This past week, I attended a lecture on Trends in Jewish Education, specifically targeting day school age population. I brought both boys with me (they probably wanted pizza that came with the shiur...) The takeaway was that the future of Jewish education looks more like homeschool than traditional school. There is need to differentiate, less frontal instruction, recognition of multiple intelligences and various learning styles, addressing special needs population. There is need to teach students how to learn, and how to spark in them desire to learn. There is need to build close relationships with teachers and rebbeim. There is recognition for tremendous potential of online learning, and awareness that the world in which current kindergarteners will graduate will look very differently from the world they started in.
But there is also the economic side and that is unwieldy. The speaker kept saying how the tuition is already high, and, with implementation of all these new ideas and individualization, there is no economy of scale, so the cost keeps on spiraling up.
Moreover, he quoted the principals who consider a student a success as long as they still engage with Judaism and Jewish identity in some way, be it through Zionism, advocacy, social causes, textual basis, or religious observance. Additionally, studies have shown that a 6 to 12 months stint in Israel (not a gap year which has turned into "fifth year of high school", but a self-selected program like discontinued Masa) have the same impact on the rate of intermarriage as eight years of day school.
Coming out from the lecture, 11 yo thanked me for homeschooling him, that's how bleak everything looked on the other side. However, no need to attend a lecture for that. It seems that every week now I hear of another family seeking out alternatives to day school/yeshiva. Parents are desperate: the children are not thriving, the children are not learning, the children are not accommodated, and the messages of day school are not sticking. Unlike the free public school, all of this comes with a hefty, back-breaking price tag. The parents are sincerely wondering whether all the sacrifices that the families are making to give their kids a Jewish education end up producing Jewishly-educated kids.
I kept thinking about the famous pasuk from Mishlei, the battle-cry of Jewish educators everywhere: חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר, עַל-פִּי דַרְכּוֹ-- גַּם כִּי-יַזְקִין, לֹא-יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה
Train a child according to his way: so when he grows old, he will not turn away from it. It seems that the day school world is waking up to the first part of the pasuk, but they are not doing a good job transmitting values, so the second part does not work. The secret is that the pasuk was not aimed at an institution, it was meant for a parent.
I sincerely feel bad for the educators who are trying to scale up the dynamic that is meant to take place at home and apply it to a classroom of diverse human beings.
Another painful point that was brought up had to do with socialization. Aptly, the speaker did not praise highly the socialization that takes place in the classroom, but he noted that there is a lot of ostracism for those who deviate from the communally-accepted modality of education. Many homeschoolers experience it on their own skin, as do those who do leave yeshivish or chassidish environments. It seems that day school does a fine job teaching whom to affiliate with, and whom to stay far away from. The speaker noted that this behavior is modeled by the parents and rabbeim.
What trends do you see in Jewish education?