I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Values of Vouchers

The Star-Ledger has a pair of very disturbing pieces in its op-ed section today: both are about the coercion women feel in the Orthodox Jewish community to conform to values that keep them oppressed. First, here's Fraidy Reiss:
Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.
Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.
Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.
And Elana Knopp:
I was typical in my former community. I was married at 19 and had my first baby at 20. By 29, I had six children, one miscarriage, three sets of dishes and no college degree. It took me years to get up the courage to file for divorce. I was so afraid for so many reasons. There were the usual concerns, such as how I would manage to support my kids, put air in my tires and mow my lawn.
But it was the fear unique to ultra-orthodox women who leave the faith that haunted me: I was afraid of losing my children.
In Lakewood, as in any ultra-orthodox community, there is a rabbinic hierarchy, a hierarchy committed to a radical religious doctrine that controls every aspect of life — from politics and marriage to female modesty, birth control and sex. It is this same hierarchy that condones the kidnapping of children from women who have left the fold.
It took me years to get up the courage to take off my head covering and even longer to leave my house in a pair of pants. And, when I did, my closest friends and neighbors turned against me. I was systematically shut out, ostracized and vilified. In addition, because of my decision to live a truthful, genuine life, my community set out on a witch hunt, spreading rumors, fabricating lies and portraying me as something resembling a she-devil.
There is no place for anyone who deviates from what the ultra-orthodox community believes to be the norm, the correct and the righteous. There is no room if you are irreligious, intermarried, gay, transsexual. There is no room for questions, doubts, opinions or alternatives. There is no room to question authority. And I questioned authority. [emphasis mine]
Lakewood. Where have I read about Lakewood before? Could it be that Lakewood is right at the heart of the voucher debate in New Jersey?
Based on the Census ACS data from a few years back, there were over 17,000 privately schooled students in Lakewood, and OVER 10,400 OF THOSE STUDENTS WERE IN FAMILIES THAT REPORTED THEMSELVES AS BEING BELOW THE 250% POVERTY-INCOME THRESHOLD!
Recall that Newark had about 2,000 low income private school enrolled children.
Orange/East Orange combined have under 900.
All of the cities around Asbury Park combined about 400 (meaning that Asbury Park alone is likely much less).
Camden about 1,300
Elizabeth about 1,000
The entire area (several towns/districts) around Perth Amboy about 1,000 (meaning that Perth Amboy is likely only a fraction of that amount)
And again, Lakewood, over 10,000! (and Passaic, another significant amount)
In other words, all of the other locations combined do not have the sum total of low income private school enrolled children that Lakewood has. Lakewood would likely be the epicenter of NJOSA scholarship distribution. I noted in my first post on this topic that if the average scholarship amounts were as proposed, the Lakewood Yeshiva schools would stand to take in as much as $67 million per year in these indirect taxpayer subsidies.
Let me be clear: America is a land of religious freedom. No one should be coerced into any religion, but adults are free to practice their faith and raise their children in its tenets.

Taxpayers, however, should not be asked to subsidize this indoctrination. The teaching of the values Reiss and Knopp now oppose should never be funded by the state and its citizens.

Before Chris Christie tries to sell vouchers again, he should have to explain why New Jersey is well-served by promoting religious values in state-funded schools. And he should have to make the case for using taxpayer funds to teach these specific values, which are predicated on the disempowerment of women.

It's not enough to say that the Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers are constitutional; the real question is whether scarce tax dollars should be used to promote religious values some find repugnant.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Duke said...

I'm not about to be called a Nazi on my own blog.

A Nonny Mouse said...

Is it the same troll as all the other posts? Because if s/he has invoked Godwin's Law, that means we all get to ignore s/him...

Duke said...

It is. Ignore away.

I've been very, very tolerant up to this point. But enough's enough.

Deb said...


It is noble to be tolerant but to be tolerant in the face of intolerance - which goes both to the content of the Star Ledger piece and I am guessing the content of the deleted comment - is neither necessary nor warranted.

In my book you are a real mensh with sechel and not deserving of the tsoris and mishegoss of an anonymous nudnik putz!

Tamar Wyschogrod said...

Unfortunately, the Haredi community of Lakewood has a history of playing the public eduction system to its own advantage, and the state seems to play along willingly. This disturbs me as both a public school parent and a Jew.


Anonymous said...

