Sunday, September 4, 2011

School is Starting and.......?

The new school year begins in a few days. What, if anything, is going to be different this year from last year? Other than two yeshivas not opening this year (and we are not talking about uber large yeshivas that closed but very small ones), the answer is "nothing." Despite a whole lot of complaints that the present system cannot continue as it is, there it is, continuing. And I'd bet any amount of money--and win--that the complaints will be coming fast and furious this year, just as in the past. Why?

The first and most obvious reason is that, despite legitimate complaints, no one really wants to be the first one to say "Enough! I'm pulling my kids out!" Here and there we all may know or know of someone who is experimenting with a different way of educating their kids, be it home schooling or a combination of public school and talmud torah or some other way. But the vast majority of parents have a wait and see attitude. First, they want to see what the reaction will be by the community to those parents who have opted for a different education format--and that reaction could take years to happen. And then they are waiting for someone else to provide an already organized in-place alternative.

The reaction is like any other shopping expedition. First, you decide on a class of product you want to buy--let's say cottage cheese. You head for the market and look at all the cottage cheese products available in that store. You may or may not like the taste and flavor of any of those products available, or the price that is being charged, but if you feel you need cottage cheese then you are choosing one of the products available and paying what is asked for that product. Now it's possible that you may complain to the manager about the price, and maybe, on occasion, that price may drop a bit. But as long as the products move off the shelves, the stores have really very little incentive to drop the prices or bring in another brand.

Now sometimes a new brand of that cottage cheese comes on the market. Do you run out and buy it? Maybe, and maybe not. Many people want to see what the general public reaction will be to the product before they opt to buy it themselves. They want to read reviews of how consumers who did buy the product feel about it. They are more than willing to let others be the experimental guinea pigs. It just could be that the new product has nothing to recommend it, to differentiate it from all the other cottage cheeses that are apparently just like it. It could be that the new product is going to require going a bit out of your convenient geographic area to buy--your local market doesn't carry it but a market a few miles out does. And it could be that the new cottage cheese has a very different flavor from the one you are used to (even if you aren't necessarily thrilled with the flavor/price). You've gotten used to the old cottage cheese brand--it may be pricey, but it's convenient to buy, and you know how it's going taste.

In short, we seem to be treating yeshiva education as if it were any other consumer product on the shelf. We eat what the stores have decided to sell, and we pay what they ask. We may complain to each other that "groceries" are costing an arm and a leg, but we are still shopping in those same stores and buying those same groceries.

So yes, the way I see it, this year is going to be just like last year as regards the high price of a yeshiva education. Consumers are going to continue to buy the old products, complaining to each other all the while. Unless someone is willing to take the chance on producing a new product and putting it out on the market for purchase, it's going to be the same-old same-old. It takes a whole lot of investment of time, effort and money to bring a new product to market. No one, it seems, is willing to take the chance that a new product might succeed, might bring in customers.

One final note. Many look at yeshiva education as being something more than just another product we purchase. There are any number of people, with a vested interest, who have endorsed the present yeshiva system as being a necessity as it is presently structured, who have made the system "holy." If you want to be considered as "frum" then you have to send your kids to yeshiva. Guess what? Those who endorse products have a vested interest in having you buy those products, and the interest is usually a monetary one. Movie star X is not endorsing product Y because he/she 100% believes in that product and uses only that product because they believe it to be the best. They are getting paid for endorsing that product. And if they weren't being paid by the producers of product Y, do you really believe that they would go on record saying product Y is the only one for them? Those who go on record saying the present yeshiva system is the only one that works and the only one we should be buying are not different from those movie stars. They, too, have personal reasons for endorsing the yeshiva product, and yes, money is part of it. Do you really believe that a rosh yeshiva is going to bite the hand that feeds him?

Right now a whole lot of "choshuv" people are pushing us to buy an Edsel. And lo and behold we are doing so. A whole lot of people are pushing us to buy gas guzzling overly large sedans when what we really should be shopping for are those wallet-friendly, fuel efficient models. Nope, those wallet-friendly vehicles aren't visually dazzling with all the latest over-the-top techno gizmos. They don't cause our friends and neighbors to go green with envy. They don't necessarily impress anyone--unless you are the practical type who believes that if you can get to point B from point A in comfort and for less money then why would you opt for paying more.


