However, his most recent column, "Overhauling Orthodox Education to Make Better Jews" has several fundamental problems that I would like to address.
1) Rabbi Lipman's basic thesis is that Yeshiva day school and high school education has failed, insofar as we are producing students with minimal Jewish knowledge, low levels of religious motivation, and a total lack of middot. He begin his article with a story of a boy in between years one and two at a post-high school hesder Yeshiva who rudely and offensively overcharged a Rabbi for the simple act of giving him a ride, claiming that the high charge was because he also had to spend time driving home after the errand.
I would have hoped that, as a respected and respectable writer, Rabbi Lipman could do better than take one individual and use him as a symbol for all that is wrong with an entire system. While he briefly admits that this young man was an exception, that admission seems to be made just so he can say that he made it, and his essay continues on the assumption that this child represents a new low that aloof Orthodox education has reached. Is it normal for journalists and politicians to routinely use scant anecdotal evidence to bolster larger and more substantive agendas? Of course. Do I expect more and better from Rabbi Lipman? Yes I do.
2) It is unclear to me who exactly Rabbi Lipman is addressing. As his sample student is an attendee of a hesder Yeshiva, I would assume that he is speaking to the American Modern Orthodox community. Also, as the reforms that he calls for stress a decrease in Gemara learning in favor of Tanach and other subjects, I would assume that he is not addressing the charedi community, where such an idea would never fly.
OK, perhaps it is not so unclear. But assuming that Rabbi Lipman is addressing the American Modern Orthodox community, which he is connected to through his involvement in various post-high school institutions, I wonder why he thinks that he is coming forward with new ideas. Has he ever read a Lookjed digest, where most if not all of his reforms have been discussed and debated over the past decade and a half? Has he spoken substantively with American educators about the challenges that they face in encouraging religious enthusiasm in 21st century America? And does he realize that many Orthodox schools already have a more varied curriculum than the one that he seems to imagine them to have? True, American students tend not to have the familiarity with as many verses of Tanach as their Israeli counterparts, but they often have far stronger critical thinking and analytical skills (the differences between American and Israeli education will have to be a separate post).
And Rabbi Lipman is by no means the most significant person to make this appeal. A decade ago, Mori V'Rabi HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein made a call to shift the curriculum away from Gemara and towards more learning of Mishna and Rambam. That article led to a vigorous and healthy bate with his student, Rav Yehuda Brandes (since translated and published in English), but the fact is that no major change in the curriculum came about as a result. Rav Herschel Schechter at YU has been quoted as saying that instead of trying to teach our girls Gemara like we do the boys, we should try to teach the boys Tanach and Halacha as we do the girls. Not that anyone is listening to that statement, either.
If Rabbi Lipman wants to succeed where others have not on this front, he should take the step of seeing post-high school education as what it really is - a continuation of high school, not the place where American high school students' religiosity is "saved". He should see his classes as part of year 13 of a curriculum and work with those who came before him to figure out what the students should be doing at each stage of their education.
3) Rabbi Lipman's article plays into the discontent that people often feel about their children's education, at a time when too many people are willing to see the negative and overlook the positive. In so many ways, American yeshiva day schools are succeeding like never before. Witness the growth of the number of students who attend Yeshivot in Israel or summer learning programs or mishmar programs. On the secular side, our students' achievements match up more than favorably with their counterparts from some of the best schools in the country. And chessed abounds, whether it is the growing trend of a chessed project as part of the bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, school-run chessed programs, or those that are community based.
Of course, if your child comes home with a bad grade or has a rough day, you as a parent are often more inclined to see the issues as systemic, and it is towards this mindset that Rabbi Lipman's article appeals. In short, it is not helpful. If he felt that the off-the-derech situation was due to a malaise within the Yeshiva system, or that the growth of white collar Jewish crime was a direct outgrowth of things learned in our system, or that we were producing a generation of ignoramuses, then perhaps there would be something to talk about. But one rude kid does not a failed system make. There are many reasons to support altering the curriculum - in all streams of Orthodoxy- but Rabbi Lipman does not convincingly make the case in this article.