Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools

In the 1960’s the Catholic Ghetto walls came down. In the 1950’s Catholics went to Catholic school, lived in Catholic enclaves, and had all their social needs met by the catholic community.  One only left for graduate school or when certain professions required one to have non-Catholic co-workers.  In the nineteen sixties, everything changed. Catholics wanted in live in new locations,  new suburbs and exurbs, the idea that one should only live around Catholics declines and the cultural revolution of the 1960’s called into question the provincialism and parochialism of these enclaves.  Some of these Catholic Ghettos dissolved entirely – from near total allegiance to the Church to minimal attendance, and even then only by the elderly.

Catholic teaching taught that building a parochial school is more important than a Church and that one would lose one’s faith in public school.  Jews at this point were in favor of public schools, and many of the orthodox saw day schools as entirely unneeded for girls and a hot bed of Zionism.

The question is: Can the Orthodox Jewish community learn anything from the Catholic example? Are there things to learn about rapid declines of enclaves? Are there any reasons it wont happen to places like Teaneck? Will the young gen y- millennials share their parents Modern Orthodox provincialism?  What about when they move to new cities, new professions or disdain living with the gen-x’ers? Dont just say we are committed to our religion in a way that Catholics are not.  Catholics were more committed and  had a much longer tradition of day schools.

Let’s turn to day schools. The Catholic system lost most of its attendees in the nineteen sixties. By the end of the decade they were down to 15%.  N ow 40 years later they find themselves as an unsustainable system strapped for cash and may have to close. What can Orthodox Jews learn from it? I am not sure but we should ask ourselves what we can learn.

The quotes below are from a variety of papers. Some are based on a 2007 Notre Dame Study and some from the Bergen county schools. One factor they cite is that without nuns they have to pay real salaries for teachers. Is anyone here old enough to remember when Jewish day school teachers were seriously underpaid? We cannot go back to hiring Holocaust survivors who don’t live in our communities or to being months behind on salary payments.

Also many Jews and Catholics went to parochial school to avoid the public school in immigrant neighborhoods. We don’t live in immigrant neighborhoods anymore and many public schools are of the same class and caste as the parochial schools. The article also points out that we expect more. We are not first generation college bound anymore. There are currently high expectations for a school. When parents were lacking in either general  or Jewish studies they expected less. Now what?

Many parents of children in Catholic schools attended these schools themselves and look back nostalgically at a day when Catholic schools, just a step past “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” were staffed by nuns, brothers and priests. Today, however, they account for a mere 4% of the staff, many of them in administration.

The glory days of the U.S. Catholic parochial school are gone, according to a new University of Notre Dame report, and the church must rethink its mission in order to recapture the school system’s lost luster.
The nuns and priests who educated generations of American Catholics are almost gone, retired or deceased.. Faculty salaries are too low while tuitions and costs are rising, the report says.

Catholic schools are in steep decline, their enrollment having “steadily dropped by more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago.”Among the better-known reasons: 1) nuns and priests who once staffed teaching positions have retired and their ranks have not been renewed in the near-total absence of new American “vocations”; 2) as urban Catholics suburbanized over the past two generations, Church officials for various reasons did not choose to follow them out by establishing suburban schools in large numbers; 3) having fully entered the mainstream of American life, Catholics are less drawn than previously to separate institutions.

There was a time when parochial schools seemed almost omnipresent, when the daily migration of kids in plaid clothes seemed to fill every street. However, with enrollments plummeting and one school after another closing its doors, the torrent of Catholic school kids has become a trickle, and it looks like the days of Catholic education may well be numbered.

When it comes to Catholic education in America, the numbers are downright startling. In 1965, approximately half of all Catholic families sent their kids to parochial schools; today, roughly 15% do so. While there are numerous reasons for this, the big one seems to be that the cost of parochial school has vastly increased. Once upon a time, Catholic classes were largely taught by clerics. Today, however, fewer Catholics are choosing to enter the priesthood or the nunnery; in fact, one statistic states that there are presently more nuns over 90 than under 50 years old.

