Sunday, September 10, 2017

Is It Freedom Of Religion-- Or Child Abuse?


I have a recollection from when I was in high school in Brooklyn that some kids went to "the Yeshiva" and that it was a very good school-- like a high end academic school that taught all the stuff we learned in secular school plus the religious stuff from the Torah. In my mind it was one of those special magnet schools for kids... like Bronx High School of Science. Looking back now, I think the school I had in mind was Yeshiva of Flatbush, kind of in my neighborhood. I lived on Avenue P and it was on Avenue J. It was founded as an elementary school in 1927 and a high school was added in 1950 and it was coed, synthesizing Judaic studies and the liberal arts. Kids were prepared-- well prepared in fact-- for the best colleges in the country. I never gave what I thought of as "the Yeshiva" much thought again after my childhood in Brooklyn.

Now it turns out there are plenty of yeshivas in New York-- and not up to the standards of Yeshiva of Flatbush. For example, Yeshiva Derech HaTorah Elementary School and High School opened in 1980 because reactionary parents steeped in ignorance wanted an all boys school completely devoted to Torah, and firmly committed not to America or American values but to the State of Israel instead. It began operations in 1980 and opened a "high school" in 2006.

There are dozens of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in New York City now-- with tens of thousands of students-- that don't teach history, science, English or math, just superstitious nonsense that ill-prepares young students for life in the modern world. Their communities voted overwhelmingly for Trump last year. And because of the immense political clout-- they are zombies who vote the way their rabbis tell them to vote-- the authorities let them slide.

A report from Young Advocates for Fair Education asserts, credibly, that "most Hasidic children attend special non-public schools from age 5 or earlier to adulthood or beyond. The language of instruction is Yiddish, the same language the students speak at home, and sometimes includes some Hebrew and/or Aramaic texts. The schools are separated by gender: girls attend a girls’ school, and boys attend a boys’ school, or Yeshiva. Both provide a rigorous religious education intended to build the foundation for a life lived according to Hasidic Jewish principles. Where they differ, however, is in the education they provide beyond this foundation. Girls, who are not allowed to become rabbis learn general subjects such as English, math, science, and social studies during the second half of the school day. Boys, on the other hand, are expected to aspire to become rabbis, so they continue studying Jewish texts, such as the Torah (the Hebrew Bible), Talmud (Jewish law), and other religious subjects for the entire school day... When yeshivas do provide education in secular subjects, it is in just a few grades, for one hour to ninety minutes at the end of the long school day. Typically, instruction is provided in very basic English reading and arithmetic, along with minimal levels of English writing. Teachers are often unqualified-- some barely know English themselves-- and the 'English' class period (as the time devoted to secular studies is called) is often treated as free time for restless students. Textbooks are heavily censored, when they are used at all. High schools for boys typically provide absolutely no secular education. Without secular education, young men lack the requisite skills to obtain employment with a decent income to support themselves and their (often large) families. Furthermore, because most yeshivas choose not to administer the Regents Examinations or to award diplomas, graduates find it nearly impossible to pursue post-secondary education to attain the skills they need. This puts Hasidic families at high risk for poverty and reliance upon government assistance. Approximately 43% of Hasidic households in New York are poor and another 16% are near poor. Hasidic communities in Brooklyn have a greater percentage of families receiving cash assistance, food stamps, public health care coverage, and Section 8 housing vouchers, as compared to Brooklyn and New York City as a whole. The percentage of people in a heavily Hasidic district of Brooklyn utilizing public income support such as cash assistance (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid has increased dramatically in the last decade as the population grew rapidly without improvements in education."
Responding to complaints that several dozen yeshivas in New York City fell short of the state requirement that they provide an education “at least substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools, officials at the city’s Department of Education said they would investigate. That was two years ago.

On Wednesday, saying that the city had repeatedly blown self-imposed deadlines for releasing a report on the investigation, a group of activists stood on the steps of City Hall and accused Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, of turning a blind eye to what they called educational neglect.

Roughly 57,000 students attend ultra-Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in New York City, and according to the activists, from a group called Young Advocates for Fair Education, many of the students, particularly the boys, will finish school with poor to nonexistent English and math skills, and little knowledge of history or science.

Naftuli Moster, 31, the executive director of the group, said he was disappointed with the mayor and the chancellor.

