In an editorial last Sunday, the New York Times added its two cents to the adequacy of the educational programs of several chassidic yeshivas in New York City.
Under the banner “New York’s Yeshiva Students Deserve Better,” the Times first notes that yeshivas are required to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to what is provided in public schools. The editorial goes on, though, to chastise the De Blasio administration for not properly following up on a complaint filed with the New York City Department of Education by some disgruntled parents, teachers, and former students who alleged that the “substantially equivalent” standard was not being met. According to the Times, the city’s investigation into the charges has been “desultory.”
It is truly, unfortunate, that the Times’ editorial has obscured the complexity of the issue as described by The Jewish Press in an editorial last week and by others as well, including Avi Schick, the attorney for the schools. For one thing, the Times mentions nothing of the First Amendment’s constitutional overlay, as articulated by the United States Supreme Court, which, in principle, empowers members of religious minorities to educate their children in a manner that is consistent with their religious beliefs – despite the public’s concern for an educated citizenry.
Of course, the two issues are not always a perfect fit, requiring reasoned inquiry and attempts at accommodation. Yet, for the Times, the lack of virtual symmetry between public and private school curricula is not the beginning of the inquiry, but the end of it.
Nor does the Times address the import of the recent enactment of New York State legislation sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, which, of course, trumps anything the city can do. That legislation mandates that substantial weight be given to the educational benefits of the exacting Torah studies component of the yeshivas’ overall educational programs.
Indeed, the only mention of that legislation was in the form of an out-of-hand, categorical dismissal: “The state has hardly done better [than the city]. Earlier this year, State Senator Simcha Felder, who represents a largely Orthodox district in Brooklyn, held up the state’s nearly $170 billion budget until lawmakers agreed to loosen oversight of the yeshivas.”
The Times ends with a thinly veiled-recitation of its real point: “The failure of politicians to challenge Orthodox leaders denies some of the most vulnerable members of Orthodox communities government’s full protection. Officials have an obligation to ensure that every child in New York receives a sound education.”
Sounds like crocodile tears to us. What about the role of parents under the Constitution? What about the Felder legislation?