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Educational (dys)function

November 24, 2016 23:21

Another autumn, another annual mega-kvetch in the JC about Jewish kids unable to get into Jewish schools. Last week, we had the case of young Dylan of Bushey apparently having to be home-schooled and who, according to our report, "has not set foot in a classroom once this academic year, because he doesn't have a place".

Except he did have a place, as the report later makes clear, at the local state school. But his parents turned it down, "because they wanted a Jewish education for Dylan". Or, to put it brutally, they would rather home-school him than goy-school him.

You know what? This is mad. What, in the context of a school (as opposed to a shul or summer camp, or family customs) is "a Jewish education"? Is all of that not Jewish education enough?

Or is there a Jewish mathematics? A Jewish geography? Do the Jewish schools teach special Jewish physics with natural laws only perceptible by, or applicable to Jews?

Given all the other opportunities that there are for Jews to be Jews (and Lord knows, there are many) why do we need this thing at all?

Perhaps he'll never make a non-Jewish friend up to university

Most of Britain's most celebrated Jews never went near a Jewish school and somehow managed to survive. Survive and play an influential part in the wider society. Indeed Dylan's parents themselves, who describe themselves as "a traditional Jewish family" attended secular schools. This attendance does not seem to have inhibited their Jewishness.

It is an insufficient answer to this problem to say that some of the schools (as we reported last week) are among the best academically in the country. When you permit almost any kind of selection you will discover schools magically tending towards more committed parents and more able children. Separate Jewish education has to be desirable in itself for the system to be defended.

One aspect of aspiring to a Jewish school education, of course, is to create a norm separate from the question of its value. Dylan's friends all went to Jewish secondary school, so he feels he must, too.

That his friends were all Jewish is down to the fact that he was educated at a Jewish primary school. He wants to be with them and, if he gets his way, he may manage not to make a friendship with a non-Jew from kindergarten to university. Would the Chief Rabbi, who complimented Dylan's parents on their steadfast desire for a Jewish education also like to compliment them on the narrowness of his social circle? I wonder what he made of Dylan's mother's heartfelt cry that it was unfair that "non-Jewish children take up places in Jewish schools when a child like Dylan has dedicated himself to Jewish education all his life." No, Dylan was dedicated to a particular idea of a Jewish education by his parents. He just wants to be with his mates. And if your idea of fair is moaning about integration, then you have a problem.

But this is not Dylan's mum's fault. She wants what others want. It's natural. So to my last question: what problem is this separating of Jews from others supposed to solve? Is understanding of Jews and Jewishness so widespread in this society that depriving schools of their fair share of Jews is a good plan? Do you think that a society where a child can go from infant school to college and never encounter a Jewish person is better than one where Jews and gentiles are educated together? Is not an important function of a school to create a sense of wider community than a particular group and to create a wider sense of identity than with just one faith? Or is being a Jew or a Catholic or a Mormon or a Muslim all there is to you? It's a look-out if it is.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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