As the parent of four day-school graduates, and myself the product of day-school education, I share many of the sentiments expressed by Yossi Prager Jan. 28 in support of day schools over the nascent Hebrew charter school movement. However, the day-school education of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, created on the heels of the birth of the State of Israel, produced a more inspired, nuanced student than those emerging from day schools today. Maybe it’s time to look honestly at our schools, goals, and results.
Mr. Prager argues that “Hebrew language public schools plus after-school religious education cannot approach the benefits of day-school education.” While this is correct in certain aspects, let’s evaluate the overall experience.
Unfortunately, too many of our children leave the cocoon of the traditional day school turned off to religious observance and without the passion and love of Yiddishkeit that we believe we’re imparting to them. Spoon-feeding Judaism at every turn, surrounded by the vibrant Jewish community that is Bergen County, isn’t achieving the desired results.
The increasing demands of the day-school dual curriculum leave behind children with unique and varying learning styles to struggle and develop poor self-esteem at best, or to be medicated and receive a modified curriculum just to hold on.
A majority of our students are not fluent in Hebrew even after 12 years of day school, which undermines their ability to study Judaic texts in their original form or to conduct a simple conversation in Hebrew.
It seems we’ve been compromising our children’s education because of complacency and a blanket acceptance of the status quo.
Perhaps the Hebrew charter school, coupled with an appropriate Jewish studies after-school program, will address these important issues and will be the first step in providing our children with an improved and affordable Jewish education. Change is always uncomfortable and disconcerting. However, for our children in Bergen County, the likelihood is that they will continue to remain a majority within the charter school while receiving new cutting-edge curricula, free tuition, and extra services (OT, speech) that are not available in the day-school arena. We should embrace the opportunity presented by Hebrew charter schools. Although it raises some concerns, for many it can be a viable, inspiring alternative and may even prevent certain kids from falling through the cracks of our current Jewish education system.