Monday, September 1, 2008

Yeshiva Vs. Public School

Guest-posted by Nice Jewish Guy:

The following message came in one the copious digests from one of the local community shul mailing lists that I subscribe to:

HELP Family sending frum kids to PUBLIC SCHOOL because can't afford

Mon Sep 1, 2008 12:53 pm (PDT)

I know a frum couple in [town in Eastern Nassau County] that are sending their 3 kids to public school because they can't afford to pay tuition!!!!

Any suggestions? I am afraid they are going to lose their children in the public school system. This is terrible. HELP!

I don't know how many frum people end up sending their kids to public school and the kids end up remaining frum.

Their oldest kid, a girl, is 10 years old and the 2 younger ones are 4 year old twins. 4 year olds don't even have to go to school, Don't know if the mother if maybe the mother is working during the day and that is why she would be looking for somewhere to put them. I know the parents are frum.

Please contact me,with suggestions, ideas.

Thanks. Tizku L'mitzvos.


[Name Deleted]


Now, this bothered me on a couple of levels. First, and most obvious, is the simple fact that indeed, especially in the current economy, Yeshiva tuition has gotten to the point where it is a crisis for many people. But let's put that aside.

I don't particularly care for the frantic, breathless, and overwrought tone of the message. And while I would generally agree that, all things considered, it is better for frum kids to be in a yeshiva, the writer practically treats as a foregone conclusion that her kids will be "lost"-- i.e., no longer frum as a result of going through the public school system; she has basically written them off if they remain there.

While as I said, I believe that it would be better for a frum kid to be in a Jewish educational environment, it is by no means whatsoever a guarantee that he or she will remain frum-- any more than a kid from a yeshiva is guaranteed to remain frum. In fact, I know more than a handful of people who went through the yeshiva system-- with me, with friends, in black-hat yeshivas, in Modern Orthodox day schools, across the spectrum-- and there are statistics from all demographics who did not remain frum. I think that at least as important as the school environment is the home environment. Kids are going to follow their parents' example if they are imbued with it with love and tolerance and if they don't witness hypocrisy. Kids leave frumkeit because they rebel against what they precieve as hypocrisy and an oppressive environment. If the child is told that he is "bad" because he watches movies or does something else innoccuous, he might say, "so I'm already bad, what's the difference what else I do"; or if he sees his father harangue him to go to daven every day and wear a black hat, but sees his father cheat in business and treat his mother or business associates like crap, he may chuck it all and say, "who needs this". Being in public school, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean he will be lost to frumkeit. If his parents are as frum as they supposedly are, they can learn with the kids, arrange tutoring, etc. I know many parents with special needs kids who send their kids to public school because the Yeshivas just don't have the services and resources for some of these kids.

Whatever the situation, something must be done. Yeshivas (some of them) are notoriously heartless when it comes to their tuition boards and scholarship committees, subjecting applicants for tuition assistance to embarrassing financial records scrutinizations that would put the IRS to shame. I know one family whose six year old was undergoing chemo for malignant bone cancer (thank God he survived) and who were strained enough financially because of the medical bills, lost workdays, and other related expenses that they applied for tuition breaks. The answer? No. a flat No. And what about familes with 3 or 4 or 5 kids that are going through raging divorces, where the money is tied up or just isnt there? Think it's not so common? You'd be shocked.

What's amazing is that we see ads and flyers all the time for the "poor in Eretz Yisrael". There are poor people right here! Their school education is virtually free. Doesn't charity begin at home? And aren't many poor in Israel poor becauee they have chosen a lifestyle of not working? Shouldn't we be trying to make sure that every Jewish kid has a yeshiva education here before we suport those who really can support themselves?

I don't have any glib solutions to solve the tuition crisis. But let's not write kids off because they might have to go to public school.


WebGirl said...

Great post. Brings up lotsa important issues.

First of all, the numbers do bear it out: if you want your kid to stay observant and not intermarry, the best way to almost guarantee that is to send him/her to yeshiva or day school. Jewish day school and yeshiva kids statistically have far lower rates of intermarriage, leaving observance, etc. That is not to say that all that other stuff isn't important too, like creating a family environment of acceptance etc. that you mentioned. And that is also not to say that there aren't lots and lots of exceptions. But Jewish day schools are crucial if you want to raise observant Jewish kids.