Another concern has been a reduction in religious definition. For many people, Catholicism has become less of an all-consuming lifestyle and more of a part-time identity. Where Catholic education was once a responsibility for Catholic parents, it is increasingly becoming an expensive luxury.

Furthermore, in areas where public education has improved, parochial education has suffered. For example, in Northern Virginia, where I grew up, Catholic schools once offered the best educational choices. However, as the area’s schools have improved, Catholic education has simply become a more expensive option.

You might have not seen the former paragraphs which were from NYT and other papers. But what about those who live in Bergen county? Did you not see the Bergen record two months ago? Has anyone called any of the Catholic parochial schools to see if anything can be brainstormed together? This article is on the remaining 15% of Catholics still going to parochial school having to leave because of the 2009 recession. They closed 40 out of 137 schools in the last few years. In addition, the local public schools which uses licensed teachers are currently seen as offering a superior education.

Bergen Record – Catholic schools enrollment drop blamed on economy
Friday, November 13, 2009 BY TONY GICAS

CLIFTON — The economic downturn has created frightening unemployment rates, forced many Americans to foreclose on their homes, brought sticker shock into the nation’s grocery stores and has even changed the way people plan their children’s education.

More specifically, many New Jerseyans have either decided to take their children out of parochial schools or send them to public schools because of the financial commitment required at most Catholic schools.

According to Brian Gray, a spokesman for the National Catholic Education Association, enrollment at America’s Catholic schools reached its peak in the 1960s with about 5.2 million students. By 1980 that number had dropped to approximately 3.1 million and last year the nationwide enrollment hit 2.19 million.

In September 2000, the Newark Archdiocese had 137 grade schools in Union, Essex, Hudson and Bergen counties. Now, it has just 97. The school population in neighboring Paterson jumped by 1,000 students this year, a 3.5 percent increase in the district that has about 28,000 students, the district reported.

“I think down the line if the economy continues this way the tuition at parochial schools will remain unaffordable to many and the numbers will continue to decline,” Tardalo said.

“Therefore they may desire a private education for their children, but if they have to they’ll opt to send their children to a public school.”

He said parochial schools offered “an equivalent educational experience” during his time as a Catholic school principal, however he did stipulate their teachers do not face the same licensing requirements as public school teachers.

I exclude from my discussion the wealthy Jewish prep schools like Ramaz becuase they are based on having a financial endowment  and have a different constituency. The question remains- Will the average Jewish days schools decline the way the Catholic schools did? Why not? Why do we think we have a more sustainable system than the Catholic schools? Even if everyone struggles to keep their kids in their current day school, will those 10  years younger than you want to enter this rat race? Will your kids want to continue this struggle? Anyone have good data about those moving to the new Sun Belt suburbs? I have no solutions, only historical questions.

This post came from running into a neighbor HF in the grocery for whom this is a major concern. It is a write-up of a discussion that occurred by meat aisle. I do want to write this up as an op-ed at some point.

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill · All Rights Reserved

25 responses to “Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools

  1. A very interesting post, about which my wife and I struggle as our son, currently a student in SAR, nears high school age. I related to another interesting parallel between the Jewish and Catholic communities at my blog.

  2. One of the strengths of the Orthodox community in the late 20th century was that it was a fairly middle-class to wealthy community, particularly in contrast to the immigrant community of the early 20th century. This allowed us to spend thousands of dollars per kid to send them to private schools. I do not see Orthodoxy being able to survive in a world where the vast majority of their kids are not in religious private schools. We have a big enough problem sending kids off to college.

    Perhaps we could do joint schools with the Catholics and split the costs. Kind of like how you have Reform Temples that are also churches part time. :p

  3. Dr. Brill thank you for this most important post on this issue. As I mentioned to you last week, (in the meat aisle) I have been using my blog to explore all issues related to the Bergen County Jewish tuition crisis over the last few weeks. If you don’t mind I am going to cross post this in the next few days.

