Many questions will surface at this point. Here are some which you should answer before proceeding with a more detailed search for the right school. As you think of other questions which need answering, add them to the list.
- Why should your child attend a Jewish school?
- When should your child attend a Jewish school?
- How should your child be taught?
- What should your child be taught?
- Where should your child go to school?
This question addresses perhaps the most important aspect of this discussion. Why, indeed, do you want your child to have a Jewish education? This is something which only you as parents can decide. Is your family tradition driving this decision? Are your religious beliefs that important to you and your family that a Jewish education for your children is simply the only option? You need to understand that any parent who sends his child to a religious school is making a very strong statement about his faith and the importance it holds in his life. It will set your child from his peers in a very secular world where religious values and principles are routinely ignored. Giving your child a religious education essentially trains him to believe that there is a higher power who is responsible for everything in his life and the world around him.
When should your child attend a Jewish school?
Basically this question deals with the timing issue. Do you want your child to start his Jewish education in the early years or perhaps wait until middle school or high school? For many parents the timing is determined by financial considerations. A private education costs money. If money is not an issue, then you need to grapple with the issue of whether your child should wait until high school or start in the primary grades. Your choices will also be influenced by the availability of appropriate schools depending on where you live. Put another way, you will probably have more options if you live in Los Angeles or Brooklyn than if you live in Omaha.
How should your child be taught?
The manner in which your child should be taught is another critical decision you need to consider carefully. In the early years you need to consider teaching styles and other pedagogical issues. Do you want a child-centered approach along the lines of Montessori or Waldorf schools? Do you prefer a more traditional approach? In the middle school and high school years the wisdom and years of training which most rabbis have is something you want to look for. Does the school have a resident rabbi? Several rabbis? As children reach those questioning years you will want the stability and sound counsel which a trained rabbinical person can give to be part of your child's maturation. A rabbi will be able to relate your child's faith to the world around him. A rabbi will be able to explain the events of history as they impact on the Jewish people and do so with authority.
What should your child be taught?
You need to decide what strength of Jewishness with which you wish to shape your child. Think of it as Jewish lite if you will or full strength. And every shade in between those two extremes. As you begin to choose the right school for your child, 'right' will mean the right balance of academics and religious training. If you are an Orthodox Jew, and the only Jewish school available to you in your area is a very liberal Reform school, you will have to make that tough decision. Do you send your child to a public school with its separation of religion and school? Or do you swallow hard and compromise your religious values by sending her to a Jewish school which does not observe the rules you hold so dear in your family and personal life? That is the point where you realize that no matter how wonderful the school is, it is truly up to you the parent to teach and uphold all that is important to you as a Jew. Your Jewishness is intrinsically something you must teach by example.
Where should your child go to school?
You have arrived at this point by trying to answer the basic questions above. Once you have clearly articulated those answers and reached an agreement with all interested parties as to your course of action with respect to a Jewish education for your child, then the next step is to identify schools which will meet your requirements. Fortunately for you, by choosing a Jewish education, you immediately eliminate 90% or more of the schools in your area. The exception, of course, is Brooklyn, New York, which has over 139 schools. Still, in dozens of major American cities, you will find several options to choose from.
Follow the process laid out in selecting a private school. Ask questions. Observe. Take notes of your findings. Discuss any questions and issues with your trusted circle of family, friends and advisors. In the end, it is up to you which school is the best fit.
More importantly, always remember that any school is a partner in the process of educating your child in the Jewish faith. If you think of yourself as the managing partner in this partnership, you will understand that you are the most important factor in your child's education.
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