Thursday, December 21, 2006

Looking over the shoulder

Some twenty years ago, while running an educational seminar, the question came up regarding a recreational activity for the staff. It turned out that one or two of the team was religiously uncomfortable with the choice of the activity, and a discussion ensued as to whether we should show respect for the strictures of that team member or whether that team member would have to bear with the desires of the rest of the group.

I am reminded of that scene often as I visit day schools. Certainly in Orthodox schools, but also in many schools (both day and congregational) affiliated with the Conservative and Reform movements, it is easy to find teachers whose religious convictions are stronger than those of the parent body (and, hence, the student body). It is rare to find Jewish studies teachers whose commitments and convictions are less than those of the parent body.

That seems perfectly reasonable, as parents send their children to day schools to strengthen their Jewish commitments, not weaken them. One outcome of this is that schools tend to lean to the right, sometimes to the delight and other times to the chagrin of the parents and the community.

Is this inevitable? Can schools be confident enough in the commitments they seek to inspire to expose students to role models who are more open (not less religiously committed)? Is it possible to have schools which acurately reflect the spectrum of the parent body? I know that this is the theory of the cross/trans-denominational community schools. Can it hold true in denominational schools as well?

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