Source: NY Times
Arguing that the traditional Jewish day-school model they grew up with is outmoded and too clannish for 21st-century Judaism, a new generation of parents and educators are flocking to Montessori preschools and elementary schools that combine secular studies with Torah and Hebrew lessons. In Brooklyn, whose more than 600,000 Jews include secular Jews in brownstone Brooklyn and Hasidic Jews in Borough Park and Williamsburg, four Montessori schools have opened in the last decade. Each is tailored to a different group: one is for Hasidic girls in Borough Park, another for Hasidic boys in Midwood; Lamplighters Yeshiva's students are mainly Chabad-Lubavitchers, while Luria Academy's students range from secular to Hasidic.
Jewish Montessori schools, which began to catch on about 15 years ago, have also surged in popularity across the country. In Boca Raton, Fla., there are centrist Orthodox, Chabad Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Montessori preschools; Orthodox day schools have started Montessori programs in Houston and Cincinnati; and several New Jersey towns with large Jewish populations now have Montessori schools. The American Montessori Society says there are more than 4,000 Montessori schools in the United States; most are private (and secular, although some are associated with other religions) but a few are public. Ms. Petter-Lipstein said her group, the Jewish Montessori Society, based in Highland Park, N.J., was tracking more than 40 Jewish Montessoris in North America and about 30 in Israel.
Though some secular parents criticize the Montessori schools as expensive and elitist, too unstructured or even cultish, the philosophy of allowing children to learn at their own pace and develop personal responsibility through individual learning tasks gels well with the Jewish tenet of educating each child according to his or her own way, its advocates say. Chabad-Lubavitchers also embrace the Montessori method because the movement’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, endorsed it before his death in 1994.
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