Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guest Post: No yeshivas for us! Homeschooling in Orthodox Brooklyn

No yeshivas for us! Homeschooling in Orthodox Brooklyn

By: Michelle Kleinman

When my older daughter was not yet two, the big question that started coming up was “Where are you sending her to playgroup?” I got this question from everyone, from my in-laws to strangers on the street. Truth is, I hadn’t really thought about it. Since I am able to stay home with my children, the idea of sending them away at such a young age seemed rather silly. At that age, the experience can best be described as daycare. So I was honest. I said that I would keep her home with me for a few years.

Judging by my family’s reaction, one would think that I had offered to drop them off in the jungle to be raised by wolves. “What will you do when they’re older?” I was asked. “If you don’t send them to playgroup, no yeshiva school will accept them.”

Fine. Yeshiva tuition’s expensive anyway. I’ll just homeschool them.

Since that time, I have gotten exceedingly annoyed at the questions that have been hurled at me. Interestingly enough, only one question was about their educations. One of my relatives asked my how I would teach my sons Gemara. (Since I don’t have any sons yet, I’m not sure. But I might slip some Gemara lessons to my daughters…). This actually surprised me, since I do not have any yeshiva background myself. I expected to be asked “How will you teach Chumash?” “How will you know what to teach and when to teach it?” In matters of Limudei Kodesh, these are the questions which nag at me. However, there have been almost no questions in that regard. In fact, one of my neighbors said that girls’ schools were created primarily to keep girls out of trouble! Instead, here are the questions I get most, and the snarky responses I wish I had the cojones to deliver…

1.I couldn’t stand to be around my kids all day. Maybe you should have thought of that before you had six of them!

2.How will your kids learn to socialize? We’re talking to you, aren’t we? Believe it or not, there is more involved in homeschooling than locking your kid in the closet with a stack of textbooks!

3.How will they make friends? All the groups you want to send them to are full of non-Jewish and non-Orthodox kids. Oh, no, not that! They might learn that non-Orthodox and non-Jewish people are actually human! Call ACS, please!

4.I knew this one family that homeschooled their kids and they all turned out isolated and weird. And I know this one family that sent their kid to school, and she was bullied so mercilessly that she has deep-seated psychological problems to this day! Not all socialization is positive!

5.But you’re thinking of public school. Yeshivas don’t have bullies in them. Then why do so many people ask me about dealing with bullying? Kids are kids, some are going to be obnoxious jerks, and if you think a yarmulke or a Bais Yaakov uniform will change that, you’re living in dreamland. (Michal note: I actually read an article in like Binah or something that said Yeshivas have a BIGGER problem with bullying that public school.)

6.Why don’t you want to send them to school? Because Bais Yaakov is expensive, and, judging by the graduates, none too impressive education-wise. (Michal’s note: No kidding they have these 19 year old seminary graduates who bolt to Lakewood in the middle of the year because they were only “marking time”).
7.  How will you prepare them for the adult world? Certainly not by shoving them in an environment that discourages autonomy and independent decision-making at the expense of groupthink. I'd rather teach them responsible decision-making skills that are in line with their values, rather than provide the answers before they've even thought of the questions. Moreover, I don't think any sane parent would really want their children handling about 90% of the decisions that adults have to make.
8.What if they want to go to school? They’ll go. New York requires a boatload of paperwork to homeschool. Between the paperwork, my kids’ personality, and the fact that we could probably swing a year’s tuition (money talks louder than most people care to admit), they could probably get accepted somewhere.

The common theme here is not an overarching concern for my children’s education (which, if I recall, is the actual purpose of school), but a concern that my kids may learn something other than closed, ghettoized world of Brooklyn Orthodoxy. And, really, that’s reason enough to want to keep my kids home!