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The Jewish Education Series: Will Generation X Please Stand Up

July 10, 2013 – 11:17 am51 Comments

jonny2Jonathan (Jonny) Schauder

This is the second in our education series. You can read Rabbi Kennard’s piece – the first in the series – here. Next week, Andrew Markus provides his assessment of the Jewish Australian educational landscape. 

I was honoured to be invited on to a panel with two Jewish Day School (JDS) principals and Professor Markus, author of the Gen 08 survey and results, to discuss whether anything had changed in Jewish Education since the survey results were released in 2008.

I found myself having quite a surreal experience as I tried to introduce the Glen Eira College model to the more than 100 people present. For those unaware of the GEC model, please see the Galus Australis articles here. I am a supporter and in-large part a product of the JDS system. This GEC model that I and others have been developing does not have any direct connection to the Private Jewish Day Schools but rather is envisioned to ensure that the public school and community based system has appropriate Jewish choices in it.

The panel discussion demonstrated one very clear outcome: in the private JDS system, nothing has changed. Ideas like streamlining, amalgamations, funding changes, efficiencies, increased access points, collaboration, tax deductibility, community revenue funds, interest free loans, or any other idea that may have been provoked by the Gen 08 research simply have not eventuated. The presentations from the panel gave nothing new. No solutions to private system accessibility.

And the surreal part of it was that there was not even any reporting of significant new, novel or creative attempts to solve the accessibility issues in the private system in the past 5 years.

I don’t think commenting further on the specifics of the discussion is relevant here but I walked away with perhaps three overarching observations as a result:

  1. The Baby Boomers have given up and Generation X is suffering from “locus of control” issues when it comes to Jewish Education.

Two definitions are required here to start:

  1. Generations: In terms of the generations referred to in this article, below is my understanding of the birth dates for the various groups are:
  • The War Generation was born between 1925 and 1945;
  • The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1966;
  • Generation (Gen) X was born between 1967 and 1987;
  • Generation (Gen) Y was born between 1988 and 2008;

So a person born in 1980, if they wait till 30 to have children, will only have a primary school age student from around 2015 and a secondary student in around 2022… In 2008, they were still a happy go lucky 28 year old for whom Jewish Education of children was theoretical.

  1. Locus of Control: With regard to the idea of Locus of Control, the Wikipedia definition of locus of control is as good as any,

Locus of control: a person’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) for decision making is conceptualised as either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (meaning they believe that their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors which they cannot influence).

Every time I stand alongside Baby Boomer leaders of the community they seem to be “calling out” to the “other” leaders of the community to make changes with regard to Jewish Education.

Who are these leaders they are calling to?

The War Generation did everything they could to enhance Jewish Education in Australia – they used the State system well, they built the private schools, sponsored and initiated services, filled gaps, led change – they drove the growth of the youth movements.

The Baby Boomers have no answers. That generation is satisfied that it has done what it can; and the current problems need to be solved by others. You may say they have succeeded or failed. I don’t know. But for all intents and purposes the Baby Boomers have not changed anything – even with the Gen 08 results calling for change – they have kept the post war ship straight.

This can only mean that it is time for Generation X to wake up! Take ownership of the education systems available, and make them right. As the classic serenity prayer suggests, Gd grant me the strength to change what I can, accept what I can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

The Baby Boomers don’t have the answers for us. They can’t make it easy for us. Unlike the War Generation who raised the Baby Boomers and provided inherited legacies, our Baby Boomer parents will (hopefully) live long, spend big in their retirements (as they should), and will require a huge investment in aged and medical care as time goes on.

So when it comes to accessing private schooling – Jewish or not, unless you come from a familial line with deep wealth and a healthy family trust in place, please stop waiting to be funded by a white knight, or lottery tickets or a shopping centre owner.

Those of us who want private schooling… pay for it please. As far as I can see, there’s nothing wrong with the JDS approach or charges. As the speakers made clear – all the parameters are completely in line with standards. And the product will work for some, and not for others, and we all get to make our choices.

Those of us who want meaningful Jewish Education outside the Private system… please make it happen. For those of us who want big families, or want cultural diversity, or who don’t want to live as welfare recipients or who don’t wish to sacrifice to the point where every day is a stress … we must move faster to fixing the public system and community based offerings like UJEB.

The Glen Eira College model is a great start. And a similar model exists at Killara College in Sydney. But much more change is needed. I believe the skills, resources and leadership in Gen X are just getting moving now but that the sky is the limit once our generation accepts that they have to get on with it, rather than waiting for answers from others. As Herzl said, “if you will it, it is no dream!”

Credit must be given to movements like Chabad and Temple Beth, where organisations like Spiritgrow, Lamdeni and the Chabad and Temple Centres offer wide based (if very different) Jewish education to anyone that seeks it. And their offer is only as limited by parental interest in being involved. Similarly UJEB is growing and changing and moving. They have always delivered, but the leadership at UJEB know that change must come. And the community must fund UJEB as a recurrent priority investment, not a periodic fundraising option.

The panel made it clear that no one is coming with their cheque book or any other clever ideas to write anyone a free prescription for good VCE results and knowledge of Rashi. Gen X is now in charge of the Community’s destiny.

  1. About Generation X: the 40% is building.

We are about to access the centre of the normal curve over the next 10 years in Gen X. Five years on from Gen 08 and the bulk of the X Generation are becoming parents with multiple children turning 2, 3, and 4 – or we are planning more pregnancies as we speak.

