A massive two-year New York Times’ investigation condemning Jewish yeshiva schools appeared on the front page on Sunday, September 11. The core accusation of “Failing Schools, Public Funds,” by reporters Eliza Shapiro and Brian Rosenthal, was that New York’s yeshiva schools for Hasidic boys focused almost solely on religious instruction, at the expense of secular education.
After relaying an anecdote about a Hasidic school where every student failed state standardized tests, Shapiro and Rosenthal were accusatory.
Students at nearly a dozen other schools run by the Hasidic community recorded similarly dismal outcomes that year, a pattern that under ordinary circumstances would signal an education system in crisis. But where other schools might be struggling because of underfunding or mismanagement, these schools are different. They are failing by design.
The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition -- and to wall them off from the secular world….
The Federalist weighed in on the Times attack.
….at the heart of the matter is the rights of minority communities to live peaceably out of step with the majority. And on this point, the Times’ editorial board gives the game away, arguing for a plan under which the government “allows private schools to operate only when local school boards find that their level of instruction is at least equal to that of local public schools.” Empowering the people who run local public schools to shut down their competition is a very bad idea and goes far beyond what is necessary to ensure that schools are teaching essential subjects such as English and math….
The decision to go after yeshivas, in general, seems to have been driven by activism. The Times’ story was immediately seized on by politicians and was published just days before the state board of regents voted to impose new regulations on private schools.
The Washington Examiner agreed: “The piece, rife with half-truths and distortions, was clearly timed to influence a vote by the New York Board of Regents on a proposal to regulate private schools.”
Eliza Shapiro also harshly attacked Yeshiva schools back in 2018, under the online headline: “Do Children Get a Subpar Education in Yeshivas? New York Says It Will Finally Find Out.”
But is there also a religious double standard in play? After all, the paper has actually celebrated an Islamic school where all boys did all day (no girls allowed) was read the Koran.
The paper waved way concerns about lack of secular education. In 2006 the paper ran a puff piece by Michael Luo on a Muslim center in Queens under a jaunty headline, “Memorizing the Way to Heaven, Verse by Verse.”
The school was teaching young Muslims the Koran -- and nothing else -- for up to three years, with Luo lamely noting as an aside that "the school may be inadvertently running afoul of state law." He waved the concern away: “Several parents said they were not worried about their children falling behind because they are smart enough to make up the academic work. Some students from the class have, in fact, gone on to the city’s best high schools, parents and school officials said.”
That’s some serious handwaving there.
And looking abroad to Denmark, the liberal Times came out against mandatory pre-school when Muslim migrants were at risk of getting a secular education under the headline “For Help From Danish State, a Demand: Give Us Your Children.”