Monday, April 15, 2019

But we can’t use the defense of parent’s “right to choose” to defend yeshivas that severely disadvantage graduates like myself. There is no parental nor communal right or defense for neglecting a child’s education....

Elite private schools help keep yeshivas in Dark Ages


Lawsuit hinders state's effort to ensure basic education at Jewish schools


Roughly 20 years ago I graduated from a Hasidic yeshiva high school that failed to instruct me to read or write in English, or educate me in basic math, science, or history. Today, yeshivas are suing to continue their decades long pattern of educational neglect, without any regard to the suffering of their students. And like Sun Tsu famously wrote, “all warfare is based on deception,” they’re masters at manipulation. But the state and courts must not be blinded by their tactics.

Last November the New York State Education Department revised its guidelines for non-public schools to make sure that all students in New York receive an education that’s up to standard, as required by law. For many years, Hasidic yeshivas have been violating the constitutional rights of their students, ignoring state law, and systematically neglecting the education of their students. Subsequently, over the years, thousands of young Jewish Hasidic boys have been left without even a rudimentary education. Thanks to the efforts of Naftuli Moster, the executive director of Yaffed, and a group of former students and parents, the state finally stepped up its commitment to reasonable oversight.

But what started as an advocacy effort over a social, ethical, and civil injustice has now spiraled into a political and religious battle. In March, a group of Catholic and elite private schools—like Brearley and Spence—filed separate lawsuits to prevent the state from enforcing the guidelines. What is most appalling here is that the Hasidic yeshivas with severe educational deficiencies will benefit while the better private schools battle it out with the state.

One of the basic principles in conflict resolution is remembering to maintain focus on the problem at hand. The court and state must not be sidetracked by these lawsuits. It is unfortunate and even shocking that the elite private and Catholic schools which value education actually filed these lawsuits even though they’d likely easily pass any state inspection. But by fighting these guidelines they are providing cover for non-compliant Hasidic yeshivas and thereby enabling the ongoing and systemic educational neglect of Hasidic children.

Seth Godin, the prolific author, points out that it’s important for organizations not to forget who they are and to continuously reexamine their cultural DNA. In other words, they must ask themselves questions such as who do we serve? And what do those we serve need? His focus is on marketing, but the concept applies here as well. Hasidic yeshivas ought to ask themselves what their goals are and how they define success? Do they really want to be in the business of fighting to keep children uneducated? Do they want to be defined as fighting to weaken educational standards? Do they want to push for a position that will ensure that their graduates are unable to communicate effectively in English? Do they want to create an atmosphere where graduates are limited or fearful to navigate through the world?

No doubt that there is a parental right to educate their children according to their preferred religion and parents should certainly be able to send their children to schools of their choosing. There is also no doubt that many private religious schools are in compliance with the law and do an excellent job in terms of balancing a religious and secular curriculum. But we can’t use the defense of parent’s “right to choose” to defend yeshivas that severely disadvantage graduates like myself. There is no parental nor communal right or defense for neglecting a child’s education.