In the urgent though quite frustrating debate about the future of Jewish Day School education, an argument is occasionally raised that the key factor for declining enrollments is not the cost of tuition, but rather the conclusion by many parents who can readily afford the high tuition that day school education provides insufficient value to their children and to their families.
This response is unpersuasive for the following reasons:
- While it is true that not all students within a particular school thrive, for reasons that relate both to the student and to the school, this observation applies to every single school irrespective of Jewish affiliation, pedagogical philosophy, as well as to non-denominational private schools and public schools. Not all “micro” issues concerning individual students are easily or even well accommodated in a “macro”-run school. Nevertheless, fair and honest observers conclude that Jewish day schools – across the board – provide excellent education within the parameters of respective funding restrictions.
- The issue of “value” seldom arises for parents, for families, for whom living a Jewish way of life with the sense of peoplehood and belonging to a historic group central to that way of life. For this group of families – not all Orthodox by the way – the key determinant is affordability.
- Lack of perceived value in Jewish education among families for whom affordability is not a factor is often a pretext for not seeing value in the need to instill in one’s children and ensure for the future that indispensable feeling of peoplehood.
This then becomes a sad cycle. For, without Jewish education, it is more difficult to instill and inculcate that feeling of purpose and delight that accompanies the feeling of belonging to the Jewish people.
And so, in relation to explaining a family’s educational choices for its children on the perceived lack of “value” of Jewish education, we bring the following to the attention of our readers.
In his response to the essay we published in this space last week by Dr. Barry W. Holtz on desired outcomes of Jewish education, Dr. David Bryfman, the chief innovation officer at The Jewish Education Project, writes “that for Jewish education to be successful, it must be focused on making a positive difference in the lives of Jews today.
“This is foundationally different to Jewish education that has traditionally seen its purpose as making people more Jewish, allowing Jewish institutions to prosper, and making the Jewish community stronger.
“Instead, the significant outcome that Jewish education and engagement should be tackling is that Jewish educational experiences enable people to thrive as human beings in the world today—as human beings, in their various communities, and in the world at large.
“This is not the vision of Jewish education as the transmission of skills and knowledge delivered by an educator that Holtz describes. It is a new paradigm for what matters most in enduring Jewish education today. It includes the relationships we develop, the pride we inculcate, and the positive emotional connections to being Jewish that we enhance. In the language of positive psychologists, Jewish education, if it is to be valuable to people today, must empower individuals to thrive and to flourish. Jewish wisdom has the inherent capacity to inform this new paradigm for Jewish education. Whether Jewish educators, leadership, and communities are willing to accept this new reality will largely impact the future of the Jewish people.”
“The relationships we develop, the pride we inculcate, and the positive emotional connections to being Jewish” are very much at the heart of the education that takes place within the day schools in the GTA.
Where they are not, and where GAJE can be of assistance, we are determined to help make it so.