Monday, August 24, 2015

NYC To Probe Secular Education at Yeshivas 

There was no science, no geography and no math past multiplication at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish school Chaim Weber attended. And the only reason he ever heard of the American Revolution was that a seventh-grade teacher introduced it as "story time." 
Naftuli Moster said he never learned the words cell or molecule at the ultra-Orthodox schools he attended, where secular subjects were considered "unimportant or downright going against Judaism."
Now young adults, the two yeshiva graduates echo complaints critics have made for years about the rudimentary level of secular education at private schools serving New York's Hasidic communities. Now, for the first time, the city Department of Education is investigating more than three dozen of the schools to make sure their instruction is up to the most basic standards.
But even the advocates who called for the investigation question whether the city will be able to pierce the insular Orthodox community to force meaningful change.
"These schools have been operating for a very long time," said Weber, one of 52 former students, parents, or former teachers who signed a letter requesting the investigation into 39 yeshivas.
The names of the yeshivas being targeted have not been released because of fears of retaliation. Aside from Weber and Moster, who agreed to speak out, the names of those who called for the probe have also not been publicly released.
"I'm worried for my kids. They could be kicked out if I named the school," said Weber, who said his 10-year-old son has learned simple addition but not subtraction.
State law mandates that the instruction in private schools must be at least substantially equivalent to what can be found in the area's public schools, and the local district, in this case New York City, is given the oversight power.
Calls to several Brooklyn yeshivas and messages to community representatives were not returned.
The push for secular education at the yeshivas has been spearheaded by Young Advocates for a Fair Education. Moster, its executive director, became an advocate for education after he enrolled at the College of Staten Island and saw how far behind he was. A lawyer for his group says he will file a lawsuit if the city investigation does not produce changes.

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