Source: The Jewish Daily Forward
Teaching at preschools and kindergartens is among the most gender-segregated professions in the United States: 97.8% of teachers are female, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While no comprehensive statistics exist for Jewish institutions, they appear to mirror the national trend. However, experts and educators agree that their presence is beneficial for children, co-workers and parents alike. It might even be vital for the future of Judaism.
There is evidence of a “boys’ crisis” in Judaism. A 2008 study by Brandeis University sociologists Sylvia Barack Fishman and Daniel Parmer found that non-Orthodox Jewish boys feel alienated from Jewish religious life. It is Jewish women who actively participate in Jewish life and pass on that identity to the children. “What we have is a kind of reverse gender imbalance, when little boys are in liberal religious environments, [and] they might get the misimpression that religion is for females,” says Fishman.
The study also found that men and boys with the strongest Jewish identity named male, Jewish role models as a vital influence — a finding echoed by a 2012 report issued by Moving Traditions, a Jewish not-for-profit based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, that runs educational programs for teenagers. This report also highlighted the role male Jewish educators play in helping boys navigate the increasingly tricky waters of modern masculinity. Experts say that American popular culture is sending mixed messages, urging men to play a more active part at home while staying true to stereotypes of being emotionally stoic.
There is at least one place, though, where male teachers are abundant: In the world of Haredi Judaism, all teachers of boys aged 3 and older are men.
The technique of presenting children with Jewish male role models, says Fishman, the sociologist, is something the non-Orthodox leaders, who struggle to keep boys interested in Judaism, should consider.
“Orthodox boys are socialized into thinking about Jewishness as something that’s very relevant to boys,” she says. “Putting male early childhood educators in settings where little boys learn from them could be a very effective strategy.”
Read the entire article at the Jewish Daily Forward.