New Voices profiles a Satmar hasid, "Sam," who left Williamsburg at age 19 and, after much hard work and a lot of help from Footsteps, is now a college student in the New York City area. Here's a bit about cheder and yeshiva education in Satmar:
…Corporal punishment at school was expected and tolerated by the community. Students were commonly hit with belts for violations as minute as losing one's place in the text while it was being read aloud. Sam recalls brutal treatment from his teachers, whom he grew to fear and despise. He still bears the scar from a pen jabbed into his hand as punishment for being late to class when he was four years old.
Sam says that he is no longer bitter or angry toward anyone in his old community. He tells me a story of a family member who was abused by the teachers and resents them greatly for it, yet sends his children to the same school, dooming them to the same experience. Sam says that by leaving, he is challenging this cycle of abuse. He doesn't hate the teachers who tormented him and who he feels pushed him to abandon his way of life and his religion. “They were hit, too” Sam says. “They don’t know anything else.”…
How did "Sam" find Footsteps? He read about it in Hella Winston's book Unchosen. How did he read that book when he was never taught in school to read or write in the English language? Sam taught himself English by buying secular newspapers and secretly reading them on the roof of his apartment building. At first, it took him a week to read one paragraph.
Schools like "Sam" attended should not be (and probably are not) legal in New York State. But, because of the political influence of Satmar, gained for the most part through block voting, Satmar is left alone to produce thousands of high school graduates that cannot read English on a third grade level and who cannot write an English language sentence. These students are illiterate in science, math, algebra, geometry, physics, civics, history, and literature. Because of this, they are trapped in Satmar's self-imposed ghetto. Only a very courageous few like "Sam" find a way to get out. We should help them.