Op-Ed by Rabbi Zalman Shneur, Executive Director of The Menachem Education Foundation, dedicated to improving Chinuch: “Are yeshiva graduates successful despite our education or because of our education?”
“Without an education, yeshiva graduates are severely limited in work options and often are forced to rely on government aid to support themselves and their large families.”
This is the primary argument from those who advocate for government regulations over the education in Charedi schools. But is it accurate as it applies to our community today?
We all know of the thousands of rabbis and shluchim who graduate from Chabad schools and go on to found world-class organizations and institutions. But are you aware of the many other metrics of success?
Do you know that our community has robust networking groups for Chabad graduates who enter the fields of medicine, law, and software programming with hundreds of participants?
Do you know that CHYE has a database with close to one thousand (young) Chabad entrepreneurs and that dozens and dozens of new small businesses are founded each year by our yeshivas’ graduates?
Do you know that thousands of families with children in yeshivas in Crown Heights are homeowners in Brooklyn? (A seemingly impossible financial milestone for those without means.)
Did you know that the workforce participation rate amongst fathers in Chabad Schools – is over 95%, as compared to the national average of 91.5%?
Yes, some families in our community still struggle financially, the costs of NYC living and the expenses of a frum lifestyle are high. But the facts speak for themselves – our financial outcomes far exceed the comparative outcomes of public-school graduates. And this is without going into the literally hundreds of community-based charities and social organizations that provide aid and support to those in our community who are struggling. Simply put, our community is NOT a burden on the government due to our educational systems, it is one of the most self-sufficient communities as a result of it!
We now ask: Why?
Are yeshiva graduates successful despite our education or because of our education?
To answer this question, we need to go back to the roots of what is the purpose and definition of education. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was passionate about Chinuch, and prioritized education above nearly all other communal efforts. But according to the Rebbe, the core of education is not about imparting a checklist of facts and figures. Education is an end to itself that ultimately builds people that are enabled to unlock their full potential. Our rigorous educational curriculum ensures a high academic achievement, building character and values of hard work, a love of learning, responsibility, confidence, an obligation to be of service to others and a drive to work toward something greater than oneself.
Our school day is filled with subjects that build crucial critical, analytical and creative thinking skills. Beginning from first grade our students are learning to read and translate in a second, and sometimes in a third, language. Often beginning as young as nine years old, our students are exposed to classic Jewish texts and millennia of scholarship and wisdom, beginning a journey of lifelong learning.
Once a child has developed the ability to fulfill his or her potential and absorbed the value of constantly striving to be the best person they can be, the world unfurls with opportunities. With everything we do, we strive that our graduates are successful in whatever pursuits they follow and always contribute to society to help make this world a better place.
And that is what our graduates are doing. It is what drives their ability to found institutions, establish businesses, if they so choose, or pursue professions. Above all to give generously and open-heartedly to others.
The public school system has vastly different goals. It is a means to a very specific end. A path, through college – a goal that the system largely fails to achieve – for a degree that hopefully ends with a job and a paycheck, yet in many cases also comes with exorbitant lifelong debt.
Our community’s goals are fundamentally different.
The New York City Department of Education is a leader in being culturally sensitive to the needs of minority communities. It is imperative that this value of cultural sensitivity is also applied to our education system and how it allows our parents to choose the education for our children.
All of this is not to say that our education system is perfect. There is always room for improvement. But government (with their poor record of achievement in the public school systems) interference, in already very successful parent-driven private schools, is not going to do that.
As the director of the Menachem Education Foundation, I have dedicated my life to empowering our educators to be at the forefront of educational advances. We have invested heavily in implementing new systems and programs that increasingly improve the education of our students. MEF has partnered with leading educational innovators, such as the New Teacher Center (through the JNTP) and the NYC Leadership Academy, through our principal training program. We have trained hundreds of yeshiva teachers and principals, many of whom are now teaching in Crown Heights schools, and who are now using the best and most advanced practices in the field to educate our children.
Our Zekelman Standards for Judaic Studies are based on data-driven instruction to ensure that no student falls through the cracks. We have invested in creating culturally sensitive social-emotional learning programs for students and targeted support for our students. Our schools partner with the NYC Department of Education through approved agencies like Yeled v’Yaldah to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society receive the support services they need through special ed programs.
The only way to achieve the above is through an educational philosophy and methodology that we have built on a set of principled values that have kept the Jewish people for thousands of years.
It is not right for government bureaucrats to be expected to understand our values and approach to education. It would be like asking a French chef to create protocols for Italian cuisine.
We respectfully ask the government to stand with us and support our work as we are constantly improving our education system and the world one child at a time.