SubWife said...

I have a feeling that soon we will see the trend of homeschooling, and most of these homeschooled will be girls. all of a sudden people will remember that only hundred something years ago most girls could hardly read Hebrew, and what does a girl need all that Jewish education for, after she is not required to learn. And what best place to learn how to be a good mother and wife than in home, something school are not equipped to teach.

SubWife said...

By the way, to be clear, I am not in favor of this trend, but I think it is coming. Because sooner or later people will have to choose between sending kids to public school or send some and home school others in their family simply because yeshivah for all kids won't be affordable. Public school option will most likely be dismissed as not kosher, and guess which gender will get preference for being sent to yeshivah?

Miami Al said...


That's a one generation solution. Because if you listen to the people contemplating a change, it is generally men whining that their wives won't consider anything else. If the women don't believe that day school made them Jewish, there won't be the impetus in the next generation.

SubWife said...

Well, most of the solutions are short term. For any long term solutions, there needs to be a lot more centralization within the Klal and recognition of common authorities. Overall, frum lifestyle is not only expensive, a lot of frum ideals are simply not sustainable. The ideal of a husband learning, wife either staying at home or working very part time in some yeshivah and their many, many kids sent to yeshivos worked exactly for one generation, maybe two - because the market was doing well and lots of institutions were supported by donors within the community, because parents could support them, etc. Slowly but surely, a lot of ideals are falling because having them all is impossible. Firstly, women started working on a larger scale, then they started working outside of frum community, now the permanent kollel for many is also dying out. Quite possible day schools for everyone ideal might also fall within one generation. Unless we come up with some alternatives and/or become more organized as a society.

abba's rantings said...


"all of a sudden people will remember that only hundred something years ago most girls could hardly read Hebrew"

100 years ago? how about 1-2 generations ago.

Miami Al said...


"The ideal of a husband learning, wife either staying at home or working very part time in some yeshivah and their many, many kids sent to yeshivos worked exactly for one generation, maybe two - because the market was doing well and lots of institutions were supported by donors within the community, because parents could support them, etc."

There is a reason that in 3500 years of Jewish tradition, such an idea was never implemented. It clearly was thought of, as proponents of this silly idea can point to references in the Talmud and other texts, so prior generations considered this and rejected it, and we're seeing the reason.

This survived because the rapid increase in life expectancy and rise of indoor jobs let the prior generation keep earning full paychecks until their 60s, letting them "support" 2-3 generations.

"100 years ago? how about 1-2 generations ago."

Heck, most Jewish men couldn't actually read Hebrew then, just enough to get through prayers... The very concept of a prayer leader and a Torah reader is because you couldn't assume that people in the congregation could participate in prayer OR read for their Aliyah.

reader said...

Did you see Marvin Schick's front page feature in the current issue of the Jewish Press, "After Sixty Years: Thoughts on Jewish Education"?

Highly recommended.

Perhaps you would like to comment on it.

ProfK said...


The article was indeed thought provoking and I will be commenting, but need some time to organize my thoughts.

Miami Al said...


The article to me read like a caricature of an old man shaking his fist at the air talking about kids getting off his lawn.

The world has changed. Adapt or perish. Very sad to watch people choose perish.

ProfK said...


You need to keep a fact in mind--change is not a linear process; it twists and turns and can circle back and forth many times. Just because something is new doesn't mean that it will last, that it will prove to be good for us, that it is what we should be doing. Giving only two alternatives--adapt or perish--does not recognize that there are other alternatives, other ways of reacting to something. One alternative is to send the new idea/process packing and go back to the old. Another alternative is to refuse to adopt the new and look for something better, something more workable. Another alternative is to say that the new may work for some people in some cases but not for everyone across the board, so trying to make it that everyone should be doing this new thing is not sensible nor even possible. And there are many other choices that can be made as well.

In short, adapt or perish does not reflect reality with regard to every new change that comes along.

Miami Al said...


Absolutely not. The environment of the parents has changed. The schools and educators can adapt to this new reality, or perish as parents choose new options. They do not actually have the choice of changing the parents, that ship sailed.

He needs to adapt to the new parents, not just moan that times have changed, and "back in my day."

Nothing in that article was a solution, just a whine.