Posted on February 8, 2019
How My Religious Education Stalled My Career Potential
Perhaps some ghosts from the past will troll on this one. Still. It was worth writing it. If we are indeed in the Year/s of the Woman, then all stories must be told. To bring awareness, to enact change. https://t.co/rUkZH3wuVC
— Rebecca Mordechai (@rebeccamordecha) February 8, 2019
One day, Esti, my high school’s office secretary, made an announcement that would eventually transform my worldview. “The principal wants the following students to come to her office right now.” My name was not on the list. All of the girls on the list were what principals of an ultra-Orthodox girls school pray for: They were pure in body and pure in heart. After 10 minutes, the girls returned. They were modest girls, so they bit on their lips to conceal their smiles. “What did the principal want?” I asked my friend Devorah. “She said that we’re the only ones who should take the SATs because of our high grades.”
To this day, I cannot understand why only 5 percent of the grade was invited to take the SATs. My classmates and I didn’t have any knowledge of how to study for an entrance exam, let alone register for one. We couldn’t even look up online because we all signed a contract forbidding us to use the internet for the entirety of high school (at risk of suspension or expulsion). This memory of feeling excluded is especially pertinent today in light of the current clash between the New York State Education Department and ultra-Orthodox private schools, known as yeshivas. Yeshivas are garnering attention because some of their graduates are blasting them for focusing primarily on Jewish studies and not teaching basic math and literacy skills. A group of these graduates formed an organization called Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED).
YAFFED filed a complaint in 2015 stating that yeshivas were providing poor secular education to its students. In the three years since the complaint, only 15 yeshivas were investigated while dozens refused to cooperate. But there is finally more progress. New York’s state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, published updated rules that enforce stronger secular education among nonpublic schools. And if schools resist cooperating with the city, then the city can hold back on their funding. However, the path toward equal education is not clear just yet. Prominent community rabbis and organizations are vehemently opposing the state’s stricter policies.