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The Thrills and Chills of Pondering Day School Education

Another regular day in the Yeshiva of Hogwarts….

I live in my own little bubble. For the most part, my close friends are in their 20s. They are either starting their families or have infants and I’m hoping that they didn’t read “Applying for Day School Aid: A Degrading Experience” in Jewish Week. (I’m still catching up on my reading from when I was away for Pesach.) I talked the article up, which is about the process of applying for financial aid in Jewish day schools, at my Shabbos afternoon meal and my friend retorted, “The price of tuition at day schools is the best form of birth control.” After reading the current price of Manhattan nursery schools, I agree.

Unless I finish my book and get picked up by Oprah (I can dream!), I can’t fathom paying thousands of dollars in private school tuition. That’s probably why the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) now makes people sign on the dotted line to agree to this kind of stuff when they convert their adopted children. I thought this was all fine and good but no one ever sat me down and said, “You will be paying what used to be your entire salary for a year so your cute Jewish kid can go to a nice Jewish school.” My Twitter friend assures me that this is just another “test of faith”. Like me, he can’t afford (but is somehow financing) the dream of day school. I thought when I suspected Judaism would make me broke that I was just exaggerating.

So my other friend says, “What about public schools?” I went to public schools in New York City. It was terrible (save for some great, inspiring teachers) and it wasn’t until I made it to an art high school in Manhattan that I stopped hating it and that was only because I discovered Advance Placement English, which was heaven. I was often bored in class. I was often ahead of my classmates. And I often felt like my teachers were teaching to the bottom 10% and leaving the top 10% behind. When I went to a private university and discovered classes where professors taught to only a handful of students, I almost keeled over and died. When I later taught in public schools, I discovered I almost always loved the kids (until I almost killed them sometimes) but not the system.

But hey, at least in public schools, I know that people are qualified to teach me kid. Mostly. It worries me when I hear about people teaching in day schools without actually having education degrees. Look, some people are born teachers. Any amount of education about teaching is just going to enhance their natural gifts. But this is not the case for everyone so why aren’t all day school teachers qualified to teach my kids if I’m paying thousands upon thousands of dollars to make sure they get a quality education. It’s one thing to know what you’re talking about and quite another thing to know how to actually teach it. (That’s what I learned from my Master’s in Education, I think.)

All this talk reminds me of a Shabbat I spent in Teaneck where a mostly forty-something, wealthy crowd talked about day schools while I watched idly from my bubble. I remember thinking why are all these people with money so worried about the cost of day school? But right then, I didn’t actually know the cost of day school or think about what it meant to pay that out times four or five or six or more kids. Hence, getting back to my first friend’s argument in defense of birth control because it’s much cheaper though not as cute and cuddly, you know what I’m saying. This is not a good thing for the Jewish people.

So now that I’m actually thinking about kids (when am I not?), the dream of sending them to fancy Jewish day schools so they can be proper frum yidden (observant Jews) is…precarious. The Jewish Week article makes it sound like I’ll never be able to afford send my kids to day school, visit my relatives in the Dominican Republic (“because if you can afford to take vacations like that, why do we have to give you financial aid?”), let my in-laws retire without financing their grandchildren’s education and survive the financial aid process with my self-esteem intact.

Hmm, so what have you heard about homeschooling? And can I get an “Oy vey”?

19 thoughts on “The Thrills and Chills of Pondering Day School Education

  1. I have a friend who knows someone who was converting. He was literally in the mikvah when they asked him about day school and he and his wife said they were homeschooling.

    They made him get right out and wouldn’t convert him! He eventually convinced the BD to convert him, but his daughter is almost 5 and they’re anticipating a shitstorm when they homeschool her next year.

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  2. why would they do that? This conversion business is way out of line. What’s wrong with homeschooling? I know a lot of frum Jews (FFB) end up going to CUNY schools because the tuition is rather inexpensive. I know people who pay more than 30000K a year for their kids to go to Jewish schools and unfortunately they break Halacha. Does a Jewish education guarantee that our children will turn out to be frum Jews? Not in all cases.

