They Deserve Better
Article in the New York Daily News
By Naftuli Moster
Each year, approximately 32,000 boys in New York City are not being taught science, history and geography among other subjects. If they’re lucky to be under the age of 13, they get 90 minutes of English and math, taught by untrained and unlicensed teachers.
Alarmingly, when these boys turn 14, most of them spend 14 hours a day in school, from around 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., yet learn no general subjects at all. An estimated 17,500 additional boys attending schools in Rockland and Orange Counties are subjected to the same.
That is because they are attending ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic yeshivas, private religious schools where the primary focus is on Judaic studies, almost to the exclusion of non-Judaic studies. (This problem is most prevalent among boys. Girls aren’t expected to engage in intensive Torah learning, so they are allowed to study secular studies for the practical benefits.)
Data on the problem is scarce due to a lack of oversight, but graduates from most Hasidic institutions will corroborate that boys do not receive a substantial general education and that their schedule looked much like the one outlined above.
You might think that this is their hard luck. That these boys are attending private schools, so there is no way to intervene.
But that’s not the case. New York State requires non-public schools to teach a variety of subjects including English, math, science, history, geography, art and more. The state has delegated the task of ensuring that non-public schools are meeting requirements to its superintendents.
Yet for the past three decades, neither the state nor the city has done anything to remedy the problem and enforce standards in these yeshivas. On the contrary, the government has been pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into these very institutions with little to no oversight to ensure that the funds are serving their intended purpose.
As a graduate of Belz, a Hasidic yeshiva in Brooklyn, I can personally attest to the lack of general education and to the way this handicaps Hasidic students like myself. It was that experience that motivated me to found Yaffed, an advocacy group dedicated to improving the system for the next generation of children.
Soon after I formed the organization in 2012, I met with various city and state officials to alert them of the problem. Yet nothing was done. In the intervening months and years, many media outlets have begun to focus on the education shortfall, giving the DOE ample opportunities to learn more. Neither the state nor the city took any action.
It wasn’t until I retained a top attorney and issued a letter signed by 52 former students and parents of current students alleging that the yeshivas failed to meet state standards that the city’s Education Department heeded our calls and announced that they would conduct an investigation.
Yet we are now six months into the investigation and the DOE has little to show for it. I’m often asked by concerned parents and citizens about the progress of the probe. They want to know whether the yeshivas are cooperating, what the DOE’s timeline is, who from the DOE is on top of it and what the preliminary findings are. These are questions the DOE has yet to answer.
I’ve met several times with representatives from the DOE who’ve insisted that they take this matter seriously. While I hope that that is true, in all the meetings I’ve had with them I have not received anything more concrete than those vague reassurances.
Just imagine if one child in each of these 39 yeshivas had suffered from food poisoning, or if the water in these yeshivas were found to be contaminated. We’d expect a thorough examination by a qualified team of experts with unlimited access to the schools in question. We’d expect to see the government acting swiftly for the well-being of the children. And we’d expect to see immediate changes as well as greater measures to prevent this from happening again.
For some unknown reason, perhaps due to fear of the voting bloc, that’s not happening here. Meantime, millions of taxpayer dollars pour into the yeshivas while the students don’t get an adequate education. Consequently, there is skyrocketing poverty among graduates of these institutions, who are forced to rely on government assistance just to get by.
We need a public outcry, and we need to hold our Department of Education, our mayor and our governor accountable for turning a blind eye. Most importantly, we need to ensure that the children in these schools are swiftly provided with the education they deserve.
Naftuli Moster is the founder and executive director of Yaffed (Young Adocates for Fair Education)._