I have been following the recent debate regarding efforts to introduce a new and more affordable day school in Bergen County and I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the Rolls-Royce vs. Chevy analogy that has been used to describe the existing day-school system vs. the new one being proposed. While we all want to believe that we are providing our children with the best education possible, perhaps this sudden interest by so many in a possible alternative is indicative of a long brewing, yet largely unacknowledged, dissatisfaction with the status quo of Jewish education and is not merely a product of the current economic crisis.
Clearly the day-school system has many laudable features, yet in some very specific ways the majority of day schools are not meeting their mandate. With regards to Hebrew language, too many students graduate after eight and sometimes 12 years of day school and cannot even conduct a simple conversation in Hebrew. Recently the “Hebrew in America” program was launched in Bergen County to address this very problem. With regards to religious observance and spirituality, too many students and their families look towards the “gap-year” in Israel to create and cement a firmer religious foundation. Why, after all of these years of Jewish education, is it necessary for many to go to Israel in order to get back on track religiously? With regards to learning and internalizing good midot, bullying and cyber-bullying are as prevalent and rampant in the day schools as in any elementary school in the country. The question then begs to be asked, how is it that Torah values are being taught, but not transmitted and implemented, in our yeshivot?
I’m not so sure that the day school system as it exists now has in fact achieved “Rolls-Royce” status. Perhaps the Rolls-Royce is a lemon? Or perhaps we’ve been paying for a Rolls-Royce but have been driving a Chevy all along?
The economic crisis is bringing about a long overdue re-examination of our schools and the high cost of Jewish education. Hopefully, by looking at everything as though under a microscope, we will learn where things can be improved and what needs to be tweaked. This can be a very healthy and productive process, with a positive outcome, for both the existing schools and the new ones in formation.