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!
Beating Back the Busybodies: Public school, Jewish school, or Mind Your Own Business
That is a tough one. I am a product of our former Talmud Torah afternoon school (and our shul’s religious school) and I am always grateful for the Jewish education provided there.
If it were me, I would probably want to send my kids (if I had kids) to a Jewish day school, all things being equal. A three-day-a-week afternoon Hebrew school just can’t go into as much depth into Jewish studies as a Jewish day school, and these days we are seeing the results of inadequate Jewish education.
Having said that, however, if you choose to send your kids to public school (or private school), it is ultimately your business. It could be that Minneapolis can’t support that many Jewish day schools (here in Memphis, the Jewish High School is closing after only one graduating class due to not being able to support itself–fortunately we have the Academy/Yeshiva and the Solomon Schechter which are in better shape). I would respectfully say as you said that having considered the options, we are making this decision. It could be that the Talmud Torah must merge with one of the existing schools or go out of business. Maybe the merged school will be stronger than the two institutions.
Please continue to do what’s best for your family. As a huge supporter of Jewish day schools, it is necessary that people come because it is a choice made of free will. People who try to guilt you into going to TTSP are acting in their own self interest, not the communities and not yours. Your job is to be the best parent you can be, not to rescue day schools from their 7-10 years of bad baggage.
D’oh. Of course, you do what’s best for your family. This seems like a news story hiding in the advice column. What happens to TTSP is important to St Paul. Unfortunately the powers-that-be at TTSP were slow to address the fundamental problem, lack of critical mass, which evolved over ten or more years. Some of the problem is economic, more is demographic, and quite a bit is poor execution. The linked Star Trib article implies if 70 enroll, the UJFC subsidy would be over $7000 per student. In the current financial environment this is unrealistic. Leora’s comments about dual Minneapolis/St Paul institutions will be seen as prescient soon. Just like TTSP, the current UJFC and St Paul JCC will not exist as independent institutions in a few years. If their leaders were savvy, they would start negotiating with their Minneapolis counterparts ASAP to determine how best to merge rather than outright takeover or capitulation. Unfortunately the current generation of leadership still has not accepted that the environment has changed. Lead, follow, or get out of the way!
(Talmud Torah alumni)
I think that you should do whats best for your family. I also highly support having your kid go to the afternoon school and maybe Midrasha. No matter what its important to instill Jewish values and keep their Jewish identity alive.
Good Luck to you.
My children went to the Day School and learned critical thinking skills and a profound sense of Jewish identity that you can’t find in even a very good public school. The challenge of enrollment is both demographics and mistakes of administrators (long gone). No parent should second guess what is right for another family, but a deep and specific look at what the Talmud Torah has to offer is worth the time and effort.
Agreed with Talmud Torah Parent. No one should be guilted into a decision however TTSP has been woefully undermarketed. I went on a whim and have never regretted my decision to send our kids there. I don’t mean to sound elitist but having done so I can’t even imagine having had them go to another school even if it was one of the better public ones (Capitol Hill, Nova Classical, etc.). At TTSP our children have received a wonderful Jewish and moral education, understanding of the world around them and the obligation to better it, as well as one of the best academic environments in the state. I’m not a fan of test scores but TTSP’s have traditionally rivaled or beaten those of Saint Paul Academy, Capitol Hill, Nova, and many, many, many others.