Global, Politics, Uncategorized

First Jewish-Oriented Charter School

As someone with very mixed feelings about day schools, I’m always interested in hearing about creative, serious Jewish education alternatives for pre-college kids. (Anyone know the fate of the New Haven public school/Yale/Jewish studies program?)
Along those lines, South Florida appears set to become the location of America’s first Jewish charter school. This article is definitely intriguing, but the school still sounds a bit sketchy. If the article is correct, the school has hired as its head an Orthodox rabbi whose only educational qualification is having run a yeshiva and who is promoting the school through Chabad channels. Maintaining strict church-state separation becomes increasingly tricky in situations like this, with many quoted in the article raising fears that such a school will ultimately harm the Jews through weakened church-state barriers. On the other hand, school officials say they won’t be teaching “Judaism,” but rather Jewish history and culture, and Hebrew.
What do you think?

Ben Gamla’s charter was approved in March, but the school was still the hot topic at a July 24 school board meeting that drew a standing room-only crowd. Supporters of the school say it could serve as a national model for providing families with a financially accessible option at a time when the overwhelming majority of non-Orthodox households are opting not to send their children to Jewish day schools.
Some critics, on the other hand, worry that the school’s main contribution will be to serve as a road map for religious communities seeking to lower the wall separating church and state.
“In other countries, we Jews were forced to support religious institutions of the dominant religions,” said Rabbi Allan Tuffs of Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation in Hollywood. “The Jewish community has succeeded in America largely thanks to the principle of separation of church and state.”
“But with charter schools like Ben Gamla, we are opening the door for public money to be used to support all sorts of religious ideologies across America,” Tuffs warned. “What will we say to the imam down the street who says he wants to teach Arabic within an Islamic cultural setting? Or the fundamentalist Christian group that wants to start a school to teach Christian culture?”

Full story.

3 thoughts on “First Jewish-Oriented Charter School

  1. Please someone, please explain to me why there needs to be such a strict separation of “church and state.” I’ve been following this story and read some of the texts that come from the proposed school textbooks that will be used. I don’t think we should have a theocracy here people, but in my humble opinion holding to this strict mentality of church and state separation just hurts Jewish culture. I had to read plenty of works from artists and philosophers who held different religious beliefs than my own in school, and I am thankful for it because it allowed me to see the beliefs of others. Stop being so closed-minded.

  2. I believe there is a big difference between reading “works from artists and philosophers who held different religious beliefs than my own” in school and putting together a whole school focused on a particular religious tradition (even if you are successful at divorcing Jewish “culture” from “religion”).
    On the one hand, it’s absolutely possible to teach students about religious philosophy, history and literature without endorsing the religion itself. I was the sole Jewish member of my class in high school, and took more than one course where the Tanakh, New Testament, Bhagavad-Gita, Rumi, Greek mythology, etc. appeared on the reading list–yet I never felt for a moment that my rights were infringed. On the contrary, I thought the teachers (one of whom was a quite devout Christian) did a superb job of drawing the line between teaching about religion and teaching religion itself.
    Yet on the other hand, it takes a high degree of sensitivity and intelligence on the part of the teacher to know where to draw that line, and it takes a certain degree of balance in the curriculum itself to keep the line from becoming simply a formality. And when you start focusing an entire curriculum on one particular religion, it becomes very difficult for me to believe that you are not endorsing that religion. The classes where I felt I benefited looked at works like Yonah or the Sermon on the Mount as literature and philosophy to be analyzed in a secular context. And students from various backgrounds (protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish) were allowed to weigh in with additional religious perspective.
    But when you take public funds and use them to teach “Jewish culture and history” and pretend you’re not teaching Judaism because the books don’t have a Magen David on them and the minyans are organized by students, it starts to sound like a sham to me.
    I’m all for finding creative ways to increase Jewish literacy. But I don’t think this is the answer. Based on the information presented in the article, I agree with Rabbi Tuffs that this opens too big a door to the fundamentalist Christians and Muslims who want to impose their religion on everyone else.
    Then again, maybe I just need to learn more about this school to understand how it isn’t going to be promoting Judaism and how its model can’t be used to promote other religions.

  3. There should be no religion in the public schools. None at all. really. When chabad – and this is chabad, the evil, republican, right-wing fundamentalist, messianic nutcase, section of the Jewish collective – tries seeping into public schools, we should all get up in arms and say that we’ll give alot of time and money for after school schools, and Jewish day schools, and camps and community life and whatever, so long as the chabad people never, ever, get into the schools of our gentile neighbors and ourselves. Just think how we would react if the christian equivalent of chabad tried setting up a charter school.

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