Recently, I was having a conversation with one of my neighbors. Usually, when I do this, I try to keep the conversation light. (It doesn't help that I'm in a world that does not value secular learning.) One of my neighbors was saying that her son is having his 15th birthday this Shabbos. She also said that the aforementioned son reads on a fourth-grade level.
Apparently, I'm the only person who finds this appalling. The conversation turned to "Why does he need to know how to read English? He can just enter a trade. He can become a plumber or an architect." OK, ladies, reality check time. There is more to being an architect than just knowing how to draw a basic floor plan. That's just basic drafting. Heck, I could do that. An architect (a real one, or at least someone who won't drive a contractor nuts) has to understand scale, bearing weights for foundations, plumbing, wiring, drainage, building codes, zoning laws, computer usage, and some basic engineering. And as for the plumber--good luck getting your plumber's license if you can't read well enough to pass the licensing exam. Hey, try getting a driver's license with a fourth-grade reading level, let alone a skilled-trades license. Fourth grade is all but functional illiteracy.
And what does that lead to?
That same day, Builder was at the doctor's office. A young Chassidic man (about in his twenties, Builder estimated) walked into the office as a new patient. The receptionist handed him the usual forms about insurance, medical history, etc. The man could not fill out the forms. Basic paperwork. Now I will admit that English may not be the "holy tongue." However, one should have enough grasp of one's country's language to handle basic paperwork!
The irony of course, is that we are the Jewish people! We're stereotyped as being smarter than everyone else! We're supposed to be obsessed with study! We're supposed to lead the world in Nobel laureates! With a nonexistent educational system, we'll end up being another poor, broken minority group that can't get anywhere.