Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Internet Schooling - Using One Good Crisis to Solve Another

Never let a crisis go to waste.

These are the (in)famous words of Rahm Emanuel, formerly President Obama’s Chief of Staff and currently the mayor of Chicago. (This rates in my book right alongside “I am not a crook!”)

Now this post is not meant to be about the Shidduch crisis although, now that I brought it up, and since it plays into my real topic, I will devote a few lines to it.

Loyal readers know that I have written a number of posts trying to push web cam dating. I am not finished with the subject and, in fact, want to expound on it some more - just not right now. But I will say this much in a follow up to my last post on this subject in August of 2014:

There seems to be very few revolutionaries among my scant readership. While I did not expect a deluge of responses to my clarion call for Skype-based trans-Atlantic dating featuring "Yossi", my then 23 y/o Prince Charming, I fully expected at least a smattering of interest. But I got absolutely nothing! Not a nibble. Save for one neighbor in Har Hof – a faithful reader - who wanted to set up my Yossi with his niece from Baltimore. And he couldn't get the job done because his sister's family is among the malachim (and I say it with sincere admiration) that do not have Internet in their house at all.  As I reported, Prince Charming (now a bit older) has since fled to the shores of the Goldene Medineh with a suitcase full of glass slippers (assorted sizes).

We are letting the crisis go to waste!

Undaunted, revolutionary that I am (or wannabe), I want to propose employing the Internet to help alleviate another great crisis. The one that most of us face shortly after successfully weathering the shidduch crisis – the day school tuition crisis catastrophe!!

Now, although this is a longstanding issue, this post was inspired by an interview I listened to very recently. The interview was conducted by Rabbi Dovid Lichtenstein on his weekly radio show Headlines. For the record, let me state that I think it is a great show and I highly recommend it for people who have the time. I think Rabbi Lichtenstein is a very brilliant, erudite and sincere individual and a great promoter of Torah and Chesed. (Although I question his support of the great sheffa-macher, Hillary Clinton). I was actually together with him during my year in Yeshivat Mir although we were not closely acquainted.

The interview was on his Jan. 23, 2016 broadcast and the interviewee was Harav Dovid Ozeiri. The subject focused on the address Rabbi Ozeiri delivered at the Agudah convention concerning how truly underpaid our Rebbeim (and teachers) are. Despite Rabbi Ozeiri’s claims of noticeable improvements, the underlying issue – the skyrocketing cost of education, was not fully addressed. Although some fundraising efforts may be effective to put a few additional dollars into our Rebbeims’ paychecks, it is difficult to envision a durable solution that does not facilitate another increase to the already crippling cost of tuition.

Can something be done?

I think so.

We have a Jewish mesora – it’s called Mesoras Avoseinu B’Yadeinu. The Torah calls it: שאל אביך ויגדך, זקניך ויאמרו לך.

What did my grandpapa do for my papa?

Well, there were no day schools in Munkacz when Totty was a tot. Not too many in the US either. But there were chadarim and Hebrew schools. Not nearly as costly as day schools. So it saved them a bundle. But…what about the three R’s?

There were compulsory no-cost public schools.

So that’s what they did in the good old days. Because, in Europe at least, they weren’t even allowed to have full scale private day schools. So the kids went to public school to learn the three R’s and national propaganda and all the parents had to pay for was the local religious education. And they didn’t splurge too much for the girls.

Today we don’t send our kids to public schools.

Why not?

Because it is not a very healthy environment for nice Jewish children (in more ways than one), that’s why. Also, because the standards of education do not meet the potentials of our children. Also because some of the study material is objectionable to our tastes (such as the national propaganda).

So we dig in to our pockets and hyper-pay for higher quality "kosher" secular education along with the religious education that we need. And we do this for our girls as well as for the boys. This is because the girls are required to receive the same compulsory secular education for which we cannot send them to public schools, either. And even though they do not need the same intensity of religious studies, we bundle it all up in one package we call "day school" with all the same perks and pay the same price.

