Friday, November 29, 2019

Beware of Where You Send Your Kids to College

An increasingly common scene on college campuses these days (TOI)
Even though I lean strongly towards a politically conservative philosophy, I am not totally on board with Rabbi Dov Fisher’s right wing politics. That’s because I disagree with his strident uncritical view of that philosophy. It is almost as though he equates political conservatism with Orthodox Judaism. In my view not every politically conservative position is in line with Judaism. I therefore have some views that might be considered liberal.

That being said, his latest article in the Jewish Press has a ring of truth to it. Not that this should be new to anyone paying attention. But the reality is that sending a child to college these days is fraught with peril. It tends to undermine the very Judaism in which Orthodox parents raised them.

This contrasts with what it was like back in the 70s. Colleges were different then. They were not as highly politicized as they are today. In today’s world if you don’t have a humanistic approach to life, you are considered a bigot. The idea of religious worldview having any value has gone the way of the dodo bird on college campuses these days.

One does not have to go very far to see that. Some of the most prestigious universities have become hotbeds of leftist values that for example see Israel as an Apartheid state that use Nazi-like tactics to control  Palestinians living under their thumb! Israelis are the aggressors and the poor civilians of Gaza and the West Bank are victims of Israel’s brutal military occupation!  Anyone that disagrees with that point of view is seen as racist!

But the truth is that even though this is my opinion, I am not in the trenches. I do not frequent college campuses and have to rely on media reports. This is not the case with Rabbi Fisher. Regardless of how one feels about his politics or past activism, he actually is in the trenches. He is in a unique position to see what goes on there. Rabbi Fisher is not Charedi. He is not some sort of anti secular studies fanatic. He is a self described Centrist – and an adherent of the Torah U’Madda philosophy. Here is how he describes his credentials: 
I graduated college with a political science degree from Columbia University. Later, I graduated UCLA School of Law, where I was the chief articles editor of its Law Review. I then clerked in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, followed by practicing complex business litigation for more than a decade at two of the nation’s leading firms. For the past 15 years, I have been a law professor at two major California law schools where I teach advanced torts, civil procedure, and remedies. 
Not too many people are in the position Rabbi Fisher is in. And even if one might want to take his observations on this subject with a grain of salt, I would not do it with too big of a grain. I sense that for the most part he’s right. A lot of what he is saying is corroborated by what I have read about this phenomenon in the media.

His focus is on the Modern Orthodoxy (MO). By which I believe he means the Hashkafa to the left of the Centrism to which he adheres. (I believe they would qualify as Left Wing Modern Orthodox but not quite Open Orthodox). There are a lot of Orthodox Jews like this. They raise their children to be observant – having sent them to day schools and Yeshiva high schools and maybe to Israel for the gap year. But they then seek to send them to the finest universities. That endangers their very Judaism and thereby the very future of Modern Orthodoxy. Here in part is how he puts it: 
The simple reality is that Modern Orthodoxy is in peril because its leaders in the late 1950s and 1960s never envisioned the current utter debasement of American culture and society. In particular, they did not envision the socialist-brainwashing and reeducation-camp intimidation that has overtaken American colleges… 
(M)ost of these children simply will not survive four years of contemporary American college (and the vast majority of Modern Orthodox kids attend non-Jewish colleges)…  Children today are receiving, not a liberal arts education, but indoctrination. Indeed, the social climate today is so rife with intimidation that kids are essentially being brainwashed.
(In the 70s…) It not only was safe to be a Zionist at Columbia; Zionists stood tall, unintimidated. We got former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban invited as a visiting scholar for a year…
Today by contrast, a patriot like Gen. David Petraeus gets shouted off a CUNY campus…  It’s not just Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter being heckled. Less combative conservative voices – e.g., Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Dinesh D’Souza, and Heather MacDonald – are being canceled, too…  Colleges today will rarely hire for tenured roles in the social sciences the kinds of occasional conservative or religion-friendly professors whom they hired in the past. The departments are ideologically homogeneous. 
In our day, the non-Jewish universalist concerns were apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia, and the terror of being drafted to die in the jungles of Vietnam. Today, by contrast, there are no issues of majestic consequence. So college youth focus instead on physical intimacy, particularly anything to do with LGBT affairs... The entire gestalt and zeitgeist is completely alien to Torah values. The whole culture is one of hefkerus. And the situation will get only worse. 
This is a pretty strong indictment of college campuses today. And while one can quibble with the conservative politics that infuses his polemic, one cannot really argue too much with goes on there if one pays the slightest bit of attention to the news these days.

His solution to this problem is one that I have suggested many times. If you want your children to get a decent university education, Yeshiva University (YU) will give them the best chance of doing that while remaining with the Jewish values with which you raised them.

Although as Rabbi Fisher notes, there are no guarantees if you do, that is still clearly the best option. The fact is that even if you were to send your child to a Charedi day school and high school there are still no guarantees.  There is an unprecedented number of Charedi youth that go OTD too.  Not to mention all the problems associated with some Charedi schools that delegitimize secular studies entirely.

Bottom line: If you are a parent who wants the best of both worlds for your child -  with the best chance of remaining with the religious values in which you raised them, a Yeshiva that places a high value in both Torah and Madda is the obvious choice.