Take a walk in my shoes

Before deciding that parents are wrong in how they are handling the Jewish Day School tuition crisis.

This blog, posted 11/23/11 was brought to my attention via Twitter. The author is articulate, and the article well written, however, a couple of things bothered me, and I want to discuss. The author, let’s make a note, is a student, not yet a parent, and so luckily for him, still able to believe faithfully that tuition isn’t birth control, and that those leaving yeshiva behind, are doing so in order to maintain a comfortable suburban life…

Many parents who leave the day-school system because of the tuition crisis are giving their children a message that a Torah education in a full-time Jewish environment is not as important when it becomes difficult to pay tuition and continue to live a comfortable suburban lifestyle. Children see when material desires such as vacations take precedence over Jewish education.

While it cannot be argued that there are some families who remove their children from the day school system because they are not willing to sacrifice a certain lifestyle, we once again are faced with the debate about what a “comfortable suburban lifestyle” means. Depending on where one lives and what work one does, certain “comforts” may be a necessity – 2 cars per family in most of South Florida, for instance. Vacations are another “material desire” that can be debated. Even “poor” people should take vacation. Vacation can be cheap. It can be within driving distance. It can involve lots of free activities. It can be a little more extravagant when years of credit card points are redeemed for a nicer hotel room, or for airline tickets to somewhere a little further. Those same credit card points will not pay tuition. Sometimes vacation is a gift from a family member who sees the stress caused by financial hardship, and who says “please, take a break for a few days. Let me help you get away.” That person doesn’t want the money going to tuition, they want to help relieve the build up of tension that lack of money can cause within a family. Marriages fall apart because of financial woes. Families disintegrate, leaving children at risk, and not just from a lack of Jewish education!

However, the core value that a Jewish life requires mesirut nefesh, self-sacrifice, is undermined by this entire enterprise. When a child sees that the parent will not sacrifice for Torah education, he or she will feel less likely to make sacrifices for Judaism later in life.

And what of the children whose parents can afford day school without sacrificing, and send them willingly? Those children do not see any self-sacrifice, but are getting a Torah education and taking it for granted. They are not likely to make sacrifices for Judaism later in life either. Those children see their friends who are less fortunate than them, who go without certain things, and they quite possibly think “wow, I’d much rather put my kids in public school than have them miss out on the latest fads and trends because I had to give everything up to send them to yeshiva”… Worth a thought.

The author goes on to say that as tuition rises, parents ask many questions about how the schools are run, and

the manner in which some parents ask these questions reveals what seems to be a far greater issue than purely the dollars and cents going to the schools. Basic middot, such as derekh erets and hakarat ha-tov, go by the wayside as some parents mercilessly and viciously attack the schools and those who work for them.

I will say that this work both ways. It becomes increasingly difficult to speak positively about an institution that cuts off their nose to spite their chin. When you have schools crying out that they need money, and yet they build a new building (perhaps this was paid for by a single donor, but the upkeep and maintenance is not free!), or purchase new smartboards, or computers etc. etc., it is very hard to feel the financial hardship. When you have parents struggling to pay their portion of tuition after assistance, who are then approached to pay for their 8th grader’s Israel trip, it becomes impossible to maintain that same degree of derekh eretz. 

One part of the final paragraph of the blog post, I agree with wholeheartedly:

the response to the tuition crisis should be one rooted in what our educational system is meant to teach: Torah and middot. …… it should be one of working together to make things better.

It is my fervent hope that this will happen, that there will be a solution, and soon.

Shabbat Shalom

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