In 2011, Professor Jonathan Krasner published a book called The Benderly Boys and American Education, a most important piece of historical writing about American Jewish education. Here Krasner brings his comprehensive historical perspective to the PEJE’s Sustainable Stories series, offering some useful context about the notion of communal obligation and Jewish day school.
From his post:
"It is with this cautionary tale in mind that I approach the question of universal day school education today. On a purely financial and logistical basis, any such plan is completely unrealistic. There is neither the capacity in existing schools nor the requisite communal funds to enact such an initiative. By one estimate, even if Federations allocated to day schools every dollar raised for domestic consumption, it would still be insufficient to cover the operating costs of existing schools—never mind the expenses required to build and operate scores of new schools. Recall that in Benderly’s day, intensive Jewish education was synonymous with an eight-to-10-hour-per-week supplementary school or Talmud Torah. The cost of day school education is exponentially higher….
Economic and cultural considerations compel us to eschew the language of obligation with regard to day schools in an American context. However, they do not preclude us from providing a greater variety of high-quality day school options serving the widest possible range of learners in large Jewish residential centers, and a strong and sustainable network of community day schools in midsized Jewish communities. Nor do they absolve the Jewish community from maintaining the tradition of providing financial aid to those in need. Ultimately, we must accept the reality that day schools will continue to be one of a variety of Jewish educational options in the United States. We should work to strengthen day schools and yeshivot, and reverse the trend of stagnant or declining enrollment in non-Orthodox day schools. Simultaneously, we should view the advent of Hebrew-language charter schools and efforts to revitalize and re-imagine supplementary school education as contributing to a healthy, variegated, and economically sustainable Jewish educational ecosystem. As our sages teach us, Shivim panim latorah, the Torah has 70 faces or points of entry. Our job is to keep all of those doors wide open and the atmosphere inside welcoming, stimulating, and generative."
Read the entire post at the PEJE Blog.