I’ve been reading a lot of posts about Jewish education, often in the context of the economic difficulties we are currently in. I’d like to just sketch a few alternative models for Jewish education that may be more sustainable than what we’ve got now.
Existing day schools slash costs and give a bare-bones offering. No extra-curriculars (or pay-as-you-go), no AP classes, and a scaled-back Judaics curriculum. High schools run for only three years and graduate students per the minimum state standards (like a NY Regents diploma). Access to education is increased, and quality instruction will still be available, but less will be taught. Students who want to get into top colleges will need to go elsewhere.
Community schools. For this to work, all denominations need to pull together to make the schools attractive to all. Secular studies will benefit from economies of scale, and facilities and overhead costs will be significantly reduced. Judaic studies can be offered on different tracks, so that parents can still have their children study the brand of Judaism they subscribe to. The big obstacle here is participation of the Orthodox, most of whom would not send their children to a co-educational school, or to a school where they might be exposed to ‘heterodox’ children and influences.
Public schooling/Charter school followed by Talmud Torah/Hebrew School. Though this model can be economically affordable, it suffers two major flaws. For the Orthodox, sending your kids to public school is the only thing worse than sending them to a community day school. For the non-Orthodox, Hebrew schools are usually a 4-6 hours/week commitment. Kids very quickly get the message that Hebrew School isn’t important. Little of educational value ends up being achieved, which only confirms that the exercise is not valuable.
Home-schooling networks. These are great ideas, especially for small communities, but I can’t imagine how these would scale up to meet the needs of large Jewish communities. That said, their existence will particularly benefit the Orthodox, for whom home-schooling wouldn’t carry much of a stigma.
As for me, I would like to see Model 2, the community schools, become the dominant model. Enough already with all of our separate institutions and insistence on ideological purity. Teaching our kids together is the surest and swiftest path towards greater Jewish unity, appreciation of Jewish diversity, and flowering community.