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June 07, 2012 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-06-07

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Guest Column

Editorial

Sustaining A Day School
Education -Financially
As Well As Morally

Boston/JTA

T

here is a lot of hand wringing these
days about whether the rising costs of
Jewish day schools are sustainable. The
discussion focuses on money, but this misses
the point: The largest costs of day school
tuition are not financial but moral, and the key
to solving the financial dilemma is to address
the moral problem.
What are the moral costs? Imagine that
someone proposes a new Jewish practice that
would have these outcomes:
• Parents take second jobs, or work longer
hours, that deprive them of almost all weekday
contact with their children and leave them too
exhausted to make Shabbat meaningful.
• Nearly half of households are transformed
for years from community contributors to char-
ity recipients.
• Children aspiring to intellectual, creative
or service work, such as teaching (especially
Torah) or other helping professions, are told
that these are not options because
they will not produce enough money
to sustain a committed Jewish life-
style.
• Families choose to have fewer
children for purely economic reasons.
We would consider such a practice
stunningly irresponsible. Yet these
are real-life consequences of cur-
rent day school tuition, even as day
school education is increasingly seen
as vital in successful Jewish child
rearing.
Should we therefore undo commit-
ment to broad-based day school education? No.
We can address the moral issues and, in doing
so, the financial ones as well.
Many of the moral challenges come not from
the amount that families must pay, but from
the system that determines the amount. Under
the current financial aid system, families have
no guarantee of how they will be affected by
tuition hikes or whether the school will take
account of a job loss or extra income from a
second job. Unable to plan and chronically
dependent on the decisions of others, they are
deprived of economic dignity.
Furthermore, financial aid applications
require families to state their expenses in often
humiliating detail, so that an anonymous corn-
mittee can sit in judgment of their priorities. A
family that eats pasta all month so it can go to
a movie risks an aid cut because it spends on
entertainment.

32

June 7 * 2012

Should we therefore
undo commitment to
broad-based day school
education? No. We can
address the moral issues
and, in doing so, the
financial ones as well.

Moving Beyond
Yes, the price of poverty is often loss of privacy
and dignity. But these are evils; they must be
minimized. The current system maximizes
these evils by forcing otherwise self-support-
ing, even wealthy families to apply for charity
because "full tuition" is unaffordable
even for many households earning
more than $200,000 per year.
A model like that of the Solomon
Schechter Day School of Greater
Boston offers great potential. Put
simply, here's how it might work:
Basic tuition is a fixed percentage of
gross income set at approximately
the percentage that the current
financial aid process tends to charge
middle-income families. High-
income families can choose to pay a
fixed amount, approximately what is
now called "full tuition:' in order to lower their
tuition. Families unable to pay the fixed per-
centage could, as now, apply for financial aid.
This model corrects many of the current sys-
tem's moral deficiencies:
• It makes the tuition-setting process trans-
parent and predictable for many more families.
• It moves many middle-class families off the
charity rolls and minimizes the schools' intru-
sion into their affairs.
• It defines day school education as a public
good to be communally supported instead of
an individual good privately purchased.
• It makes clear that the rich, even when they
pay the maximum tuition, are assessed a lower
percentage of their income than the middle
class.

Day Schools on page 33

The Internet - Step Back
To Help Move It Forward

I

s the digital age
corrupting kids to
where we must
shield them from the
ever-growing Internet?
The question is spur-
ring debate on the
Jewish front. New
York's haredi Orthodox
community has brought
the issue to light as a crucible for Judaism's direction. The issue
is worth exploring.
Solving the puzzle of the Internet's potency for moral cor-
ruption lies in grasping more than just temporary usage of
limiting software. It requires parents and educators teaching
not only the technology of the Internet, but also its power. We
then would have the inside track toward inspiring "our children
to become their own filters when exploring the Internet," as a
Yeshiva University (YU) essay cogently put it.
The premise of the essay, by Dr. Eliezer Jones and Dr. David
Pelcovitz of the New York-based university, is that "it seems
that children will listen to our rules, at least when it comes to
the Internet." That's a shaky baseline, but it probably is true
that children whose parents set limits on using computers,
watching TV and playing video games do spend less time mind-
lessly roaming cyberspace and the airwaves than peers who
have unlimited rein (and on average devote more than three
hours a day to such e-draws). Peer pressure is to be reckoned
with, but kids are more apt to take heed when adults they
respect confront the sharpest edges of Internet content.
On May 20, 40,000 haredi men flocked to Citi Field in
Queens to hear haredi leaders blast the Internet as a minefield
of immorality — something to avoid at home and use sparingly
at work. Impractical and extreme as that notion is, and it hardly
should be the top haredi priority, it does train the national spot-
light on the sweep of the World Wide Web.
Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, one of the speakers, described the
Internet as impure and a threat to modesty.
But let's be blunt: E-competence, and the knowledge land-
scape that it affords, is critical to each student's future success
in class, in business and in society. YU cites a Pew Foundation
study that found 54 percent of children say they go to Google
first when they have a question as opposed to 26 percent who
go to a parent and 3 percent who go to a teacher.
The Web is here to stay. Yes, it can skew ideas. Yes, it must be
improved — high as that hurdle is. So responsible adults must up
the ante in sharing principles for e-guidelines and e-monitoring.
Haredim believe Jewish law forbids Jews from browsing the
Internet without a filter. But the YU essay put that in perspec-
tive: "Powerful filters can block illicit images and material, but
those filters often block out the good with the bad and limit far
too much useful information."
Still, the Internet's force field has forced overindulgent kids
to enjoy less interaction with others and thus less experience
with how to get along and adjust. The problem, of course, is
that parents too often are slaves to their Blackberrys, iPhones,
iPads and PCs.
The Jewish world would do well to try to harness the
Internet, enriching its bounty, exposing its corrosiveness and
extending its possibilities. To dismiss it as a blatant danger to
traditional Jewish life, however, is absurd.

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