  4. HF- I have no problem with cross-posts, especially since the comments here are moderated and I would have little patience for 200 comments.

    Michael P- great comment on your blog. There is a lot to be said on the topic. Feel free to add bibliographies.
    A closer example to look at is Long Island, which is more like Bergen county. Boston had older neighborhoods – LI was all new and all decisions were made by parents of school age children. We have studies on why the south shore of LI declined- more parochial schools and other similar decisions to Bergen, while the North Shore prospered. The studies also have breakdowns by % of Catholics and Jews and who voted for what in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

    Izgad- late 20th century is a bit unnuanced. especially as I sit here in Essex county where the road between Newark and Short Hills,- as transversed in Goodbye Columbus- is differentiated with many economic distinctions that came to be over more than half a century. In 1960, most were not wealthy.

  5. Any word on how the NNJKids fund raising program is affecting things? Assessing $360 per family per year should go a long way to resolving Jewish day school funding issues.

    • Go visit HonestlyFrum to find out about NNJK they are debating the issues. I only know the history.
      Anyone else who wants to debate this in practical terms go to HonestlyFrum.
      I am interested in the issues that Michael P shared with us, history, sociology, comparisons of the religions in creating ethnic enclaves., the history of education.

    • Len Moskowitz – Assessing $360 per family per year should go a long way to resolving Jewish day school funding issues.

      I don’t understand this statement. How would such a small amount per family “go a long way” towards resolving the funding issues?

      For a real-life example, I have 5 children and my tuition bill is approximately $75,000 per year. If I can only afford half this amount, it would require over 100 other families donation of $360 each to cover the shortfall. The question is – are there 100 such families that can do this (just for this one case)?

  6. Kudos on the Roth quote.

    I am not getting the overheatedness of this debate (more on HF than here). Having been to Bergen and other Modern Orthodox communities, it seems to me like none of them are in poor or even middle class neighborhoods. It is pretty obvious that this is bürgerlich religion at its best. Now, if someone wants this lifestyle but cannot afford it, they are probably sadly misguided. I feel sympathy for their error. But at the same time, why is wanting to live in Teaneck or Livingston much more plausible than wanting to live in Alpine or UES? We do not generally have sympathy for those who cannot afford the latter and need to settle for middle class suburbia. One might be better served directing their sympathy and energy towards the actually disadvantaged people in this country. There is not a shortage.

  7. Dr. Brill

    I was talking about the Orthodox community, specifically the Modern Orthodox community. I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that we, as a community, operate on a middle class model. Find me a MO shul in which factory workers outnumber lawyers. Obviously this is part of a larger trend in American culture. This plays into Chakira’s comment. Because Orthodoxy requires its members to live within walking distance of a shul and most Orthodox Jews are expected at least to be middle class it is not workable to ask Jews of a lower economic class to live in a lower class neighborhood.

    On a different note, one could draw some interesting parallels between the role of nuns and Haredim. Catholic schools were economical back before the 1960s were there was a greater supply of nuns willing to work well below market value. Lose the nuns and Catholic schools become economically unfeasible. Modern Orthodox schools have been hiring Haredim, who are willing to live on and work for less, thus putting out a cheaper product and keeping tuition lower. This obviously has an effect on the sort of ideologies which are taught. Can our school system be kept even vaguely economically feasible, if we insist on hiring people who do not openly scorn our values?

  8. The major difference seems to be that Catholic school flourished as an alternative to poor urban public schools while days school became widespread at the time of suburbanization. Some of these areas like the five towns already had good public schools but the growing frum population still built day schools. I think the greater challenge is whether the next generation of Orthdox parents will embrace the parochialism of their parents. Why did Catholic school enrollment drop dramatically in an era of suburbanization (post-1960’s) when day school enrollment increased at that same time? I don’t think its simply because of rising tuition costs, it also had to do with the fact that a large percentage of catholic laity felt that Church leaders were unresponsive to their concerns. Perhaps that should be the real warning for modern Orthodoxy.