This is the around 40% of the community that is growing in terms of families using the public system as their educational core. Add in the immigration from South Africa, Israel and Russia over the past few years and you have a defined generation of parents that are just starting to come to grips with the Jewish Education reality in Australia.

One observation is clear. Whether the Baby Boomers or anyone else thinks is good, bad or indifferent, this group will give their kids sufficient Jewish Education in any way they can. And continuity will occur as it should. The Day schools have no mortgage on Jewish Education and families will have to find their way.

In the diaspora, only a tiny minority of Baby Boomers attended private Jewish immersion schools except in the ultra-orthodox communities… and continuity was fine… in fact it’s probably why the Baby Boomer generation had money to spend on private schooling for Gen X; and why our parents were never “Jewed Out” .

Their War Generation parents developed funds and investments and accumulated wealth by NOT spending a single dollar on primary, secondary or university education – all were state funded. And their Jewish activities, events and learning were special and distinctive and communal rather than routine, and daily and educational. You did not sit a test at the end of a Shul function.

The Jewed Out generation has found their Jewish Education immersion so intense, ever present and predictable that they simply can’t hear another word about the themes of Purim; or how good a miracle it is to have oil that lasts a long time. Many of my private school mates couldn’t name 10 colours in Hebrew despite 12 years of learning.

If our community believes this 40% of families in State schooling will reduce rather than grow – then we stay in denial. Time to wake up! The numbers are too simple. Each child in a private school costs between $20- $30,000 after tax, per year.

You may cope with two high income parents and one or two children.

But by the time you have your third it is not sustainable. By your fourth you’re crazy… and by your fifth you’ve moved on. Does that mean families with 5 children or more definitely won’t send any of our kids to a private school – no, of course not, we like that the option is available. One child might need it, another might really want it, or perhaps they’ll all have a year or two in the private system… to balance our children’s experience.

The full-time prep to 12 model only works based on working as a teacher or administrator in the system, taking huge long term debt, cutting back lifestyle to its barest bones, winning the miraculous scholarship, or being so openly destitute that you are taken in under the charity banner. The rest of us will depend on either keeping their families small or having generational investments from the Baby Boomer and War Generations to call upon. I should say there are some self-made Gen X ultra-wealthy who of course will use private schooling – Jewish or not.

Overall more than half of Gen X will need community, state and innovative solutions over the next 15 years, as well as taking much more ownership of Jewish traditions at home. We will have to learn and replicate what the War Generation did without the comfort of immersion schooling.

  1. Finally… How much is enough? If you’re not a Rabbi are you a Jew? And what should this discussion really be about?

The final issue raised at the panel was how much is enough? The panel took some time to “beat up” on the Glen Eira model for not providing enough Jewish education. By my reckoning the platform of Jewish education accessible in the GEC model is sufficient for many. That platform is a school that now takes the Jewish calendar into account culturally: clear acknowledgement and/or celebration of all festivals, Shabbatons and camps, a basic understanding of the cycle of the Torah, prayer, mediation and the structure of Jewish life and life cycle events; being able to speak Hebrew and understanding the pivotal role of Israel, history, holocaust and tradition. Everything after that is about being social within the large Jewish community on campus, connecting to causes, participating in events and finding life partners.

On top of that platform, families can add on whatever deeper options they’d like – textual studies, mentoring, deep personal observance, and of course, independent study.

Do 14 year old kids need to know Rashi, Talmud and Kabbalah, and be able to read trop? Do they need to be able to lead a service; or to bestow a hechsher? For most of us the answer in the religious “centre” the answer is no. For those who say yes then Yeshiva is awaiting you as is Beth Rivkah and Addass, and Yesodei Hatorah where there are no swimming pools and huge grounds on which to play footy. And so affordability is more likely. Of course our family backgrounds will drive our views on all this.

Rabbis and others who choose to lead our religious future are missioned to provide this deeper learning and service for the community from cradle to grave. Any all of us, at any age, can and should access these services to learn these more mature secrets and interpretations over a lifetime when it is meaningful, useful and spiritual to do so.

Gen X will travel with their children more frequently to Israel than previous generations – both because that travel is now easier, but also because without the burden of School fees funds can be used in this very special way.

I contend that much more can be done in the public and community system and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can provide these choices.

And these choices are something that the Private Schools should be HELPING with… NOT judging others on.

For example, as a final outrageousness, a panelist felt the need to reinforce that the Glen Eira Model is not a Jewish Private School. It staggers me that such an observation needs to be made and I’d suggest that such a statement comes from a place of deep defensiveness rather than a vision of communal well-being.

Of course the two offerings are not the same. One costs a fortune the other costs very little. One has complete Jewish immersion and depth, the other has multi-cultural width, context and opportunity. One has prescriptive Jewish cultural homogeny in the institution chosen, the other has a melting pot of ideologies, levels of adherence, knowledge and leadership … they are very different. Not better or worse. Just different.

The system that will lead best to continuity is anyone’s guess. My suggestion is that we need both!

In conclusion, do what works for you in your decisions – but help all of us to improve the options available.

If you use the Private system – awesome. Enjoy. Prosper. If you use the pubic structure then reexamine your disempowered stance, and make the public and community systems better. The public and community systems are designed to meet parental needs… all parents have to do is get together, speak up, make recommendations, and put a small amount of time, money and effort where their vision is!

The next time we talk of these things in public let’s use the collaborative frame of …

  1. How can the state and community models best support and interact with the private school system?” and
  2. How can the private system best contribute educational options, choices and Jewish continuity into the wider community system?”

If we reframe the discussion we will have options and continuity for everyone!

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