We all know that there is a tuition crisis, right? We are paying college-sized tuitions for our children (upwards of $11,000 per year), who can be well-educated for a fraction of the cost. Yes, well-educated!
I grew up a Conservative Jew in a Long Island town and went to a public school. Although it had a Jewish minority, Jews were well represented in the honors program. I attended a Conservative Hebrew school and was a bat mitzvah. I absolutely love being an Orthodox Jew (ba’al teshuvah), and I’m proud that my five children attend or will attend Hebrew day school. But sadly, I feel that our Orthodox Jewish education system is fundamentally flawed. I believe that sending our children to public school, followed by an after-school Orthodox program for a fraction of the cost, is a better plan.
If we all sent our children to our public schools (especially in Teaneck), they would be in a strongly Jewish environment. These Orthodox children would benefit tremendously and also have the right to religious freedom in these settings.
Relieving a large portion of tuition expense would dramatically improve family life. Families could grow larger; mothers and fathers might be able to work less and, most important, worry less. Families could spend more time nurturing their souls and spend more money on tzedakah.
I know that great public schools exist and produce exceptional college students. I also know that after-school “Hebrew schools” have produced great Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews have never had Hebrew schools like the one I attended – schools that would be able to complement a good secular education.
I am not saying public schools are a utopia and I know that children in them may be exposed to bad influences. But we are not isolationists; rather we should be a light unto the nations. All negative influences could be offset by values taught at home.
We certainly plan on sending our children to college and into the business world; we’re not sheltering them their entire lives. At this rate, where will that college money come from? Spent on kindergarten? I fear this may limit the educational and professional options that are extremely important down the road for our children.
I also feel that there are so many overlooked benefits of public schools (not just financial).
First, they are environments of equality. Children of the wealthy are given absolutely no special treatment, and poorer children don’t have to feel they are charity cases.
Second, there are greater opportunities in academics (more advanced placement college-level courses), athletics, music, art, foreign languages, and many extra-curricular activities. My public school experience allowed me to become fluent in Spanish, learn to play the saxophone, learn guitar, participate in chorus, and play every sport imaginable – all free of charge.
Third, there is diversity; while 85 percent of my close friends were Jews, I had many wonderful non-Jewish friends who gained positive views of the Jewish people through our friendships. I believe the “real world” experience of public school will also allow our children to become more tolerant and respectful adults.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, any child who requires speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral therapy, and the like will have it for free. One of my children attends a Teaneck public school because of his autism; he is in a class with three children and three teachers. His individualized education plan includes 1:1 student-teacher ratio, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy three times a week and an eight-hour-per-week home therapist. He has been picked up and dropped off by bus at my front door since he was 3 years old – and it’s all free.
I have found many of the professionals in the Teaneck public schools to be exceptional and accommodating to all our religious needs. In my son’s school, he has a volunteer rabbi during lunch who recites blessings with him. Kosher meals are currently available as well. Children who come from solid Orthodox backgrounds would not be at risk in this secular environment.
What I envision is an intensive after-school Orthodox curriculum, using existing infrastructure at a fraction of the current cost of attending a yeshiva. I strongly feel that the benefits of this proposed system outweigh its costs. This system could work only if the public schools were heavily Orthodox and a great after-school religious curriculum were developed. This could and should be done.
We are losing precious Jewish souls because of financial birth control. Things need to change. Meanwhile, we will continue to pay in tuition what most people don’t earn in a year and lovingly raise our children who are attending outstanding yeshivas.
To be clear, I am not bashing the excellent yeshiva education my children receive. My motive is to create a less costly and high-quality Orthodox education system. I, like you, know nothing about the mechanics to bring about change, but I do know that silence only perpetuates the problem.