  9. I don’t necessarily agree with the comparison between Catholic and Jewish schools.

    In the 60s and 70s, the wave of liberalism was at its peak. Atheism was the new hot topic, and many people left their religions. Additionally, there is the basic Christian belief that faith in Jesus is the most important thing, and everything else is secondary. So, to Catholics, you could go to public school instead of a religious school, and still be a good Catholic – just have faith in Jesus, and be a good person.

    In Judaism, people recognize that faith in God is not the only thing that counts. Parents realize that for their kids to remain good, observant Jews, most of the time having only a public school education wouldn’t be a good thing. Religious schools are necessary. There is also the fact that in Judaism, Torah study is considered an obligation on almost everyone, while Catholics don’t have that view.

    I think that while many Jewish parents may say they’ll look into public schools, it’s only something they’d do as a last resort. They will do whatever they can to get their kids into a religious school. Catholics willingly left to go to public schools. I think that key point is why Jewish schools won’t go the way of Catholic schools.

  10. I am responding to this one because it helps clarify the point. American religion reverses trends every 25-35 years since the 1730’s. The 1960’s witnessed people fleeing religion and the 1980’s and 1990’s saw a return to religion. We are now at the start of a new downturn for religion. It might have been nice to blog in 1980 when people were turning to religion but I am blogging now when the trend is being reversed. I am just offering the various studies I receive daily.
    In the 1890’s there were Yom Kippur balls, then the Lower East Side stabilized, at the start of the new century. The majority of Eastern European Jews were lost to religion in the 1930’s, but in the 1950’s, they returned as denominations, and in the 1960’s, Orthodoxy lost 45%.
    In the state of Israel, turns to and from religion do not coincide with the dates in America, however, the religious Zionist world in the last 12 years lost not less than 25% (official newspaper number) and probably closer to 35% when studies will be redone in a few years..(Even Meah Shearim emptied out in the 1920’s and then again in the late 1950’s..)

    Your comment is pejorative to Catholics. If you speak about another faith please learn something about it. Catholics have been going to parochial school since the 16th century. It is part of their mission. They were absolute frightened to go to Public school and they were the least mobile and committed to their dioceses. Jews have only been doing it the last few decades. Catholics have daily prayers; prayers before eating, feast days, Lent, Marian devotion, saint days, study and worship, many even today have spent a year studying full time post HS. Catholics have to do works, an abstract faith is not enough. Do not confuse them with whatever form of low church Protestant that you have in mind. Orthodox Jews in the 1950’s were certainly more “low-church” and required less religion than Catholics. Jews threw themselves into careers and were noticeable the most mobile.
    As those involved in the current religious revival, Mormons and many (some?) Modern orthodox Jews may be listed as observant but not having the indicators for being religious. There was a Pew study earlier last year differentiating those who pause to think about God in their daily lives from those who create rules for a community. The question is what is needed for continuity? In the 1980’s when people wanted structure, then structure was what was required What is required now?
    So we have three separate questions on the table. (1) The change of the decades. (2) Can we learn anything from the Catholics to prevent a collapse (3) The economic factors in sustaining a parochial school in America. I am trying to help here. But it is important to look at the data. .

    While we are here for data, please go to the Jewish Data Bank
    http://www.jewishdatabank.org/default.asp
    Bergen county in 2001 was the second wealthiest Jewish county in the country with the second highest house prices for a county. It also was the 3rd lowest intermarriage rate at 17%.

