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Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg explains the phenomenon of Jewish day school education.
Tags:Jewish Parochial Schools,jewish day school,jewish education,jewish parochial school,jewish scriptures,jewish traditions,rabbi jonathan ginsburg,rjhgins
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Shalom. This video is about explaining the phenomenon of Jewish Day school education. First a story, and I will tell you a story about my own wife, when we were little, my parents sent us to a Jewish orthodox school on the south side of Chicago. It was the only Jewish day school around, even though they were orthodox, they wanted us to get a solid Jewish education.
Almost all our friends were upset with them for abandoning the public school system. Now, of course, what happened over the course of time, by the time we graduated almost, all of our friends were sending their kids to Jewish Parochial schools. We then moved north and finished up at Solomon Schechter and I was in the first graduating class.
Now the school was very small and it had my 14 kids in my 1978 grade. Now there are about 100 per grade. It has really changed a lot, they run a huge beautiful building, two of them in Chicago. There is an explosion of conservative day schools called Solomon Schechter around the country. There are also some reform schools, many community schools and of course, a huge number of orthodox schools. In Skokie itself, we have a wide variety of orthodox Jewish day schools.
And then there has been a growth of High Schools. There is even a boarding at Jewish High school in North Carolina, Chicago, besides having the Ida Crown Jewish Academy which is Orthodox in Skokie. Now it has a flourishing conservative day school which is in Deerfield, has a big, new campus.
So what's happened? Now, first of all, there is a general movement towards recognizing the importance of more market-based education. We have Charter schools, Magnet schools. People are constantly worrying about how to further improve the public school system. The voucher program is touted about and I think Jews recognized that the issue about living in a diverse world is really a main issue because in today, unless you live in a ultra, ultra, ultra, orthodox Jewish Community, you live in a diverse world, you work in a diverse community, you have non-Jewish neighbors, you encounter non-Jews all the time and the younger and younger people have more and more non-Jewish friends. That's really not a significant issue.
The other issue is having a solid Jewish foundation and with many parents unable and unequipped to have provided the kind of Jewish learning and Jewish environment at home, the responsibility falls more and more on the schools.
So, just contrast what can happen in a Jewish setting where you have predominantly Jewish teachers, where the cultural atmosphere is Jewish, there are blessings, recital at meals, there is Hebrew spoken in the halls, you have a typical day as Hebrew and Bible and Jewish Learning and laws and customs and communal prayer together, that just is completely a different atmosphere.
The alternative to know Jewish education is -- the reason why we call it day school education instead of parochial which is the word the Capets use, is to contrast the concept of day school with afternoon school, where the Jewish kids who would get a Jewish education, not in parochial schools, go to regular school during the day and then for one or two or three afternoons a week, they go to their synagogue or a community Hebrew School and they learn Hebrew and Bible. You know they are tired, their friends are all in after school activities, they resent being there. It has not been that successful an experience, in fact, the joke is, you go to a Hebrew school, I hated Hebrew school and you are going to hate Hebrew School and people say they are kids. Now there obviously are some fine Hebrew schools and they do the best they can, but when it has got the roadblocks and the obstacles which it has, which is the timing of the day, how tired the kids are, it is not even matched in the curriculum the way private schools are, the way day schools are. It starts out with a competitive disadvantage.
And overwhelmingly, the kids will get a Jewish Education. Outside of orthodox, you get them in these supplementary schools, which usually consists of a weekend day either Saturday or Sunday, it's about a Sunday, and then a certain number of afternoons during the week. And of course, over the time, because of pressure of parents and the general culture, the amount of hours devoted to the supplementary education has been decreasing.
So many people say, they used to go four afternoons a week, plus weekends and then it got to be three and then two and the Conservative Movement in United States for example, sanctioned schools that have two days a week program, there used to be required minimum three. All kinds of challenges and then there were some reform synagogues and other problems that had a one day a week program to get kids to go beyond. But amidst flies itself a challenge, as the old joke about three rabbis who are complaining about the bats of our synagogue.
The first ons says, well we had bats and they were interfering with our worship, so we called the exterminator and we drove them out and we have no problem. The second said, you know that bat problem is so bad we could never resolve and we finally had to demolish the building.
The third one said, Oh! We had no problem at all. We gave the bats a barn mid-side and then they disappeared and we never saw them again. Fortunately, that's not true for all kids. Some kids do continue in their Jewish education, that's one of the reasons that synagogues have started confirmation programs, borrowing that from the Christian church to try and keep kids until they are 16.
But for too many -- for even through those who go to Jewish education and many who don't, but it signifies the answer to the problem, there is, you have got an adult whose Jewish learning stopped really at the age of 12 or 13 and that's what they remember. Now one of the bright spots has been the college where now there has been explosion of college courses, so kids can take Hebrew and Jewish learning. My son goes to Indiana University and it is amazing, the amount of Jewish education at Indiana University.
So, in any case, that's a little bit about Jewish education, why the day school movement has exploded, but it still represents a small number of Jewish kids and obviously, the main barrier is money. It is hugely expensive to send your kids to a Jewish Parochial school versus the public schools and especially when the economy is having a tough time as it is now. It's much, much, more difficult.
So there have been efforts to raise substantial endowment dollars but so far it isn't that succeeded in driving the price down to where it's manageable for many middle class families. So that's quite a challenge. But that's really the central issue as I believe framing parochial education and I believe on a qualitative level and a quantitative level, the education is far superior Jewishly and the kids who were going to the Jewish High Schools are having no problem getting into the top universities.
I will just you give you one example. I used to administer a test through my tenth grade students. There were a 100 questions on the test and the day school graduates from eighth grade who continued in our confirmation program and then took this exam, used to score in the 90s, 94 and in the separate Hebrew component, they scored close to perfect. Whereas the best scores in the afternoon school children would be in the 60s or 70s or the main group was even much less. There is just so much less you can do and learn in that kind of environment, let alone the emotional impact. You are close with this little word of Torah from Hanukkah which were the holiday that's coming up, for a while I am filming this, which I think, makes the point.
Now the word Hanukkah is based on the Hebrew word Chet-Nun-Kaf which is derived from the word Hanak, which in the Book of Proverbs means to train, like you shall train your child and whether they go; it remain all day, will not depart from you. But it also means education. So the Department of Education and this one is called Misrad Hachinuch.
So you have -- what is the difference now between train and educate and then you have the word Hanukkah based on the same root wh