When I was growing up, my parents struggled financially. But enrollment of me and my siblings in yeshiva was a given. My Dad used to work at the school's bingo on Sundays and my Mom did bake sales and other volunteering things, in order to qualify for tuition breaks.

I don't have kids, but I used to sit on the board of an out-of-town Yeshiva. This was a community where the Yeshivas NEVER turned away a kid for not being able to pay tuition. Ever. The big problem for these schools were the lies parents told to get tuition breaks. They would be getting second and third new luxury cars, and be on half-scholarship. Or building additions to theirs houses and not making monthly payments. Etc. Or a parent would get mad about a teacher or school decision and decide to withhold tuition that month. Last I heard, the Yeshivas in this community were cracking down on the parents. But they (the schools) continue to accept all kids, regardless of ability to pay. To quote the headmaster: we cannot afford to lose a single Jewish child.

But that's out of town. I am astounded at some of the crap I hear that goes on in NYC Yeshivas. First of all, why is Yeshiva tuition so ridiculously high? Seriously, why? Second of all, why do we need so many Yeshivas? If Yeshivas are supposedly struggling financially, why can't they get together and form different branches of the same school and share resources and save money? If it works out-of-town, why can't it work in NYC?

Finally, if you really care about getting tax breaks on Yeshiva tuition, get together and get politically active and lobby for vouchers. People just complain about it and do nothing to help themselves. If the entire Yeshiva community in NYC would start a letter-writing campaign, or hire lobbyists or even hold a rally for a state voucher program, it could happen. Can you imagine how much money you would save if most of your yeshiva tuition were tax-deductible? But everyone wants to leave that sort of thing to the other guy.


Nice Jewish Guy said...

Good points too, but let me address this first:

First of all, the numbers do bear it out: if you want your kid to stay observant and not intermarry, the best way to almost guarantee that is to send him/her to yeshiva or day school. Jewish day school and yeshiva kids statistically have far lower rates of intermarriage, leaving observance, etc.

Where are these numbers from? I'm not aware of any studies done on the subject. Not being argumentative, just curious. And do these numbers take into account the frumkeit state of the child upon entering school? Sure, yeshiva and day school grads may have a greater statistical likelihood of remaining observant, but they are also more likely to have been observant going in, where Jewish public school kids are more likely to not have that same observance level going in. Again, just curious.

You make a good point about people lying to get tuition breaks, building additions, and driving luxury cars. They shouldn't be driving Lexuses (Lexii?) and taking carribean vacations and getting tuition breaks or free tuition. On the other hand, there's nothing that says they have to drive themselves into the poorhouse to send their kids to yeshiva either.

I agree about the vouchers- I believe they tried to do this in the Five Towns several times but with no success. And I don't know why there are so many yeshivas either- probably because there are so many different "flavors" of hashkafa that people want to subscribe to and patronize. I mean, might as well ask why are there so many shuls? In Brooklyn, for example, you can't throw a rock without hitting some shteeble. And given enough time, every shul forms a "breakaway" shul. Same reason with Yeshivas, I think.

WebGirl said...

The UJC National Jewish Population was a multi-gazillion dollar study done around 2000. There are mini versions of it being done every few years in various Jewish communities.

It concluded that basically, the more formal Jewish education someone has, the less likely they are to intermarry. This study is required reading for any Jewish day school board member. It blew UJC's mind. They didn't want that to be true. After all, none of them went to Jewish day school and they are Jewish communal professionals! But of course the day schools were thrilled that the numbers bore out what they were claiming for years. Suddenly, they were armed with the argument that more Jewish community money needs to go into day schools, because even the most secular of Jews (well, most of them) can agree that no matter how far you stray from observance, intermarriage is where your branch completely falls from the tree.

And of course there are many exceptions and of course there are many other factors that go into this. But it's interesting that "ve'sheenantem le'banecha" is actually important if you want to keep the flames of Judaism alive in your kid.

WebGirl said...

BTW, regarding vouchers, I wasn't aware that Long Island communities tried this, but it needs to be bigger than that. The entire day school attending "community" of New York needs to get some money together and form an organization dedicated solely to vouchers. Voucher central. They can organize the townships and boroughs and break it down any way they want, but until there is a statewide lobby, that voice will never be heard. And once NY goes for it and people see how successful it is, it will pave the way for other communities. Isn't everyone tired of paying property taxes in order to help other people's kids? It is so grossly unfair.