But suppose we can have our kichel and eat it, too. Suppose we can achieve a suitable level of secular education and sidestep the unhealthy environment (and monitor the study material) all at no cost?

Well, we can. At least in some parts of the country. But it means going back to the big bad Parah Adumah that invades our lives --- the INTERNET.

You see, one day, when I was doing my usual “blogging”, I came across a pop-up ad for this place. This is a site that offers online secular education at no tuition at all.

Online secular education! Free!

With free online secular education, we could simply cut out the general studies from the day schools and turn them back into the chadarim and Hebrew schools that our zeidies (and bubbies??) went to.

This would eliminate the need for general studies teachers, and administrators, textbooks and equipment and possibly even lunches. So, let’s say the boys could go to school for limudei kodesh from 8:30 to 2:00, then come home and do their mandatory secular elementary school education online. For girls, the communities could develop religious education programs that work for them (tip – they can use the Israeli system as a model) and they would be non-compulsory so that if somebody is really financially strapped, they can opt out. Of course, I think it is very important for girls to receive proper Jewish educations, but definitely not as intensive as boys, and a family should not be forced to go into debt for it. If it’s truly unaffordable, families have the option of forgoing it and letting the girls learn on their mothers’ apron strings. Save the money for the chasuna (or for the seminary year in Israel)!

Of course, frum general studies teachers and administrators may find themselves out of work but (1) there are other kinds of jobs out there and (2) the savings from lowering their own children's tuition costs may just cover the deficit (perhaps with change).

And--- to deal with Rabbi Ozeiri, more of the freed up tuition money can get to the Rebbeim!

Incidentally, this system goes all the way to 12th grade so the yeshivos can cash in on it as well. We can also solve the girls' high school crisis - a crisis within a crisis - by eliminating girls' high schools and just having local religious studies programs (and maybe chugim) that can be much more flexible.

Of course, there are down-sides - just like the Skype dating. The obvious one is that, once again, it means making peace with the Internet.

And, again, I will respond with everything I wrote in my first post on this issue – see HERE. Owing to the fact that we have learned how to “tame” the Internet, this is a small price to pay.

With this, we have solved the problem of the “unhealthy environment” of public schools. What is left is the problem of the second rate standards, if they are indeed lower, and the problem of objectionable material.

Both these issues can be readily solved if we –the Jewish community – or some organization such as Torah U’Mesora, can develop a custom tailored curriculum for the Jewish community that can be fully accredited. If this is not possible, then the two issues will need to be dealt with.

My assumption is that the standards issue is not a serious one. The standards may well be up to par, and even if not, any achiever will eventually find his or her potential. As for objectionable material, I think it could be deflected or circumvented but I don’t want to lengthen this post by going into details.

Currently, there is one major problem with this whole suggestion. It is not fully functional. The site that I linked to above told me that the free online program is only accredited in 27 states. All other states can only go private which indeed costs a bundle. The states off the list include some of the real biggies – New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. But, California, Michigan and Florida are accredited. They told me they are working to get all 50 states and they hope to get New York or New Jersey, if not both in the coming year, but right now they are off the table.

I think it may just be a matter of the great askanim of Brooklyn and Rockland County to bribe pull the right strings in Albany to get the job done. We’ve got the people in Albany who will help us as soon as they get out of the slammer.

Incidentally, I found another such online public school system (see HERE) that claims to be accredited in New Jersey and Illinois (but still not New York).

So, even though for now this may be a pipe dream, it can happen if enough people (and HKBH) want it to happen.Of course, for social reasons, the current system is a much better system, but, needless to say, it is a luxury that most of us simply cannot afford. Remember, just like the Skype dating, we aren’t trying to fix something that ain’t broke. 

I fully understand that the Internet is a makka that brings along its own refuah. This is truly an eis laasos l'Hashem - hefeiru Torasecha. We need an alternative system. And, if nobody is willing to experiment with a new system, there will never be one.

P.S. I personally think that every single Jew should make Aliyah and leave this whole tuition crisis behind (we have some way more exciting crises over here), but none of my suggestions seem to sell.

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