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  3. Perhaps orthodox Jews should consider going back to a system where they take advantage of the advantages that public schools have to offer: credentialed teachers, more perks in the way of science labs, music instruction and teams sports and the ability for their children to learn how to integrate with other people in the world, which, I suppose is not a value shared by a large segment of the orthodox population, but I can dream can’t I?

    This question of day schools versus public schools is currently ripping at the heart of the town of Teaneck. The public schools accomodate a wide variety of kids from different races and socio-economic backrounds at a relatively high cost per pupil. For an educated high-income family, the school offerings are competitive with any private school in terms of challenging curriculum and perks. However, the test scores are relatively weak reflecting the diversity of the student population and the performance gaps that the school system is trying mightly to narrow.

    Meanwhile the large orthodox population is feeling the pinch with the exploding costs of day schools and has drawn a line in the sand with respect to public education spending. Recently the first orthodox personwas elected to the school board and there is alot of fears and ugly rumor mongering within town about the orthodox jews having designs on public school facilities.

    The problem, as I see it is the every cut in public education spending provides a direct benefit to people who opt out of the system as they have nothing to lose.

    As a public school parent, obviously my objective is to preserve and protect the quality of my children’s schools. With the demongraphics of the town chaning in favor of orthodox Jews and the voter participation among minority residents anemic, at best, the only answer I see is to try to find ways for the public schools to accomodate religious people by creating flexible scheduling so that the benefits of the public education can be shared by more members of the population – this includes sports, music instruction, advanced placement math and science curriculum, SAT prep and other perks.

    I would love to see more orthodox people send their kids to the public schools as I think it would be good for everyone, but alas, I doubt it will become a reality.

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  4. I think I could go on and on about this.

    First, not only are there high numbers of non-credentialed and perhaps unqualified teachers; but the teachers get crappy benefits and pay when compared to public school teachers. I would like to see transparency as to where all the private school tuitions go. If teachers have lower pay than public (which is low) and get less benefits than public, then who is fattening their pockets?

    Also, and of course I’m not frum, but from what I know of many frum schools is that secular subjects are treated as less important; which means less access.

    Very Modern Orthodox and Conservative schools may be better in these areas, but again, who can afford 30K (plus extra fees for trips, funds, etc.).

    I think public school can be great (umm, I’m a public high school teacher). However, one does need to know how to navigate the system. Look for Magnets, look for Charters, look for Pilot schools. Look for SAS and Humanitas programs.

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  5. The idea of sending Orthodox kids to public schools isn’t necessarily the wisest decision. Kids that dress tzunis and are taught the laws of modesty aren’t going to feel comfortable with girls dressed in miniskirts. Their would be too much culture clash and very little cohesion.

    Possible issues:
    1. Sex education and Teen pregnancy
    2. Use of profanity in public school
    3. Losing a significant number of people to assimilation
    4. Less Jewish knowledge
    5. Friction between secular kids and religious kids

    I asked my mom about her Orthodox friends who attended public school. They caught hell from Jews and Gentiles for their belief system. They ended up going to Yeshiva the next year.

    I don’t like the stereotype of Orthodox Jews being isolated. Most people of all backgrounds are isolated and segregated in our society. I work in Sociology, and the average American in work, neighborhood, and friendship is as segregated as the average Orthodox Jew. They simply delude themselves on the subject.

    Results of the 5 factor index on segregation:
    http://www.rachelstavern.com/uncategorized/most-and-least-segregated-cities-for-blacks-2000.html

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  6. I pray your man/Rabbi will get parsonage
    I pray the situation improves in NY and elsewhere.
    * Solutions have been implemented outside of NY as close as Central NJ.
    I pray there will continue to be good people / philanthropists who support the system.

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  7. Well a few thoughts:

    1) I attended public high school in Indianapolis in the 1970’s. More often than not it was my non-Jewish friends, most of them staunch evangelical Protestants, who defended and respected my Torah observant lifestyle.
    (I once demonstrated to my US History class how to put on tefilin.)

