I have been slow to respond to Gary Rosenblatt’s important column from two weeks ago. The whole thing is worth reading, but here is the key nugget:
We need to think on a communal level which values and lifestyles we are willing to sacrifice and which are most important to keep.
Now my wife would say that I am given to imagining apocalyptic scenarios. But of course I also predicted a major financial collapse in the U.S. for a while now, so my prognostications have to be worth something. Gary is right of course: We are at a moment of reckoning, and old assumptions for all our nonprofits, and particularly our day schools, have to be reassessed and addressed honestly.
As one of my teachers told me years ago, “You send your kids to school to be socialized. Anything you really want them to learn, you have to take responsibility for yourself.” Now I don’t quite believe that. I do think my kids actually learn stuff at school, and I have great confidence in their teachers. But having seen many products of expensive Jewish day school educations in my current work, I can testify that all of them come out with fine college prep in secular studies; but many, if not most, have been allowed to neglect their Jewish studies. Indeed, for many, their Jewish courses don’t even show up on their transcripts. To me this is a serious indictment, and it reinforces my teacher’s point: Many people send their kids to day school as a way of socializing them with other Jews, but not in an effort to develop a serious engagement with Torah.
I find something pernicious in the idea of having the state pay for “secular studies,” since that means they can never be integrated with religious studies. But I find something even more problematic in our rigorous approach to secularism in this country–which Gary addresses in his column. At the same time, as a product of public schooling myself, I think there’s something to be said for a public school education coupled with a rigorous commitment to Torah study and rich informal Jewish education.
Like Gary, I don’t have the answers. But I do see the writing on the wall, and it’s about time we had a community conversation about what we want, what is possible, and what our priorities are.