  11. Sorry to be so insistent on this point. But almost every commenter wants to attribute day school to some religious ideal. It is almost as we are debating the relative merits of various pietistic practices. For better or for worse, I think we are discussing something altogether different. What we are discussing is the evolution of social mechanisms of reproduction of social, religious and real capital. If you read the comments over on HF, fast approaching 300, this becomes clear as day. If God was involved here, we would not hear about Chopstix dinners and schnorers and teachers who take scholarships from hard working BC lawyers and doctors. We are not discussing invisible modes of causation here, we are discussing visible modes of aspiration. On one side are people who aspire to the high pricetag MO lifestyle. On the other are those who are in the club, increasingly resentful of the burdens of the arrivistes. The latter are paying good money to reproduce their values and are tired of paying for the former. I predict that the aspirational MOs will need to construct alternative religious structures. I would advise them to start with a religion that does not require high priced prep schools and trips to Israel.

    • chakira, want to do a serious Pierre Bourdieu analysis of the income aspiration? In addition, Bourdieu has an essay on the economic of houses of worship and the importance of having underpaid women to make Church life work. There are probably a lot of valuable insights in the article for the Orthodox community.
      Which reminds me of a statistic that may play a large role in these discussions. Whenever Modern Orthodoxy is compared to Evangelicals, one of the statistics that stands out is that Evangelical want only the man to work, for modern orthodox – both spouses work. So there are less female teachers to make the school work. There is also a statistic out there that MO couples are closer in education and profession than Reform and Conservative couples. I dont remember which study it is, but they have more synagogue ladies.

  12. Economy for Catholic schools is different than for most Jewish schools, I think, not having a lot of experience of either. But my wife taught in a Catholic school shortly before we were married (20 years ago?) for $10,500 a year, at a time when entry-level teachers in the NYC schools were getting about $27,000. I had a friend who lived in Philadelphia who was making about that kind of money, from which she lived in a small studio apt across the street from a porno theatre in Center City.

    Meanwhile, the Jewish schools at least try to pay a living wage. Ramaz pays only a bit less than public schools, and does that while charging huge tuition, perhaps twice or more what the NYC public schools spend per student.

  13. Out my window, I can see a row of red-brick buildings in a hodgepodge of institutional styles. They’re the physical evidence of the largest Catholic parish in my city, which at its peak served more than 10,000 parishioners, and enrolled nearly a thousand students in its schools. In addition to the enormous church, it featured a parish house, a convent, a hospital, two school buildings, and separate gymnasia for boys and girls, all contained on a single block. The parochial school closed down several decades ago, and was shuttered. The buildings are now being retrofitted to house a charter school. The hospital is now a city-operated nursing home. The convent has been condo-ized. Of the empire, only the church and the parish house remain. The church holds a great many funerals. The only masses that attract anything approaching a crowd are those on significant feast days. And the congregation has split in two – the vestigial Irish-Catholic remnant, and a younger and vibrant group of several hundred Hispanic families whose services are conducted in Spanish, and held separately. It’s one story, but it’s not an atypical narrative.

    These schools were built up a century ago, at a time when the public schools in this city were actually, well, excellent. Exemplary. Housed in brand-new facilities of their own. The Jewish community here sent their children to those public schools, and supplemented their education with Hebrew School lessons. The building that they erected to house it is now a Portugese Men’s Club. (The one into which they relocated in the ’50s as Jews fled to the suburbs is now a special-needs school.) The school here was progressive for its day – it offered instruction in Hebrew language when it opened at the turn of the century, which was something of a scandal – but it was not the focus of institutional energies. Its building was fairly drab, and late on the scene. By the time it went up, there were already a pair of gorgeous monumental synagogues – one for the sephardim, and one for the ashkenazim. As the original post noted, the creation of a parallel schooling system for the modern orthodox, particularly of a system that extends through high school, is a relatively recent phenomena. And, as other commenters note, it is one that may well have exceeded sustainability.

