Monday, April 28, 2008

Home Schooling a Jewish Education?

There is no doubt that this Pesach took a tremendous amount out of me. In addition to the shlepping and shopping and cleaning and cooking, I devoted quite a bit of time and energy to preparing my son for the sederim.

He goes to a wonderful school. But sadly, though it is a Jewish school, he really gets no Jewish content in school. His teachers are wonderful - and they are not Jewish. It is unfair to expect them to educate my child. So that leaves it up to my husband and me.

Initially I thought this would be fine. I am a Jewish educator, and I like being the one in control of the information he gets. Each night at dinner, we would have a model seder, which he loved. We listened to Pesach songs in the car (ad nauseum.) We told the story of Pesach over and over. We even made Matzah covers.

Then the big night arrived. My 4-year old niece showed up with her handmade Hagadah, which she made in school. She knew the four questions. She knew lots of English songs. She was raring to go. Truthfully, I don't think she knew that much (if any) more than my son. Yet, I still felt a sense of emptiness as I watched her so excited to show off her Hagadah and all the songs she had learned.

My niece had learned about Pesach at school - in the context of peers and community. All of her friends had made a Hagadah, too. And it was something she did independently of her parents.

This year's sederim made me realize that just as I don't want to home school my children for their secular studies, I also do not want to home school them for their Judaic studies.

It is not a dynamic I want in our family. I want my children to be able to learn about Judaism with their friends at school - from their teachers there. The parent-child relationship is complex enough without adding this kind of pressure - both to the parent and the children.

Of course the education will be supplemented - and most importantly - lived out in our home. And all of this depends on the very uncertain reality of us actually being able to afford Jewish day school. But I really know now that Jewish day school is really and truly my first choice.

And not because it guarantees the best Jewish outcome for my kids. There is certainly no guarantee there, and I know so many people who have left observant life because of experiences in Jewish day schools. I want my kids to go to Jewish day school because I want to experience the next 18 or so years of holidays, shabbats, and life in general with them learning about Judaism in the context of a school community.

I want my children to be able to bring their handmade preschool Hagadot to the seder and feel happy and proud. And I want to sit back and appreciate their work - not as their teacher, but as their parent.


Phyllis Sommer said...

i feel your pain. my oldest is in public school and supplementary sunday school (in *my* synagogue) and i still supplement, teach, work hard to create the jewish learning that i wish he were getting in a communal and exciting setting...and i know it will only get harder as the sunday school classes get "less cool" -- for the kindergarteners it's all exciting and fun but i know that even the 3rd graders are starting to decide that sunday school isn't "cool"...some days i just want to give it all up and move to israel. on the other hand, i did love to hear my kiddo sing the four questions and who knows one after *I* taught him...there is a lot of joy in that.

Maya said...

Wow--I'm in awe of your energy, dedication and commitment to have done all that work to prepare your son for what sounds like a wonderful seder, on top of everything else. Thanks for your post--my daughter's only 15 months right now, but I am already thinking about whether or not I want to wait-list her for a public bilingual charter school or to stick with a good dayschool. This helps!

Commenter Abbi said...

Sorry, I'm a little confused. It's a Jewish school but they don't do Jewish content? Is it a non-denominational preschool in a synagogue?

It sounds like you put in a lot of effort. It could be that your niece didn't necessarily "know" more about the holiday, but she could have a different reaction to the learning than your son did. My older one is a bit more reticent about what she knows while my younger loves to belt out "Ma Nishtana" any chance she can get.

Anyway, best of luck with navigating the whole schooling thing. I'm sure no matter what, your son will come out with a strong Jewish identity.