Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Lawrence Education Proposal

Journalist Steven I. Weiss has been following a new education proposal circulating in Lawrence, NY (I, II, III - note that he is not a rabbi and the general content of his blog has not been rabbinically approved). As the proposal currently stands, after significant evolution from its original form, students will attend a local yeshiva for Torah studies in the morning and then be bussed to a public school for secular studies. The Orthodox students will stay after-school for an extra period of secular studies to make up for the missed morning. The Orthodox students would be together in classes in a separate track from the rest of the public school due to their different schedule. If this passes all of the legal hurdles, it will significantly relieve the financial burden of tuition. This is the (lightly edited) comment I left on Weiss' blog and does not even address the serious tzeni'us issues involved:

Some of the most important but also most subtle religious influences on Jewish students in school is from the secular studies faculty. In my own experience, I had a rabbi teaching me AP Math and Physics in twelfth grade and an Orthodox tenth grade Chemistry teacher (among many others) who impressed upon me not only that science does not contradict religion but that fully Orthodox Jews can be knowledgable and worldly.

The proposal discussed in this post is anti-Torah u-Madda and anti- the ideals of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. The message it sends to the students is that Torah is for the Jews and everything else for non-Jews. Those who strive for some sort of integration of religion and the world, in the many different versions currently circulating, should be opposed to this proposal. The ideal is to have Orthodox Jews teaching all subjects so that the teachers can be role models to students on how to integrate everything one learns into one’s life and worldview. Instead, this proposal will have students studying religious subjects under rabbis in the morning and then entering a different universe, one legally mandated to be secular, in which the rest of the world is explored. It is spiritually dangerous and ideologically unsound.

The need for affordable schooling is very real. However, we need to abandon this potentially disastrous plan and focus our considerable creativity and energy on one that is more sound.
UPDATE: Steven Weiss reports that a third proposal is now being entertained.

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