Saturday, March 3, 2007

Co-ed High School and the Mingling of the Sexes

I just finished reading an article by my old classmate and friend Harry Maryles, Co-ed High School and the Mingling of the Sexes, in his blog Emes V’emunah. His obvious support of separate sex schools is based upon the oft repeated arguments suggested time and time again. I have no argument with him or anyone else who subscribes to that position. I don’t believe there are definitive answers one way or the other-so it comes down to preference and Hashkafahor. There is, however a tinge of condescension that creeps into the article and it is to this that I wish to relate.

Frum Jews have a tendency at times to relate to the world in which they live with a sense of egocentrism. Their way is the correct way-the only way. It is so because that’s what the rebaim have taught them. When they relate to a non-frum Jew they come at him from this perspective. Their way is the right way. In his article, Harry suggests that frum kids should be role models for the “public school kids”. Why? Does he assume that frum kids are better behaved and possess values that are superior to that of a public school kid? Studies have shown that within the frum community there are problems that equal those of the non-frum community. Drugs and sex have found their way into the halls of the yeshivot and other school systems within the Frum Jewish community. HIV and AIDS has become a problems as well as Hepatitus B. For the first time ever there are schools being set up to accommodate these wayward kids.

Our children attended Jewish Day Schools for their primary education. When our oldest was ready for high school we struggled with the some of the issues raised by Harry Maryles. We decided that our daughter’s education would best be served in a good public school. We were concerned with issues of Shabbat, Yom Tov as well as the other challenges of the drug culture and all that it ensues. Our eldest graduated a year ago with academic destinction. Throughout her years in High School she received intensive Jewish tutoring in subjects ranging from Jewish literature, Hebrew language and history. She holds her own when interacting with graduates of Jewish high schools. She observed Shabbat meticulously, and to her credit cultivated and shared friends from both worlds. She’s begun her second year of college away from home and has chosen a Shomer Shabbat life style having been exposed to all the options. We believe she chose well, but her choice was an informed one. Our other daughter, a senior in the same high school, appears to be on the same track. While our daughters are “public school girls” they can certainly serve as role models to the frum girls vis a vis life style and values.

My daughters have been thru Nisaynos (tests), as my friend Harry Maryles would say. But they are the better for it. As parents, we helped our daughters struggle with those tough decisions. In a sense their education was a living laboratory on how a Jew needs to deal with the world in which they live. Their challenges ranged from anti-Semitism to attending classes on Yom Tov to dealing with social issues. They were enriched by exposure to a host of world cultures represented by the student population. Our tradition teaches that Nisyanos are good for the soul. Avraham Avenu was put through Nisayonos and Chazal teaches us how much the better he was for it. Part of the education of our children ought to be Nisayonos. That’s how we prepare them for adulthood when they will be confronted with Nisayonos on a grander scale.