just apply a second, identical primer. Forget the message we are communicating, just think how many students are going either, “Boring,” or “I am stupid.”

I am not saying that review is wrong. Nor I am suggesting that we can successfully do the job for all of our students. What I am saying, is that teaching EXACTLY the same thing two years in a row is wrong! If you need to repeat a pre-primer, use a second year pre-primer (like Marilyn Price and Friends…) that teaches more the second time round. If you need to repeat a primer, use one that teaches more than the first, like Ot la-Ba-ot, if you used a simpler one the year before. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot.