Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Knowing There’s a Problem is Not Enough

YAFFED founder, Naftuli Moster (Jewish Press)
I guess it’s relevant after all. Ezra Frielander seemed to change his mind about Naftuli Moster’s views being irrelevant. Naftuli is the former Belzer Chasid that founded YAFFED, (Young Advocates For Fair Education). YAFFED has asked New York City Schools Chancellor, Carmen Farina and 7 district superintendents to investigate the quality of secular education in 39 religious schools suspected of non compliance with the educational standards required of them.  They have agreed to investigate.

Mr. Friedlander wrote an op-ed recently claiming that Naftuli’s abandonment of his religious past disqualified him from commenting on this. "How dare he", he asks! He believed YAFFED has an ulterior motive aimed at destroying these schools - not helping them.

I responded that he was blaming the messenger instead of dealing with the problem. Which at the time he denied even existed, saying that he thought these schools actually complied with state requirements. To the extent that there was room for improvement, it should be handled in house - certainly not by the government.

To underscore this he pointed to efforts in Czarist Russia to do the same thing. Which was rebuffed by the Yeshivos of that time. They saw it as a thinly veiled attempt by Czarist Russia and the Reform Movement to destroy Yiddishkeit. That Mr. Friedlander in any way  compares New York’s educational requirements to what Czarist Russia did is ridiculous and should be rejected out of hand. It is an insult to the very ideals this country was founded upon to make any such comparisons.

But in a subsequent article in Mishpacha Magazine last week he seems to admit that there is a serious problem in those schools. Students are not being taught the basics which undermines their ability to eventually support their families.

His solution is for parents to take over that job. Claiming that college degrees are just pieces of paper that don't really help you that much in finding a good job - his solution is to return the responsibility of teaching your children how to make a living to the parents. It is after all it is their responsibility to begin with. This is true. 

But in our day that responsibility has long ago realistically transferred to the schools. They are better equipped and the teachers are professionally trained to do so. They are our agents - executing for us that responsibility. There is no way that this paradigm will be shifted back to parents in our day. Job training has become too technical for parents to do it. There is little in the way of educating our children at home that can make them productive wage earners. Children need to be taught the basic material and study skills in their schools elementary and high schools by teachers that are trained to do so. That will enable them to eventually learn a profession or trade – and thereby make a decent living wage.

How bad are these schools now? From the Jewish Press
“Due to our own upbringing, we are familiar with—and have been affected by—the severe deficiency of the education systems in the ultra-Orthodox world, particularly within Chasidic boys’ schools,” the YAFFED website states. “From elementary school through high school, we were provided with a rigorous curriculum in Judaic studies, including Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, Halacha, mussar, and chasidus. Our general studies education, however, was limited to non-existent.
“The cheders and yeshivas we attended often provided only the rudiments of English and mathematics, and, in some cases, not even that. In many of our schools, the brief period of ‘English’ instruction was spent with utter neglect for classroom decorum and discipline, which led, naturally, to a poor learning environment. Teachers and educators, thereby, reinforced the message that general, non-Judaic studies were of little relevance to our lives, or worse, an outright nuisance.
“In most of our schools, general studies education ended abruptly post-Bar Mitzvah, after which our academic curricula consisted of Judaic studies alone. Many of us, at that time, had only the English reading and math skills of third or fourth-graders. The New York State Department of Education states that non-public schools must offer classes in English, mathematics, reading, writing, music, arts, history, geography, science, health education, and physical education. Many of our elementary schools offered only a miniscule fraction of these, and most of our high schools, none at all.” 
I don’t see Mr. Friedlander disputing these facts. Only the messenger. This is a  devastating indictment of these schools. 

That’s why I completely support this investigation. These communities never had any intent to fix the problem. But  even if they had such an intent, these communities are impoverished and don’t have the means to pay for it. A good general studies program costs money. And aside from a few very wealthy entrepreneurs these communities have very little of that – relying on government welfare programs and free loan societies just to exist. How could they have any money if their education does not prepare them to make a living?!

Mr. Friedlander fears that this investigation may end up with some schools closing. In my view if a school can’t teach your children the basics (as described by YAFFED) it doesn’t deserve to be open.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a lot of parents in those communities feel the same way – although they wouldn’t dare say so publicly.

I suppose it is a step in the right direction for Mr. Friedlander to now admit there is a serious problem. But admitting it is only half the solution. They need a full solution. How will they get the money to fund that solution? I don’t know. But I don’t think they can continue as is.