    There are, I think, three reasons for the present crisis, and the Catholic parallel is instructive:

    1 – The Crisis of the Clergy: When Rabbi Brill was a day-school teacher of mine, he stood out from much of the faculty, a fact which was not lost on the students. Like the Catholic Clergy, the Rabbinate was once among the most prestigious outlets for young men, a path to educational opportunity and social status, particularly for those of modest backgrounds. . How many in the Modern Orthodox world would describe the pulpit or the dayschool classroom as ‘prestigious’? This goes well beyond economics. For all their problems, you can earn more teaching talmud at a day school – with better benefits – than cobbling together adjunct positions in Judaic Studies. And yet Judaic Studies programs are perennially oversubscribed, and we can’t find enough Modern Orthodox dayschool teachers. (We stock our faculties with haredim, or with disappointed Judaic Studies scholars.) More recently, Modern Orthodox women have moved into the broader professional workforce in increasing numbers. A Stern alumna is more likely to be an occupational therapist than a teacher; a woman graduating Penn more likely to be a consultant than a school psychologist. Day schools now compete for labor in the general market – fewer of their faculty feel a special sense of calling, and they’re commensurately less willing to make sacrifices. In broad terms, day school teachers have grown more expensive, and perhaps relatively less extraordinary.

    2 – Upscaling – Jews have done well in this country. Very well, indeed. That’s equally true (or, perhaps, particularly true) of the Modern Orthodox community. But as they have climbed the socioeconomic ladder, their expectations have also been raised. If the goal of a day school is to provide an education roughly equal in quality to that of a standard public school, as well as a limudei kodesh curriculum, this may be attainable at a relatively modest cost. It’s a replicable model. What you lose in time and resources you gain back in demographics and parental commitment. But when the goal becomes equalling the education provided by a day school in a tony suburb, or even that of an elite preparatory school, the stakes have been raised considerably. Educational costs have been outpacing inflation throughout the country. The remarkable thing about day school tuition, frankly, is that it’s not substantially higher than it is. Day schools are offering many more instructional hours for roughly the cost (to taxpayers) of elite public schools. That’s actually a substantial achievement. But if a community is effectively paying for the public schools (through its property taxes) as well as the day schools, it becomes an unsustainable burden. And that’s what we’re facing.

    3- Integration: America is a vastly more comfortable place for religious Jews today than it was just a couple of decades ago. That change has manifested itself in a variety of interesting ways. One of the most counterintuitive is probably the very growth of the day school culture – the reason that the movement took off in the post-war era was that for the first time, it was possible to be both substantially and outwardly faithful to tradition and accepted by the broader society. Until then, most Jews who wished to ascend conventional avenues of success chose the path of integration, to greater or lesser extents, and attending public schools was seen as an indispensable part of that. But as day schools have succeeded in reaching ever-broader swathes of the Jewish community. In 2004, Avi Chai counted nearly 29,000 students enrolled in 87 ‘Modern Orthodox’ schools. (Overall, there were more than 200k, roughly split between chassidic/yeshivish and all other varieties.) Enrollment is still growing, and at a fairly rapid clip. That bespeaks the fundamental Orthodox commitment to Judaic education, which is laudable. But it’s also produced a heavy irony – in siphoning off the most affluent segment of the centrist and modern orthodox communities, day schools effectively crowded-out other forms of Orthodox Judaic education. I can’t think of a town with an orthodox day school and an orthodox after-school program. The old ways of balancing tradition and integration – pursuing both in tandem – gave way to the new approach of pursuing both at the same time. In many ways, this has been fabulous. But as increasing numbers of families succumb to the rapidly increasing financial pressure, there simply isn’t any infrastructure left to support them. It’s become the day school or nothing – and for some families, those are two losing choices.

    So the day school faculty is out of step with the students, parents, and communities. They’ve grown increasingly ambitious and expensive. And their success has crowded out the older alternatives.

    If there’s a lesson in the Catholic experience, it’s that this doesn’t end well. When communities saddle themselves with an infrastructure they are no longer interested in or capable of supporting, both the community and its institutions tend to decline more rapidly than they otherwise might. Higher and higher costs are imposed on declining numbers of participants, forcing difficult choices. And with religious affiliation generally waning, and an ever-more-welcoming civil society, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which a Catholic resident of my city looks out his window, and reflects on the shuttered day school campus he sees.

