In discussing the challenges facing many in the day school movement, Tamar Snyder (“Can Day Schools Survive?” July 23) offers little more than “yelling fire in a crowded theater” without a critical perspective or call for serious thinking. The demise of day schools as implied in Snyder’s article is happily premature.
Can day schools survive? Of course they can and will; day schools are here to stay. A significant portion of Jewish parents has always sought intensive Jewish education for their children. Fiscal challenges will strain these families, but, for most, will not deter them. They understand well the value to their children’s future that daily Jewish learning provides. Further, they understand the unique contribution that a day school education can give to students uncovering their human and American identities through a combination of high-level general studies and Jewish learning; this is the essence of a day school education.
Snyder suggests that parents, and even funding agencies, may opt for summer camp as both an inexpensive and sufficient substitute to day school education. Yet we proceed at our peril if we do not recognize that day schools as well as Jewish summer camps have a critical and unique role to play in the lives of our children.
Private schools are hurting throughout the country; some Jewish day schools among them. Of course there are new realities facing private Jewish education; these realities may force some parents to decide on alternatives to their current choices, and some schools may not survive. But there are many and complicated reasons why some schools fail and not all can be traced solely to a weak economy. Many yeshivot and day schools are thriving; many day schools continue to provide superb educational programming, field exceptional faculties, and boast steady enrollment.
For many parents the commitment to intensive Jewish education has been and will continue to be a painful one; a commitment that requires increasing sacrifices. But Jewish parents have always struggled to provide the best possible education for their children.
What is needed now to ensure a healthy day school movement throughout the country is a bringing together of representatives from the field, academia and Jewish federations, and under the auspices of foundations committed to a literate Jewish future. Such a gathering must begin a national conversation about how to help struggling communities and how to make successful schools even stronger. Most important, such a conversation will need the courage to think anew, question old assumptions and move beyond talking to real innovation.
Solomon Schechter School of Westchester