    2) When my wife and I brought our adopted son back from Guatemala in ’01 his gerut was presided over by three leading Orthodox rabbis in Chicago, one of which was the Midwest Dayan of Agudath Yisrael. At no time did anyone ask us to commit to sending him to day school although we have certainly done that. It pains me to think how the RCA can feel so arrogant as to make this requirement for would be Jews by choice. Selecting the right school for one’s child is a private decision, one best made by parents or guardians. It is of no concern of any communal body.

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  8. You wrote:
    Possible issues:
    1. Sex education and Teen pregnancy
    2. Use of profanity in public school
    3. Losing a significant number of people to assimilation
    4. Less Jewish knowledge
    5. Friction between secular kids and religious kids

    I am fully Orthodox, albeit of the academic/open/YCT variety. I am a college student and went to public school in Brooklyn, NY.
    I feel each one of these points is not necessarily applicable.

    1. My public school was about 60% white and Asian and the remainder African American and Hispanic. We had one instance of teen pregnancy in eight years, and the girl was unfortunately raped, r’l. For you to think that public schools are crawling with pregnant slutty girls who don’t value their bodies is an insult and shows that you are living under a rock. What about all of the loose girls who go to MO schools like Shulamith, Bruriah, Ramaz, etc.? Everyone knows that girls from MO communities, Lubabs, etc. often wear denim skirts and often short skirts and tight-fitting tops that are less modest than a t-shirt and jeans. There are girls and kids from all sectors of the Orthodox world having sex. It is a fact of life, but it is in the Modern communities where this is expecially a problem. I never had sex education, and in districts where they offer it, you can probably request not to take it. But don’t you think that children should learn how the reproductive system works?

    Also, don’t you think that learning how to respect others and value diversity of opinion and others’ values isn an improtant skill to have in life? Your children aren’t going to live like monastics for the rest of their life, I hope. The whole point of school is to learn how to respect others and to value diversity. TOLERANCE.

    2. There are plenty of Orthodox kids who curse. Again, Gentiles aren’t one massive heap of godless infidels who have no class or values. That is an insult and for you to insinuate this is an insult to any convert who while becoming a Yid, still has a relationship and respect for their own family.

    3. Public schools do not encourage assimilation. Your kids should know not to date non-Jews or do anything wrong, like drinking or smoking. Chinuch begins at home and is mostly within the purview of the parents. Just as long as you are in touch with teachers, you can be absent on yom tov and you will not have to do things on Shabbos. You cna also bring your own kosher lunch and snacks.

    4. Less Jewish Knowledge? Why? Because your school day is 6 hours of madda and not torah? In yeshivas, it is reversed- they only have ‘English’ for 3 hours a day, usually. Nu? Your kid will be a lot smarter than a yeshiva bucher. He can go home and do what baale batim do- go and listen to a shiur at night. Go online and listen to daf yomi. Instead of blasting your ears out with music, put shiurim on your i-pod. Your kid will come out knowing as much torah as a yeshiva bucher, if not more that way. There is of course shabbos, which was meant for talmud torah.

    5. Friction?
    Every kid respected my religion and my practices, just as I respected there’s. If you are tolerant and kind to people of allr aces, nationalities and respectful of all religions, you will get along fine with others. These are not just essential for public school, but for society as a whole. Mitzvos Bein Adam L’ Chaveiro are crucial to this. I never was insulted or made fun of for being Jeiwsh in school. The kids respected it, just as the Muslims were respected and the Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Evangelicals, etc. were respected.

    My point is that public school, combined with a rigorous seder ha limud at home and at shul, can be the most educational, rewarding and engaging chinuch possible. You should want the whole child to be educated, and of course, religion should be part of it, but school is to learn and socialize. Home should be for learning torah.

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  9. It seems like the Hebrew charter school plans to teach Judaism as a culture, as anything but a religion. As a convert, I am way more connected to Judaism as a religion than as a culture. I don’t think I’d be comfortable sending my kids to a school where they might learn that Judaism is just a culture. At least in public school, they wouldn’t get such mixed messages?