    So to answer Rabbi Brill’s original question, where are we headed?

    I suspect (or at least, I hope) that we’re going to see the revival of some of those alternative methods of education. We’re living in a golden age of Jewish scholarship, but surprisingly little of it penetrates our day schools. Few products of Judaic Studies programs are interested in teaching at day schools; some of the brightest graduates of our rabbinical programs take their smicha, and pursue alternative careers. There’s a vast talent pool out there that’s largely untapped for secondary education.

    What about part-time education with part-time educators? It’s a model that seems particularly viable in affluent suburbs that are blessed with superb public middle- and high-schools. Committed Orthodox families could send their children to day school for elementary, ensuring that they have a proper grounding in both the values and technical skills of Judaic education. But pulling them out after 5th or 8th grade would dramatically lower the cost of a Jewish education. Given that half of the curriculum of day schools is already offered – and often at a much higher level – at public schools, the important thing would be to offer the other half.

    Most Hebrew High Schools are fairly desultory affairs, staffed by well-meaning teachers and disinterested students. For the most part, their enrollees are not day-school graduates. But imagine, if you will, a Hebrew High School staffed with teachers who are brighter and better-qualified than the instructors these students encounter during the week. Holders of Judaic Studies doctorates, frustrated musmachs of YU unsatisfied practicing law – there are any number of immensely qualified people who could teach a few hours a week, but who are uninterested in committing to a full time school job. And if the students have significant background, the strong and committed support of their parents, and are embedded within a vibrant orthodox community and thriving shul, there’s reason to think that their attitudes would also be different from those currently enrolled in such institutions, who largely hail from less religious backgrounds.

    I see us at a forking point. We can pursue the Catholic path, and prepare to hit a point at which the attractions of our community are overwhelmed by its costs. Or we can create a second set of institutions, capable of weaving an equally strong community at a fraction of the price.

  14. For some reason I keep coming back to this question of day school education. Lately I have begun to think that the latent assumption of the system right now is that even if it is not (for arguments sake) too expensive, it cannot be scaled up. This hinders any evangelism on the part of MO jews– we cannot accept 20,000 Africans or even a bunch of disaffected Haredim. The Mormons can.
    If day schools did collapse, might we see an inverse proportionate rise in MO evangelism? With a scaled down supplementary model you might also need bigger numbers to compensate for bigger dropout.

  15. Dr. Brill, In relation to this topic I wonder if you could comment on the unwillingness of MO families to move out of large enclaves to reinforce or establish smaller communities in areas with lower costs of living.

    In the 60s-70s it seems that more people born and bred in the inner boroughs were willing to move outward to places where there were growing job markets for professionals and worry about schools later. Was this originally driven solely as a byproduct of white flight or were there other factors?

    Now the children who grew up in these suburbs gravitate to them almost exclusively. And unfortunately they happen to be in places with some of the highest overall rates of taxation in the entire country.

    Perhaps this is less about an unwillingness to compromise on schools and more of an unwillingness to compromise on a large selection of shuls and kosher restaurants.

  16. I think I need you to free associate a bit more in order for me to be able to answer your question. Without fully understanding the emphasis of your question, I offer the following observations as a basis for a definition of your question.

    Centrism was linked to a specific socio-economic trend that linked religion, ideology, and lifestyle as one. Everyone was a professional and moderately successful.

    In the 1970’s people understood that some sibling would be rich and some poor, some religious and some not. Riv-Ellen Prell deals with some of these anxieties in 1970’s Jewish suburbia. An era of Jap jokes, over the top bar mitzvah’s, and stereotypes of the Jewish husbands never home.

    I dont think shuls and kosher restaurants are the convenience. It is the community. Centrist is tied to a narrow lifestyle range. Out of town does things differently and people are uncomfortable with out of town.

