Beating Back the Busybodies: Public school, Jewish school, or Mind Your Own Business

public school booksDear Shuli:
This situation with Talmud Torah of St. Paul has been causing a great deal of tzores. As most of us in St. Paul know, the day school may have to close if the school can’t get enough students. I went to the afternoon school as a teenager, but I’ve been planning to send my 4-year-old daughter to our local public school because that’s what’s best for our family (her older sister goes to the public school, and we love it).
Now, many people at our synagogue and in our community are giving my family a guilt trip. I want to support Talmud Torah, but I want to send my girls to public school. How should I respond?
— School of Thought
Dear School of Thought:
I completely understand the angst. Since I’m anonymous (to most), I can say this: We’re experiencing the same guilt in our family. Our child most likely will not attend Talmud Torah – at least not next year – but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to support the school! We want to send our kids to day school, and we’re leaning toward HMJDS because it’s more convenient, geographically speaking… but that’s my story – not yours! Anyway, I’ve known for quite some time that the TTSP day school was in trouble from an enrollment standpoint, and the issues run deep. There’s a lot of history there, and it seems that the baggage goes back at least 7 – 10 years.
So … Like me, you care about the St. Paul school (it sounds like you plan to send your girls to the afternoon school, and you’re happy to support the school in general) and you don’t want the day school to close. I think most of us can agree that it’s important to have a community day school choice in St. Paul, but the jury’s out on whether our population and economy can support it, on top of the choices that already exist: HMJDS, Torah Academy, Lubavitch Cheder, and many great secular, private-school choices — not to mention public school, a far more affordable and often excellent choice!
However, you’ve made your family choice based on what’s best for the four (or more) of you: Public school. Period. That should be the end of the discussion. Except it’s not, because there are many in the Jewish community who mean well … but they can’t help but stick their noses in your personal business.
Why is that some of our Jewish brothers and sisters feel a communal responsibility to “help” us make our school decisions for our own children? That’s like the women (complete strangers) who used to offer to “help” me find a more private place to breastfeed my daughters, or cover up a bit more! No thanks, lady. I’m just fine on this park bench, thanks. It’s 21st-century America, and I’m enjoying my female freedom. Now butt out.
Personally, I am a product of private-school preschool and Kindergarten, then public school all the way through. And then overpriced private university, which I paid for.  I attended Sunday & Hebrew school from second through 12th grades, and I think I turned out reasonably well. My hubby and I want to send our girls to day school because we think that’s the best choice for our family, but I hate getting stuck in the middle of this local Jewish-political maelstrom. It’s so uncomfortable. Of course I know that every family counts now for TTSP, but I think you can respectfully respond thus:
Public school is the best choice for YOUR family. You’ve carefully considered the options, and you intend to send your girls to TTSP for afternoon school. Perhaps you’d be willing to help out the day school in other ways. Fundraising, referrals to others, etc. It takes a village to raise a child, but it truly takes the parent (or parents) to make the final call.
Readers: I’d love to get your take on this BIG community issue!