Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Does the Jewish Week not Support Day Schools?

First, a disclaimer. This is not a post about the tuition crisis that is going on. There are plenty of blogs and comments and whatever that are devoted to that, and they tend to generate mostly heat and almost no light. Rather, this post is about institutional support for Yeshiva Day Schools, particularly in the media. The New York Jewish Week has a rather long article this week entitled "Teaneck Parents Eyeing Public (School) Option", which focuses on some of the various non-Yeshiva options that parents in Bergen County, NJ are exploring to help alleviate the awesome financial burden of paying for day school for multiple children. For those who are not aware, a Hebrew-language charter school has been approved in neighboring Englewood, NJ, and this article discusses both that option as well as the general option of sending children to public school, along with various ideas for after-school Talmud Torah programs to help compensate for the loss of a Jewish education. Late me state very clearly that I have nothing but sympathy for parents who are at the point of making these decisions, and I truly believe that most of them, in a perfect world, do want their children to be in Yeshivot but simply find the finances impossible. That said, I am bothered by the fact that the article slants towards the charter school/public school option, while giving no real reason while a Yeshiva education would be preferable (all things being equal).

A few noteworthy points:

1) The article begins by talking about Yitzi Flynn, and claiming that he "transferred his 10-year-old son from the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey to Teaneck’s Thomas Jefferson Middle School this fall." However, much much later on we find out that that shift had nothing to do with finances and everything to do with the educational needs of his child. Seems like a bit of a bait-and-switch to me.

2) In commenting on communal efforts to stem the crisis, the article first quotes "Mira" as saying "People are not planning properly; most are in denial. And the communal leadership across the board, no one is getting up and saying ‘This is not sustainable.'" While the next paragraph mentions groups such as the OU, YU, and JEFG that are all working on solving this very problem, and in fact are saying "this is not sustainable", the article only mentions what they have done and are working on towards the end, and follows the initial mention by saying that many parents see their efforts as "too little, too late." I ask - would it be better if they did nothing at all? As this is an article, and not an opinion piece, shouldn't Julie Weiner (the writer) have done her homework into the work of these organizations in this regard?

3) In discussing the after school Talmud Torah option, the article claims "While some question how much Judaic material an after-school program can cover, pointing to the failure of Talmud Torah programs in generations past, the Rosens are hopeful." I ask - "some" question? There have been actual studies done about the effectiveness of Talmud Torah programs, and they are not pretty. Ask the Conservative and Reform movements how successful Hebrew school has been for them! Granted, we are now dealing with a more observant and perhaps committed parent body, but there are nevertheless many issues with Talmud Torah programs that will still exist. Should Weiner have at least made mention of them? Or is her goal to note that this is just a matter of opinion and thus anyone could wind up being correct?

4) Weiner then notes that Yeshiva education is no guarantee of a child's ultimate religiosity, allowing a quote from one family that they have family members who went to Yeshiva and are apparently not so religious. While anecdotal evidence certainly exists in all directions, again there have been studies done that have found that a Yeshiva education is one of the most important factors that contribute to lifelong religious observance and involvement. But, again, Weiner makes no mention of this. Her agenda is clearly not to promote Yeshiva Day Schools.

5) I have no idea what to do with this quote: "Vidaver noted that day school is itself a relatively new phenomenon, “a movement of the past two generations.” - Some people would call that progress. Two generations ago, Julie Weiner, as a woman, might not have been given her current job - should we roll that back as well since it is only two generations old?

So here is my question - what is the role of a Jewish newspaper? I am sure that they would defend themselves with some high-minded statement about simply reporting the facts or speaking for all segments of the community or something like that. I think that is rubbish. We all know that even news articles can serve effectively as opinion pieces, and this article (written by someone who is not Orthodox) seems to do exactly that. I would hope that a Jewish newspaper would cover a sensitive issue such as this with the appropriate amount of sensitivity to both sides of the issue, not by promoting the side of the issue that they perhaps support (which is interesting to me, as the editor of the paper is Orthodox and sent his own children to Orthodox schools) while giving short shrift, if that much, to the other side. Day schools and community organizations need everyone's help if they are going to figure out solutions to this problem - the Jewish Week is helping stir up antagonism to that cause.


Anonymous said...

You may think its rubbish but its the job of a newspaper to report the facts and that what the author did. You and I don't like those facts- however that's what they are. I'm sure a devoted fan of charter schools can explain why its unfair because it didn't prove what they wanted the article to prove.

Aaron Ross said...

Actually, my entire point is that the writer did not report all of the facts. In referring to the history of after-school Talmud Torah programs, the author clearly did not look for the facts.

Furthermore, I believe that we are savvy enough to know that journalists do more than simply report facts - they tell stories. Reporting facts would simply be a list of items. The author, like every other journalist, is trying to paint a picture, and she has a particular slant to that. My post is to shine a light on that slant.

In the future, please do not post anonymously - I will soon stop allowing such comments onto this blog.

Michael Rogovin said...

There were certainly flaws with the article, but the studies on yeshiva education suffer from the flaw that the overwhelming majority of families who commit to yeshiva day school are orthodox and very committed (yes, some schools have a different mix of students but not most) and most students in afternoon schools come from non-observant homes. It is nearly impossible to isolate the day school influence from the home influence.

Unfortunately, while everyone is bashing the parents who choose public school, few are willing to discuss what can we do to help those children by making a GOOD Talmud Torah program. Are we so willing to write these children off? Some of them are there because FOR THEM, public or charter schools provide an education that yeshiva's can't (special needs, vocational or artistic) or other reasons why yeshiva did not work out. Instead of bashing the parents and the media, let's deal with the need for a community tax to support the schools, push UJA to change its allocation and also provide a Jewish education for those who, for any reason, choose to attend a public school.