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  10. The problem is that these Hebrew charter schools are unconstitutional. There is no way Jewish culture can be separated from Jewish religion. Indeed, there is an entire movement called Secular/Humanistic Judaism predicated on the notion that Jewish culture is indeed, Judaism.

    Jewish holidays such as Sukkot and Chanukah have undeniable religious roots. Jewish music and food are rooted in either Eastern European or Middle Eastern cultures. And, I think a child would benefit from being exposed to a variety of cultures at school and then having exposure to their own Jewish culture at home.

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  11. Anonymous,

    1. While I definitely know the frum world has its issues with this, I don’t think many religious people are going to feel comfortable sending their kids to school with sex ed. I went to public school and wasn’t raised religious. I plan on personally teaching my kids the birds and the bees. However, having worked with the public school system and social services with lot of teenage moms-I’ll pass.

    2. For the record, my dad isn’t Jewish. Guess what, I have whole heaps of Gentile relatives of varying degrees of good, bad, and ugly. Jews aren’t always the bastion of piety or morality (Madoff coming to mind here), but the nice thing about sending your kids to religious school is that teachers won’t put up with things that public school teachers have to in bad situations.

    3. Assimilation is the number one reason why I will not send my kids to public school. I am African-American and Jewish. I have to worry about several things that the average Jew doesn’t concern themselves with. If I sent my kids to public schools I could almost guarantee their assimilation out of Judaism.

    4. I think the public school option might work for people who are raised ffb, but if you are a convert or baal teshuva, you might not have enough Jewish knowledge to sustain your kids. Private school is the best way to integrate Yiddishkeit into the homes of people with less Jewish knowledge.

    5. The friction between religious and secular kids can get intense in certain areas. For instance, the situation would be pretty intense in areas with high racial tension like Crown Heights.

    Also, in my case, my future kids would be completely fish out of water as tzunis kids of color at a public school. The would stand out like freaks. FYI, I had 3 friends of color who had to pull their kids out for this reason.

    Realize your school really wasn’t that diverse. It was still a majority white school and if I was doing evaluation research on it, that issue would be addressed. While it may have been more diverse than your home situation, the minorities might have questioned your description of the school.

    Social researchers know that students tend to segregate along race and class lines, and that very little interaction usually occurs among students of different races due to disparity in academic tracking, access to money for extracurriculars, and self segregation. This particularly affects black and latino students. An excellent book on the subject is “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria.”

    Another thing you need to consider is that school isn’t the only place kids can get to know and befriend kids from different backgrounds. Playground activities, organizations, and hobbies can serve the same purpose.

    You can attend private school and be more aware and accepting of differences than attending public school. Especially if the public school is fraught with racial or class tension.

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  12. Mixed Jew Girl,

    My school, nor any of the other diverse schools I have worked in throughout the city and even the suburbs (South Orange, Maplewood, Ironbound Newark, Mount Vernon, etc.) as a community organizer and youth rights activist have had instances where white and minorty kids seoarate themselves along class lines. In my experience, kids geenrally hang out together. In South Orange, I know of black kids who have gone to their Reform friends’ confirmations and vice versa. Perhaps my world doesn’t fit into the model of Marxist-style apocalyptic class struggle you speak of, but I hear some of your concerns. Also, I am not out to judge, but with converts and BT’s. there is usually a very deep insecurity that runs deep, and along with this comes a fear of what others think of you. That is also why I think these groups would likely send their kids to the local Orthodox yeshiva school as a knee-jerk reaction.

    In regards to local organizations and playgrounds, I do not know of one Orthodox Jew where I live that lets their kids play with goyim. Also, as far as tznius, I would argue that it has nothing to do with taste or fashion. I have had plenty of Muslim girls in my classes and even evnagelical or pentecostal Christians who wear long skirts out of religious conviction and they get no slack for it. On the other hand, not every place is diverse and cultured like my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I don’t know what community you live in, but if ti were, let’s say, Crown Heights, a black Jewish kid would be viewed with anything from disgust to scorn to sheer curiosity. I heard a story about a black woman whose kids and her converted to Chabadism and thee son wore the whole costume, and a black man looked askance and said “And now I;ve seen everything.”

