In recent weeks, The Jewish Standard has hosted a debate about how to provide a Jewish education in an economic downturn. Many have written in; parents, educators, and even former principals have weighed in with their own opinions. One thing has been missing, however: a student’s point of view. As a junior in a local yeshiva, I have been educated at a yeshiva day school for the past 13 years. After 13 years oContinuing the conversationf experience, at multiple yeshivas, I feel that I can offer some insight into the debate that most of those who are debating simply don’t have, as instead of just talking about the school system, I am actually living through it.
Of all the proposals going around for fixing the yeshiva system, two have stood out. One is the idea of charter schools, and the other is “Chevrolet schools.” These are different, and yet strikingly similar, proposals. Each tries to create a tradeoff: lower tuitions for lower educational standards. Charter schools take away the Judaic studies courses; Chevrolet schools take away extracurricular activities and high teacher-student ratios. The theory behind them is that most of the real education a child gets in school is the core – math, science, and English – and that everything else can really be done outside of school, whether at home or on the playground.
But as far as charter schools go, can any parent really suggest that without a full Judaic studies curriculum their child will be as fully believing and knowledgeable in Judaism as he or she would be otherwise? I doubt it. As a student, I know better than anyone that the level of religious intensity of a yeshiva student drops significantly mere hours after school lets out for vacation. How can parents who truly want to raise their children in a Jewish manner deprive them of this basic need, to learn about what it is to be a Jew? How can we quantify the value of the survival of our faith in dollars and cents?
And as for Chevrolet schools, I beg parents to think about the social issues that will arise from these. Any child can tell you that our area is a pressured one to live in. There is a big skew already between the most affluent among us and the least affluent, and sometimes it can be hard, especially for young children, to overcome those differences. To then teach these children that the less affluent families are somehow of a lower class, that they somehow deserve less education, that they need to go to different schools, will create an unbreakable divide between these two groups. Our community will be permanently fractured into two separate classes that will always be clashing with one another. The “Rolls-Royce schools” will find it difficult to compete with the Chevrolet Schools, and will therefore have to stop giving scholarships, requiring all parents without the ability to pay full tuition to send their children to Chevrolet schools, even if they didn’t want to. There will be no fixing the community, and eventually it will fracture and fall apart.
I am begging all of you to please help save our schools. Please help find an idea for schools that will help the next generation of Jewish children find their way through school without losing their Jewish identities or fracturing their community. The system needs to be fixed, and we all need to help fix it together. Please give our local yeshivas the help they need.