Several times a year, before elections, a man in Florida emails me about who to support in elections down there. The goal is to receive money (Isnâ€™t that everyoneâ€™s?) for private schools. In this case, itâ€™s Jewish religious schools. And thatâ€™s despite public schools being free for everyone â€“ Jews too â€“ and paid for with everybodyâ€™s tax dollars.
So donâ€™t tell me thereâ€™s no alternative when public schools are required to bend over backwards to meet all studentsâ€™ needs.
The first time I got the email, I wrote back, asking the nephrologist (a doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases) how he got my name and my email address. He was very polite and offered to take me off. I said it wasnâ€™t necessary. I really wanted to read what he had to say. Information is power and I was a teacher for eight years, spending several lousy months at a Conservative Jewish day school.
The private school was the worst of my experiences and probably the least educational of the three schools where I taught, including public schools in two Florida counties.
Most of the parents whose children I taught at the religious school wanted special programs, and they wanted their children in those programs with people of the same culture. There’s absolutely no question in my mind.
I briefly compared the different teaching experiences when I wrote about why I left the field in general, on the eve of my Florida certification expiring in late June.
So the problem I had, personally, was â€œclassâ€ and not religion. I actually liked listening to the religious lessons, from attending the second grade morning prayer service daily, to sitting in on the religious classes in my classroom, while planning and grading papers. I didnâ€™t have to, but I know the religious teachers appreciated it, since my presence helped the childrenâ€™s behavior.
Yes, many students had behavior issues, just like at any other school. The only differences I noticed were race and their familiesâ€™ wealth.
From what I saw, the parents paid tuition in the five-figures and knew they could get away with anything. Thereâ€™s a true saying that children learn in three ways: by â€œexample, example, example.â€ In other words, they watched their parents (children notice more than many adults believe) and were raised to feel entitled.
Keep in mind, Iâ€™m writing about one school. It was a Conservative Jewish one, and Conservative (with a capital C) meant that stream of Judaism was started to â€œconserveâ€ religious practices, about 100 years ago, that the older Reform movement had given up. So Conservative doesnâ€™t mean the opposite of liberal. It allowed egalitarian seating and the use of microphones (electricity).
In fact, these days, Conservative is pretty much considered liberal since Reform has been bringing back some tradition. It has become the most popular in America, taking Conservative congregants who want shorter services, musical instruments during services and intermarriage (usually as long as the couple promises to raise Jewish children). Thereâ€™s also paternal lineage (Reform considers children with a Jewish father Jewish, as long as theyâ€™re raised Jewish), usually more English during services, and absolutely no questions about egalitarianism or same-sex couples getting married.
Of course, whatever a Jewish personâ€™s thoughts are, they have to be comfortable with the specific synagogue they attend and that includes the clergy, other congregants and financial obligations. A school setting is similar.
Orthodox schools vary greatly, but most separate the boys and girls into different classes at some point. I donâ€™t know whether religious schools or any private schools require teachers to be certified by different states, or whether they have to teach the stateâ€™s curriculum or administer standardized tests, but Iâ€™m pretty sure it varies.
Grown-ups whose parents had them attend some Hasidic schools are now angry and feeling hopeless, since they know Jewish law and are good at Yiddish, but illiterate in English! There is hardly any secular instruction. See recent articles here, here, hereÂ and here, one of which says a New York state senator refused to sign off on the state budget unless Hasidic schools in and around NYC
â€œwere given more autonomy over curricula.â€
That’s despite the article saying most of the students
â€œare doomed to a life of struggle and poverty.â€
Of course, religious schools are free to teach anti-gay hate, or that men and women have different roles, or that evolution is science fiction. Thatâ€™s the case and if you donâ€™t believe me, look at Congress or too many state legislatures!
So this morning, I got this email with the subject line,
â€œThe Future of the Florida Jewish Community Will Be Decided November 6,â€
since we Jews are always scared of the worst possibility.
Keep in mind, there are plenty of issues with Andrew GillumÂ but they involve separate subjects. Ron DeSantis is far right-wing. Iâ€™ve told plenty of people Iâ€™m happy to not have to choose in the Florida governor’s race.
Ron DeSantis (R) and Andrew Gillum (D)
For U.S. Senate, he endorsed the current two-term governor who has his work cut out for him with Hurricane Michael, and will for awhile. How he performs may change some votersâ€™ minds, but the Florida Democratic Party claimed Rick ScottÂ â€œoversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the nationâ€™s historyâ€ and PolitiFact Florida rated the claim Mostly True. Still, he was elected twice since then. Senate incumbent Bill Nelson is running for his fourth term. As for the Iran deal, which I was also totally against, I donâ€™t think the reference was appropriate for endorsements on a single-issue. The author basically said so when he mentioned his groupâ€™s mission at the end.
Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D)
Right: A liquor store in Panama City Beach around landfall.
I donâ€™t know enough about the state attorney general candidate but am glad the current one is finally stepping down, and Iâ€™m impressed the endorsed CFO candidate is a Democrat, simply because they rarely get this guyâ€™s recommendations. Every good cause should haveÂ bipartisan support, as party majorities rotate from one to the other, and back. The only variables are how often, and how wide the margin is.
I had some questions and wrote back, specifically about tax money from the public going to rabbis.
