Peter Beinart on Day Schools

Back in 1999, Beinart framed the rise of day schools as a rejection of the original acceptance of public school. The growth of Jewish Day Schools is an abandonment of the American public square.

Beinart pointed out that the rise of day school had other factors than the obvious religious commitment. Even though day schools were originally for ideologically driven Orthodox who have not totally integrated into America, Day Schools became a form of private school for those moving up the latter.

Now, it seems the drive for day schools is the ideological need to create an enclave, in many classes an upper middle class Orthodox enclave. In this type of school, what counts? the education or the creation of the enclave? Some families are clearly still interested in creating private schools better than the public schools while others no longer ask if the day school if better than the public school in social studies, English, arts, or college preparation. Beinart reminds us to account for the role of the school in social mobility,class and caste. At the end of the twentieth century, day schools were “in” but the word “day school” may have had three different meanings- a prep school for Jews, a community school for identity, and a day school to create an enclave. Studies done by Avi Chai do not differentiate types of schools or factor in class and caste. (One of the decent studies available on the web, which was done privately by Alex Pomson, shows that in Toronto day schools are not growing relative to population increase.)

Jews supported public school because it helped enforce the separation of Church and State. Jews did encourage Christian kids to go to pre-Vatican II Catholic and Protestant schools because it would not have helped their integration. In those days, thinking of America as a Christian country would have meant Jews are excluded. Now, Jews do not worry about the possibility if there are Christian schools that do not offer an American secular narrative Jews do not worry about being outsiders. Nor do American Orthodox Jews currently worry about the possibility of Afrocentric, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh private schools.

What do day school parents feel about the melting pot? I would suspect that many are oblivious or against. Or it is only useful for everyone else. Do some of the parents see that if you exclude yourself from the socialization of the rest of the country then you start to look sectarian? Or if you accept the melting pot for viewing sports and listening to Lady Gaga, but not for social science thinking and historical narrative then you create a hybridization that may not work in all contexts. (In the full article, Beinhart cheers for the creation of the New-Jew HS in Boston as outside the box.)

Read full version of Beinart on Jewish schools here.

Preparing children for “the general American environment” meant public education as both practice and ideology. “The public school,” says Alvin I. Schiff, the Irving I. Stone Distinguished Professor of Education at Yeshiva University, in New York, “was considered sacred, holy. It was the method and setting by which Jews could become Americans.”
All the talk about Jewish identity may also obscure a less high-minded reason for the Jewish-school boom: as Jews have moved up the economic ladder, their commitment to public education has waned.
“As the public schools have eroded,” Miller says, “we are no longer being compared so much to public schools as to other independents.” Jewish leaders argue that because Jews make up such a small proportion of the U.S. population, the growth of Jewish schools has no real impact on the overall health of American public education. But public schools rely more heavily on Jewish support than the numbers would suggest, in part because Jewish organizations, fearful of any breakdown of the wall between Church and State, have traditionally lobbied hard against school vouchers and other government aid to private schools. As awareness grows that voucher programs might benefit financially strapped Jewish schools, that opposition may diminish.
Yet such parents, by choosing Jewish schools, are preparing their children to lead more observant, less assimilated lives than they do. Some even describe the phenomenon as an inversion of a practice in nineteenth-century Europe whereby parents would remain Jewish but baptize their children.
Why a growing number of relatively secular Jewish parents are abandoning the education model of their youth is a topic of considerable debate within the organized Jewish world

THERE is another, even more sensitive issue lurking behind the Jewish-school phenomenon. Earlier generations of Jews, according to Eduardo Rauch, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York, sent their children to public school not simply as a means of ascending into the middle class but as a show of national loyalty. Today, in contrast, parents are willing to consider Jewish schools in part because they no longer fear being viewed as outsiders. They take their integration into mainstream America as a given. But what if earlier generations were correct — that full equality in an overwhelmingly Christian country is, in fact, reliant on Jewish willingness to participate in a common system of education?
In fact, when discussing issues like Afrocentrism and bilingual education, American Jewish leaders sometimes bemoan the demise of the melting-pot ideal in this country. Yet separate religious schools both rely on that demise and exacerbate it. The Orthodox community, for its part, has rarely celebrated the melting pot, and generally worries less about total acceptance by the broader culture.

For our last discussion about day schools, see here- Catholic Schools and Jewish Day Schools.

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