Peer groups matter. Environment matters. A child’s social life is as important to his development as is the material they learn in the classroom. And the Limudei Kodesh material covered in a classroom can rarely be matched at home by even the most diligent and dedicated parent. Furthermore most children will resent the extra time they need to study religious subjects at home when all their classmates and friends from public school are out having a good time.
It is these kinds of influences that brought about the day school movement we have in America today. Historically, prior to the advent of the day school movement the majority of children from religious homes that attended public schools did not stay observant. That some did stay religious to one extent or another was relatively rare. The influence of the melting pot society… and the drive to get ahead financially – coupled with the view that the way of their parents was an archaic vestige of their European ghetto past – irrelevant to America – led many good people to abandon observance to any significant degree.
Although the melting pot… kind of melted itself – giving way to a more culturally diverse society in America, – making observant Judaism more socially acceptable – that isn’t enough to prevent a child from abandoning his parents ancient religious practices in the modern world. It is his parents against the world. With no significant peer relationship to influence a child to see it any other way. Not to mention the woefully inadequate level of Torah study in the home after school.
I therefore strongly reject the notion that one can send a child to public school with the expectation of being an observant Jew. Which – as I said – is the essence of being Jewish. If you want your child to follow in your footsteps as a religious Jew, you have to bite the financial bullet and send your child to a day school. The tuition crisis – although very real is a separate issue.
Of course there are no guarantees. Day schools do not provide immunity from going OTD. The OTD rate is increasing despite the day school experience. In some cases it is because of the day school experience. But as important as this issue is, it is also really a separate one.
When one looks at the total picture, I don’t think there is any question that the vast majority of day school students will become observant adults. On the other hand without a day school education the chances of your child remaining observant are – to say the least – substantially reduced.
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