And as he did some years ago, he politely answered. I honestly canâ€™t challenge him since seems to know the subject and how to explain it, having studied it for years.
I canâ€™t say I agree with laundering public tax money so it goes towards religion. Thatâ€™s different that paying a religious organization for doing secular work.
This is the land with the legacy of Jeb Bush, who accelerated the number and importance of standardized tests more than anyone could imagine. He and his friendly legislature also found ways to get millions of dollars for money for school choice. (Sounds great, doesnâ€™t it?) Count the ways you can take advantage, here.
And then there are charter schools that are public â€“ paid for with money taken from school districts and required to administer state tests â€“ but run by outsiders, often companies, out to make money. And studies have gone back and forth whether they get better results than traditional public schools, despite being able to turn away students, pretty much at their will. (Thatâ€™s as if test scores are the only surefire way to judge education.)
The man who emailed represents a group called Jewish Leadership Coalition and its Facebook page says itâ€™s â€œa non-for-profit 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organization comprised of various Jewish leaders and organizations that have joined together to advocate for greater public funding for secular education in Jewish day schools.â€
It gives a website that doesnâ€™t seem to work, and doesnâ€™t come up in searches, but this 2013 articleÂ announced that it started and who would benefit from the money.
The families whose children go to these schools tend to have more kids than the average American family, and they eat only kosher food. The costs add up. So do the number of students!
Other states with large Jewish populations have groups similar to the one above. This websiteÂ helps parents in six states get government money to pay tuition that public schools donâ€™t charge.
I understand parents with strong religious beliefs want their children brought up in their faith and to have extensive knowledge of it.Â Thatâ€™s very difficult in a 24-hour day, where students receive a well-rounded education so they can become professionals who can contribute to society.
Outside of school these days, â€œfree timeâ€ seems to be the â€œinâ€ thing. Competing with that are all the extracurricular activities parents sign their children up to do, even at the school where I taught. It was a way to make money. Perhaps some of that has to go. Nobody can have it all.
The rich make teacher unions look like the boogeyman, as you saw in the response to me, as if all they do is take money. UnionsÂ donâ€™t want to protect bad teachers. (Iâ€™ve been a shop steward, but it wasnâ€™t my idea.) They want good teachers and to see that those good teachers get the protections like a fair contract and the due process they deserve â€“ to avoid being taken advantage of by bad administrators, not to mention parents who think they know more about education than the supposed experts.
In May, a religious friend conducted this Facebook poll:
I think the principal was out of line and probably ruined his relationship with this â€œspecial needsâ€ student, which may have been hard to build and would probably be harder to rebuild.
The man who simply said â€œThey listen to their parentsâ€ has a wife who is Director of Special Programs atÂ â€“ you guessed it â€“ a (different) Jewish day school!
Itâ€™s natural in every financial transaction that the buyer wants to pay less, while the business (or school) wants more. There has to be a fair solution.
And for years, Iâ€™ve had what I consider the perfect solution.
I think public school teachers hired by the district should go to the private schools and teach English, math, science and social studies. Perhaps also electives like physical education, music and art. That would be half the day, and it would be paid for the same way public schools pay for educators and materials. Any tuition crisis would be instantly alleviated!
In my solution, the religious side could teach its material during the other half of the day. So half the school would study religion, and the other half would do secular studies, and then theyâ€™d switch!
What about religious holidays, like half the month of September and the entire eight days of Passover? The schedule could be adjusted. The public school teachers would volunteer to teach at these schools, especially those who take off for all the holidays anyway. It would be a blessing for the religious school parents to have their children in school while they prepare for the holidays, rather than watching over them because school is canceled, so their teachers could take off to prepare for their own families!
Also, the public school teachers would teach the public school curriculum with no interference, and students would take the same tests as the rest of the general population (without overkill for anybody). Plus, the students would be exposed to people who donâ€™t all look, sound or believe like them.
I want to know what you think about this.
It would also eliminate the worst thing that happens: Parents not sending their children to public schools, but taking the scarce money devoted to education away from them. Which state’s legislature pays enough for quality schools? What school system has enough money to really do its job right? Who pays their teachers what they deserve as professionals? What district gives every one of its poorest students equal access to a quality education at their neighborhood school?
In February, USA Today published a list, ranking the states by the quality of their schools. (Eight of the top nine, and ten of the top 12, are states between the mid-Atlantic and New England! Take that for what itâ€™s worth.) Florida ranks number 29 and the lead to the article on the Sunshine State is pretty grim:
â€œFloridaâ€™s public schools receive some of the lowest funding of any state school system in the country.â€
Read the article for the state rankings (luckily all on one webpage) and the results of being too cheap when it comes to educating children, but thereâ€™s one I have to share: Florida is 48th out of 50 in the percentage of adults, ages 25-64, with incomes at or above the national median. In other words, you get what you pay for and this isÂ pitiful! Imagine who in the U.S. is behind Florida, despite all the visitors who go there and spend money!
Iâ€™ll tell you that your childâ€™s teacher is most important person in the school, besides the students, and every school in every state has good ones and bad ones. Hopefully those bad ones donâ€™t last long but the good ones can be convinced to stay, and we all know money talks.
So do you think my compromise idea would work? Is it at least worth a try? How would you tweak it?
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