    Everyone assumes that they are the same as the guys with whom they attended yeshiva and camp. They dont take into account that social distinctions occur. You are no longer in the same class, caste, economic strata as your classmates. In the 1970’s it was understood that people fan out. If one is not Centrist Orthodox a law partner, and the IT guy in the firm and the guy in the mail room live in three different neighborhoods. In orthodoxy, everyone lives together. There is not a sense that live goes on changing and economic and social changes occur.
    As noted above, there is a sense of entitlement in the community that everyone should have the same wealth, class, caste.
    I do think many have moved away. Some to Florida and elsewhere. Some to Passaic. But many more to Queens and Brooklyn. They can live their lives differently in those places.

    Since historically Jews and the most mobile group, I am not sure how great the reluctance actually is. The Jewish demographic statistics from 2010-2012 will offer hard numbers.

    Try reformulating the question.

  17. I see your point. I suppose then the question then is that as far as I can tell many MO suburban communities are comprised mainly of a professional class whose earnings tend to fall in a range such that most families do not deviate too greatly from the median. However, if the median income in these communities cannot support putting 4 kids through day school, then the logical thing to do would be to move where the cost of living is lower. But instead of couples buying houses in such places they tend to move where they apparently can’t afford to live further driving up the cost of real estate and property taxes in these neighborhoods.

    So perhaps there is an inability to accept the reality that those who grew up in the 80s-90s will tend not to of not being as successful as their parents given that their idea of a successful life means living in the inner suburbs and paying for their kids educations from nursery through college.

    Also, if you look at places that are huge economic attractors, while some areas have created sizable communities like Silver Spring, more recently in Florida, perhaps beginning in Houston now, other areas that tend to be magnets for professionals have not and I wonder whether there is a general explanation that underlies these trends.

    I think that a long term solution to the school problems needs to think along the lines of creating more sustainable communities overall.

  18. I believe that an important element of this discussion is how important sending one’s children to a Jewish school is to a Modern Orthodox Jewish Identity.

    Almost all Modern Orthodox (and all Orthodox) instinctively think that one cannot be Orthodox without sending their kids to Jewish Schools.

    Once sending ones kids to public schools becomes not just a viable option, but reaches a tipping point where it is “normal”, and one can consider themselves self-respecting Orthodox Jews, even though their children are in public schools, then I expect many more parents to start sending their kids to public schools.

    • The choice is very stark – having [many] fewer kids and sending them to Jewish day schools or having more kids and sending them elsewhere.

      The decision is simple – have ~2 kids and send them to Jewish day schools or have ~5 kids and send them elsewhere. I have 5 kids and made my decision (at least for now).

  19. My wife and I have 3 children. At one point in time we had them all going to Jewish schools however with the downturn in business have elected to send them to public schools however we are also sending them to Hebrew school.

    We believe that having a Jewish identity starts at home and Hebrew school reinforces those same values we instill at home.

    We’re very happy with our decision.

  20. Yonatan
    Interesting use of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point! So how many and what kind of Jews would it take to make public school acceptable. I have this idea that the Haredim in New York could try calling society’s bluff. What would happen if Haredim in very Orthodox neighborhoods would send their kids to public school in numbers that they could take it over?

  21. 1) In re-reading the comments, I noticed that AB was looking for solutions, not problems. One possibility would be to hire Israelis to teach Limudei Kodesh who would come to the USA for 3-5 and could be paid significantly less than Americas.

    General studies could use either the online or charter school model. Or, alternatively, use a charitable model of using retired or semi-retired community members who would teach at a reduced rate.

    Of course, this would require pushing the reset button on the current pay/hiring model, so it may only be viable for new schools or for schools willing to close down and start from scratch.

    A major problem would be what to do with the legacy issue of Rabbeim who have been teaching for 10+ years, but who are no longer affordable.

    Izgad. You overestimate how hard it would be for public schools to assimilate Haredim. If they can assimilate muslim immigrants who cover their head (just take the NYC subways) or my super’s daughter who didn’t speak a word of English before schools, they should have little problem assimilating Haredi children who are, by and large, culturally American anyway.

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