Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Observant Jewry and Home Schooling

Children being home schooled (JTA)
It’s a bad idea. Although there might be a place for it in certain exceptional cases where there are no religious schools (for example in the case of Chabad Sheluchim) home schooling is far from a panacea.

An article by Sara Ivry in JTA reports that home-schooling Jewish children has become a more popular option among some Orthodox Jews. The reason for this should be obvious. The cost of educating a Jewish child in a religious school from kindergarten through high school has become prohibitive – to say the least. 

Anyone of us that has school-age children is more than aware of this. The cost per child is so high, that in some cases where there are 4 or 5 children (or more) in a family - the actual full tuition per child might even exceed a post tax modest  middle class income! Or at least the majority of  it. That’s why the vast majority of parents are on at least partial scholarship. 

But even a generous scholarship often taxes parents to their limits where every spare dollar they have might go to educate their children. Leaving few if any dollars for discretionary spending that most of middle class America enjoys by availing their children of ‘free’ public school system

To say this is grossly unfair is an understatement. But this is the conundrum of Jewish education. We must have it and we can’t afford it. And yet if we want quality education for our children, it is going to cost money. If we want top notch teachers we will have to pay them top notch wages. Otherwise good people will never be attracted to the profession. Altruism does not pay for groceries.

The situation of needing the revenue to run good schools and the inability of the parent body to fully supply it is a ‘catch 22’ problem yet to be solved. While fundraising is de rigueur for any good school, far too often they never quite make their budget and run a yearly deficit. 

This of course does not help the typical parent struggling to pay tuition. Which is probably why home schooling is on the rise.

Home schooling is nonetheless a poor substitute for a school and a bad idea. So bad in fact that it might even be counter-productive. 

Even though there are increasing resources home-schooling parents can avail themselves of (much of it  accessible online) I doubt that they match what is formally taught by high quality experienced teachers in a good religious school. But even in the unlikely circumstance that those resources are just as good, Jewish education is more than about knowledge. It is about a culture of religious observance both in the family setting and among peers. 

For young students those peers are their classmates. Without that, the learning experience becomes somewhat sterile and even academic. And could result in a child resenting the lack of socialization a school naturally provides. Even if they are raised in a home that is meticulously observant with good parental role models - there will be that lack of peer group influences that reinforces the parental example.

While it is indeed possible to home-school children successfully I believe the adverse risks are real and success cannot be taken for granted. I have to believe that the risk of an adverse outcome is significantly increased. 

In my view sharing the same experiences every day with fellow students; having the same teachers, same homework; and shared extra-curricular activities are things that are important - if not vital - to the development of a healthy future observant lifestyle. Even if there are other home schooled children they can relate to, it is not the same as the formal structure of a school.

I think most observant parents realize this at least instinctively. Which is why there aren’t more parents opting to home school their children. This is a good thing and should be encouraged. Home schooling should be discouraged.

Of course there are no guarantees. There is still the unfortunate problem of children falling through the cracks even in traditional school setting. But I believe that this is still the exception rather the  the rule. (An exception that is nevertheless intolerable and needs to be addressed but is beyond the scope of this post.) And by contrast there are children that I am sure do quite well with bright futures that are being home schooled. But I still believe the problems I described are real and that the odds favor the formal school. In my view homeschooling a child is  gambling with their future.

What about the unbearable burden of paying for it? That is a real problem.  Perhaps the biggest challenge the observant world in America faces day. One that to the best of my knowledge is not even close to being solved. But if you are a parent that cares about the future of your children, until that problem is solved it is a bullet that must be bitten.