“Both are said to be staunch advocates for children, for human rights, for fairness,” he said, “yet when it came to education of tens of thousands of Hasidic children they failed us and them miserably. I wasn’t taught New York history, so I can’t say this for sure, but this appears to be, to me, as one of the biggest scandals in this city.”

Mr. Moster said that, given the administration’s delays, the group had decided to release its own report on the yeshivas, based on interviews and a survey of former students and parents. In the report, which was distributed to reporters, the group identified the yeshivas that they considered the worst offenders. Among them was Educational Institute Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, which the report said provided no instruction in secular subjects.

“I attended school Sunday through Friday, everyday all day, and I did not learn how to read or write in the English language,” said Chaim Levin, 28, a graduate. “I was not taught history, science, or geography, and I learned no math skills. The only thing we studied was texts from the Old Testament and the Talmud.”

Mr. Levin said he had been surprised to learn that Mayor de Blasio had sent a congratulatory message to the yeshiva for a fund-raiser it held this year. Mr. de Blasio cited the institution’s “excellence” and said it gave its students “the tools they need to build solid foundations for their futures.”

“This is false,” Mr. Levin said. “Oholei Torah has done no such thing. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña know this very well.”

...The report said that some yeshivas offered more instruction in secular subjects than Oholei Torah. On average, the report said, boys in elementary school received roughly 90 minutes of instruction in secular subjects, including reading and writing in English, four days a week. After age 13, the typical boy received no instruction in secular subjects. Since girls cannot become rabbis, they typically receive more secular education than boys.

Because some yeshivas have claimed that they are limited by financial resources, Young Advocates for Fair Education tried to track the amount of federal, state and city funding going to yeshivas. This was difficult because Hasidic yeshivas use a tax exemption granted churches that does not require them to file financial documents with the Internal Revenue Service. Nonetheless, the group found that some yeshivas receive hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in public funds.

Many have suggested that the de Blasio administration is stalling for political reasons, because ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to vote in large numbers.

Labels: , , , ,


At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a kid (bar mitzvah in 1959), yeshiva was indeed the elite school considered a step above even Boston Latin. Students had to be smarter than smart and come from fairly religious families. Their dads were mostly professionals or businessmen; moms kept a kosher kitchen and meticulously made sure the kids were clean, well dressed; and the families observed Shabbas and the holidays.

I was in college before I saw my first Hasid. We always considered them a cult. Now they've taken over whole neighborhoods and, if I remember the story, at least one school district in NY. OY! The great irony is that this fastest-growing segment of the Jewish population makes very little if any effort to be what we always thought of as 'good citizens,' and they are largely left alone. Yet American Muslims overwhelmingly try hard to be those good citizens, and they meet rejection from many directions.

A city block of black bathrobes and hats draws little more than the occasional glance. One hijab....

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter which religion runs the school. It's main purpose is to push religion to the exclusion of all else. In was so unprepared for life that it took years to be able to adjust to the world as it is and not the way my former religion insisted that it be.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Skeptical Partisan said...

Deliberately denying children a good education is child abuse analogous to sensory deprivation as torture. Unlike uncontacted people who make a deliberate choice to live isolated from modern technology, the Hasidim live in the heart modern society and hold themselves separate and morally superior while taking full advantage modern infrastructure and technology (medicine for example). Children raised in these restrictive environments never have the opportunity to fully develop their potential, a waste for themselves, personally, and their communities. These children are also taught to behave opposite of their moral code - take from society without contributing to society.

There's an important lesson here for non-Hasidims/secular citizens. Schools that provide a "...very basic English reading and arithmetic, along with minimal levels of English writing..." education produce young people who "...lack the requisite skills to obtain employment with a decent income to support themselves and their (often large) families...". This is a major goal of some powerful economic players and education reformers. They want workers who cannot think critically to challenge the status quo. They want workers who compliantly conform to authority (God, rabbi, employer). But depriving children of education is unpatriotic. A dynamic, vibrant and functioning democracy relies on the participation of informed voters & citizens capable of analytical reasoning. So the Hasidic model described here fails at all levels, from individual development to Constitutional expectations.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Thomas Ten Bears said...

No different than "christian" schools.

At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TTB, fucking exactly!!!

Religions are toxic to humankind. Always have been. Always will be.

That here and now, in the 21st century, religions are STILL retarding and regressing the development of humankind is indicative of how we'll become extinct. Well, one way. We'll kill our planet which will kill ourselves if our religious delusions don't do the trick. It's a race. Who will win and how will we all lose?


Post a Comment

<< Home