In November, Albany issued a new set of guidelines for the state’s independent schools that not only increase the requirements placed on these institutions but also authorize public-school administrators to evaluate local private schools. Yaakov Bender, the principal of a Jewish school in New York, argues that the new policies pose a threat to the freedom of religious parents, and parents in general, to determine the educations of their children:
The parents who choose our school do so . . . because they want an education that is rooted in Jewish texts and informed by Jewish morality, history, culture, ideals, and hopes. What they do not want is a curriculum chosen by the local school district [or] a school schedule that is subject to the approval of the local school board or teachers who answer to Albany. . . .
Religious [schools] are also concerned that control over the academic curriculum today will lead to control over the values they teach tomorrow. These concerns are not so easily dismissed.
Witness what is occurring in England, where an all-girls Orthodox school was recently designated “inadequate” [by government bureaucrats] because students did not receive “a full understanding of the world.” The school was criticized for not affirmatively promoting respect for same-sex marriage, for not providing sex education, and for not teaching evolution, which conflicts with the school’s religious beliefs. In the eyes of the UK Office for Standards in Education, this all added up to a failure to provide students with “a well-rounded education.”
However well-intentioned New York’s regulators of today may be, history teaches that once the autonomy of independent and religious schools is undermined, the reach of the state will only expand. Even now, the government has “offered” to evaluate our Jewish- studies classes, which are chock-full of academic and intellectual value. But an evaluation today will lead to a suggestion tomorrow and a mandate down the road.