An interesting article in the Jewish Standard suggests that parents are ready to explore new options for what a Modern Orthodox school could look like. As the tuition crisis overshadows the shidduch crisis, I’m finding myself more and more irritated by the total lack of vision and perspective displayed by both parents and leadership.
I attended Netiv Meir, a premiere yeshiva high school in Jerusalem, where most students dormed. The school was widely acknowledged as perhaps the best religious high schools, and one of the best high schools, period, in Israel.
Let me tell you a bit about my school. Our day began with davening at 7 am, and we finished our last class at about 6pm. Following davening and dinner we had night seder and study hall. We didn’t free up until 9pm Sunday through Thursday. Fridays were a half-day, and we stayed in every other Shabbat too. The school had about 500 students in four grades, and served three meals a day and maintained four dormitory buildings.
The key difference between this excellent school and American MO schools was the student-to-teacher ratio, and the approach to extracurriculars. In Netiv Meir, there were forty students to a class. That’s right, forty. In the article above, they talk about going from an 18:1 ratio at the expensive schools to a 25:1 ratio at a proposed cheaper school. Yet my school achieved academic excellence with a 40:1 ratio.
As for extracurriculars, there basically weren’t any. There were no athletic teams or choirs or anything of the sort. Anyway, who had the time? We spent as many as six hours a day learning Torah. Night seder was the extracurricular activity! Physical education was not neglected by any means – this school was training future soldiers in the IDF, and our gym classes involved reaching certain requirements for distance running, pushups, situps, and pullups.
We played sports in our free time, but not in organized leagues. There were no debate teams, but we did study three languages (Hebrew, English and Arabic – and Aramaic, I suppose), and everyone learned biology, chemisty, physics, algebra, geomety, trigonometry and calculus. We learned computer programming (on old computers perhaps, but we gained real knowledge), history, Tanach, literature and so on.
No class had a teacher’s aid. Most classes didn’t use fancy textbooks. Yet the graduates of this school knew more math, science, and Torah in 10th grade than any graduate of the MO instutions in New York like HAFTR, DRS, Flatbush, Ramaz, TABC, Frisch, and SAR.
We need to recalibrate our expectations and our sense of what is possible if we are going to create an exceptional and sustainable edcuational model for our communities. We need to questions orthodoxies like the idea that student-to-teacher ratios are critical, or that extracurriculars are required if our children arte going to get into good colleges, or that it’s ok for our kids to graduate high school without being fluent in Hebrew, and without being capable of learning a daf of Gemara on their own. We might also do well to acknowledge that day care, school, and summer camp are all related to the same need to educate our kids, socialize them, and free Mom and Dad to earn a living and maintain a household.
I’ve written a bit about possible alternative models for Jewish education on this blog. I fear I might not have been bold enough myself in proposing solutions but perhaps I was succesful in laying out some tradeoffs. What other fresh ideas are out there?