Preserving Public Education
Jewish support is crucial —for the sake of society
and for Jewish self-interest.
ince 1999, the Jewish News has given
voice to its readership on matters of
Jewish education in each August's
Special to the Jewish News
This year, the JN decided to
take a different approach, devot-
ing its "Voices" section to public
To lead off the special section,
David Gad-Harf, executive director
of the Jewish Community Council
of Metropolitan Detroit and president of the
West Bloomfield School District Board of
Education, has written a thoughtful essay on
some of the reasons why the Jewish community
has a stake in America's public schools.
Following, there are interviews with Steve
Gaynor of Bloomfield Hills and Gary Faber of
West Bloomfield, Oakland County's only two
Jewish school superintendents; Lindy Buch, the
top early-childhood executive of the Michigan
Department of Education; and Neal Elyakin,
supervisor of special education for Washtenaw
But a single section can only begin to enu-
merate the countless Jewish educators who
work to maintain and improve Michigan's pub-
lic schools — and the many issues they grapple
with every day.
So the JN has decided to offer periodic inter-
views and articles throughout the year designed
to keep readers informed about the institution
that has successfully prepared millions of Jews
and non-Jews, immigrants and citizens, for
vocations, college, lifelong learning and the
tasks of citizenship and public responsibility.
It's the most successful anti-poverty program
our nation has ever known — the public
Related editorial: page 23
uring most of the 20th century, we took
for granted Jewish community support
for the public education system.
Nearly all Jews attended public
schools. In several school districts, a disproportion-
ate number of teachers, principals and other admin-
istrators were Jewish. Public education was part and
parcel of the Jewish experience in America.
Today, American Jews face a different reality, have
different needs and have new opportunities.
Most private schools are not only open to Jews —
they eagerly welcome Jewish students. More Jewish
families than ever before can afford the tuition costs
of private education. Jewish schools have proliferat-
ed in Detroit and elsewhere, offering a range of day
school options, from preschool through high school.
Public school teaching is not as popular as 50 years
ago, as new professional opportunities have opened
up, particularly for young women.
So, more and more I hear the question: Why
should the Jewish community continue to support
is important for the interests of the Jewish community,
as it leads to a more unified, tolerant nation.
• Fourth, the Jewish community must remain vig-
ilant about efforts by other groups to bring
Christian religious doctrine into the public schools.
We believe that this leads to inter-religious conflict,
is unconstitutional and is harmful for Jews and
other religious minorities. To be effective guardians
of religious liberty, the Jewish community must be
actively involved in the public school system.
What To Do
How should Jews demonstrate their concern for
• If you have school-age children, I urge you to
become activists in parent-teacher organizations and
find other ways to be supportive of the schools your
I firmly believe that Jews will continue to be strong
public school advocates, and that it's in the best
interests of the Jewish community for this to remain
so. Here are my reasons:
• First, the reality is that, despite growing num-
bers of Jewish students attending private schools,
including Jewish day schools, the overwhelming
majority of Jewish students attend, and will contin-
ue to attend, public schools. As long as this is the
case, Jewish families and the Jewish community as a
whole will feel a stake in the future of public educa-
tion and will therefore work to keep it strong.
• Second, the public education system is a corner-
stone of American democracy. Its mission is to pro-
duce an educated citizenry. If our nation does not
make a serious commitment to educating all of its
children, we will likely become a society of "haves"
and "have nots." It is in the best interests of the
Jewish community to avoid such a situation, for soci-
eties with deep divisions usually spell trouble for us.
• Third, the public education system has been and
continues to be the entry point into American society
for immigrant groups. It played this role for Jews in
the late 19th century and early 20th century. Today,
with our society becoming more and more ethnically
diverse, the acculturating role played by public schools
David Gad-Harf is executive director of the Jewish
Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit and
president of the West Bloomfield Board of Education.
David Gad-Half chairs a meeting of the
West Bloomfield Board of Education.
• Whether or not you have school-age children, I
urge you to be knowledgeable voters in school board
elections, and seek opportunities, such as through
school district foundations, to support your commu-
• Finally, I urge you to become a school volunteer,
thereby signaling your commitment to public edu-
cation and to the children it serves. One such volun-
teer project is the Jewish Community Council's
Detroit Jewish Coalition for Literacy, which coordi-
nates school-based tutoring programs for K-3rd
grade students, in conjunction with scores of syna-
gogues and Jewish organizations.
Education has always been a primary Jewish value.
Public education has been a gateway for Jewish
advancement and for Jewish interests. We cannot
afford to stand by as that system comes under