Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Curricular integration in the courts

Rabbi Jack Beiler sent me the following email:

One of my students as well as several friends involved in the legal profession have called my attention to the fact that one of my essays that appears on the Lookstein site was referenced in a Second Circuit Appellate Court Decision re: a dispute between a day school and the village in which it is situated.

The issue involved is a novel legal application of the concept of integration between Judaic and general studies. I have been told that the Second Circuit is quite prestigious and influences the legal decisions of other courts as well.

Larry Kobrin forwarded to me the relevant reference and suggested that it be shared in the context of the Missions Statement discussion that took place on Lookjed this past summer. If I understand correctly, in this case the school's presentation of all of its in-school activities as involving integration with Judaism was an important part of its argument that its expansion plans were protected by laws guaranteeing freedom of religion.

The excerpt reads as follows:

B. Westchester Day School's Aims

As a Jewish private school, Westchester Day School provides its students with a dual curriculum in Judaic and general studies. Even general studies classes are taught so that religious and Judaic concepts are reinforced. In the nursery and kindergarten classes no distinction exists between Judaic and general studies; the dual curriculum is wholly integrated. In grades first through eighth, students spend roughly half their day on general subjects such as mathematics and social studies and half on Judaic studies that include the Bible, the Talmud, and Jewish history.

In an effort to provide the kind of synthesis between the Judaic and general studies for which the school aims, the curriculum of virtually all secular studies classes is permeated with religious aspects, and the general studies faculty actively collaborates with the Judaic studies faculty in arranging such a Jewish-themed curriculum. For example, the General Studies Curriculum Guide describes how social studies is taught in grades 6, 7, and 8, explaining that WDS tries "to develop an understanding of humanistic, philosophical thought, the nature of cause and effect in history, and the application of ethical Judaic principles to history and daily life" (emphasis added). The Guide further notes that "[s]tudying the history of Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel] has become an increasingly prominent feature of assemblies and social studies lessons." And, the Guide's Science Curriculum Map notes that in science class first graders are taught about "the world around them [and] the seasonal changes and connections to the Jewish holidays" (emphasis added).

The school's physical education teachers confer daily with the administration to ensure that during physical education classes Jewish values are being inculcated in the students. This kind of integration of Jewish and general culture is made possible when a school actively and consciously designs integrated curricular and extracurricular activities on behalf of its student body. See Jack Bieler, Integration of Judaic and General Studies in the Modern Orthodox Day School, 54:4 Jewish Education 15 (1986), available at Thus, the school strives to have every classroom used at times for religious purposes, whether or not the class is officially labeled Judaic.

A Jewish day school like WDS exists, at least in part, because Orthodox Jews believe it is the parents' duty to teach the Torah to their children. Since most Orthodox parents lack the time to fulfill this obligation fully, they seek out a school like WDS.

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