    In the case of Crown Hegihts, it would not be secular vs. religious. It would be the fact that your kids would be viewed as sellouts and interlopers by their peers, due to the rightful resentment that many blacks in Crown Heights have towards the Chabaskers.

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  13. Ok, let’s see.

    I’m Jewish through and through. All lineage, all the way down. I was raised sometimes reform, sometimes conservative. I thought I knew a ton about being Jewish when I was younger. Like, eating matzah was what we did for Pesach, but perhaps we still ate cereal. Not sure I remember a big house cleaning and what not.

    I dated non-Jews. I dated out of my race even. BUT! But, being Jewish was always loud and clear. Whomever I dated knew this. I always knew I’d raise a Jewish family and more importantly in some ways, maintain a Jewish home. I didn’t know how, but I knew. How could I have such strong convictions? Because at home I got enough (which is far less by some standards). As a matter of fact, from the time I was a little girl I rejected non-Jewish holidays. I wouldn’t make Christmas art and would make my teachers do something for me Jewish. I wouldn’t sing Jesus songs for Christmas shows – yes I grew up in Simi Valley in the 70’s very white. Very non-Jewish.

    To top it off, I am 100% public educated, LAUSD. And you know what? I keep Kosher. I don’t cook on Shabbat. I try to incorporate Judaism into my every day life whether it be a simple Netilat in the morning or through my actions. As a teacher, I have the responsibility as a Jew.

    So my point to this ramble is that Public school does not guarantee assimilation. yes, it happens and is more likely. Believe me, my family is the picture perfect example of American Judaism with a couple of us married to and observant on some level, to intermarriage, and even a conversion outside the faith (OY, let’s not go there).

    BUT, again, I have a friend who was raised Chabad. Left, moved to LA from Brooklyn, and now dates non Jews and etc. It goes both ways and more often than many folks would like to believe.

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  14. Anonymous,

    Orange County is considered one of the most integrated areas in the country. Most school districts in the West, East, Midwest, and the South are far more segregated than your school district. Heck, school segregation levels are nearly 90% in several cities. As we say as social researchers, the exception proves the rule.

    Please open yourself to the idea that what you experienced would be quite unusual anywhere else. Many public schools have racial tension between groups. I wonder how you would have felt if you had gone to public school in Detroit. This isn’t Marxist analysis either.

    As for ffb and converts sending their kids to Yeshiva, the decision isn’t based on insecurity here. Many of us have seen the results of public school/Hebrew school at home-most of them retain little Jewish knowledge and we’re underwhelmed. If you don’t have much of a Torah education, sometimes it is better to leave certain parts of Torah education to professionals with your own input at home.

    I have seen public school teachers sing the praises of public education but the parents give me mostly negative reviews. I have attended private school,public school, and was home schooled until 4th grade. Of all three experiences, public school was the academically weakest, even with AP classes.

    I’ve worked as a TA for various professors, and we have consistently found that public school students have the weakest expository skills. While some magnet school students have come close, the strongest students in terms of intellectual curiosity and breadth went to private schools.I also have to spend more time tutoring public school kids because their study skills and writing are subpar. What scares me the most is that these kids tell me that they attended the “good” public schools.

    Even if I had not become religious, I’ve never had any intention of sending my children to public school. Honestly, many academics, politicians, upper middle class professionals, and well to do minorities prefer private education. At least I am not duplicitous by advocating public schools but sending my kids to private and supporting school vouchers.I know its the best option for us.

    BTW, I had a very nice discussion about the subject with several relatives who work as teachers, curriculum specialists, principals, and superintendents. All of them advocated private school. They all sent their children to private schools because they wanted their kids to compete globally.

    Ironic isn’t it? LOL.

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