If you are talking about the OSA, tax dollars are not being used for anything. These are corporate funded scholarships. It they were tax dollars you might have a point.

But your point would be anti-semetic. You say some find orthodox jewish religion "repugnant". Some find Islam repugnant. Some find Catholicism and the priesthood "repugnant". Prejudice against religion is so easily found as to be cliche.

I do not know the Jewish women you cite, but they clearly could have walked out the door at any point and been protected by the laws of our society. As Thomas Jefferson said (paraphrase, I'm not looking it up) "Whether my neighbor believes in no god or many neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

What he meant is, religion is none of your business. The thorny part of this is, of course, most of us find some aspect of some religion to be extreme. This is particularly prevalent in religious people viewing other religious people, but just as virulent in atheism, which I suppose is a religion of sorts in and of itself.

So.....what does Jazzman advocate? No corporate scholarships for families to educate their kids in orthodoz Jewish schools? Reform Jewish schools are okay tho, Jazzman? Or doesn't Jazz like them, either? What about Catholics, jeez, some crazy beliefs over there, too, huh?

In fact, Jazz, according to your beliefs, why are these churches/synagogues/etc allowed to exist with paying no taxes? Should they be shut down, by your logic? Should the very PRACTICE of these -- to use your word about the current case -- "repugnant" religions be allowed?

Oh, and delete all you want, statements denigrating Judaism by definition are anti-semetic.

Deb said...

Comments criticizing extreme behavior of one part of a religion are not, by definition, anti-that-religion.

Anon 8:26am misses so many points, or intentionally tries to turn the conversation, that it is hard to know if it is worth responding.

From my close first hand knowledge of the orthodox community, Anon is just plain old wrong. Not only do the Jewish laws in these communities make it very hard for a woman to leave but they know how to use the American secular judicial system to work in the interest of preserving the community and, as well articulated in the article cited by Duke, hard for a woman to gain custody of the children if she has left orthodoxy.

But the broader point, completely missed (probably on purpose) by Anon 8:26 is that are we really going to embrace OSA (which by giving tax credits may avoid the constitutional challenge to vouchers, but please let's call this spade a spade) will be paying out potentially 1000s of scholarships to orthodox families already sending their children to Yeshivas? It

Are you able to deny the self-interest of this special group in advocating for OSA? Are you comfortable with the manipulation of the system to fund private education like this? They have no use for public schools for their community and they would much prefer to have their education paid for by the state - via whatever means found to be constitutional. So, then are we ready for another community of another religion to do the same thing? Where do you see this ending?

If the goal truly is to save children from failing schools, I wonder if the Yeshivas will suddenly embrace the non-Jewish minority children at the Lakewood public schools?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:26 AM is a vicious, ruthless demagogue. Now he stoops to using the N word and and trotting out the anti-Semitic accusation. Very cheap shots and patently untrue but truth means nothing to him, it's all about scoring points against JJ.

Duke said...

Anon: Again, I've been extremely tolerant of you. But I am not going to let you use my blog to call me a racist or an anti-Semite.

I will, however, let your last comment stand as a testament to the level of discourse in which you wish to engage.

Read the OLS report on OSA. Of course it uses tax money; it just makes an end run around the Constitution to do so. If these were merely corporate funded scholarships, there would be no need for the OSA bill. Corporations can give as many scholarships away as they wish.

Yes, some find aspects of any religions repugnant - that's the entire point. The state has no business funding ANY religious indoctrination. OSA should not be used to fund vouchers... er, sorry, "scholarships"... for ANY religious school.

Your lack of pity for the women in these stories is disturbing. And your last two paragraphs do not merit a response.

A Nonny Mouse said...

Trolly anon, you've shown your true colors, and they are ugly. You like to "concern troll" about how JJ makes teachers look bad... you've just made the entire reform movement look worse than it already did by attempting to cloak your unjustifiable rhetoric in the mantle of "freedom of religion" in the name of protecting the freedom to oppress women and take away their children.

Disgusting. But not entirely unexpected.

Anonymous said...

First off, let's make it very clear -- the OSA is NOT a voucher system. The OSA is a unique, progressive proposal designed for the horribly failing, horribly expensive inner city NJ schools. You can't say "But the statewide Florida Vouncher system blah-blah" and make any valid comparisons.

Are the receiving private schools less expensive. Yes, dramatically. The schools are capped at set amounts, and they are coming only from failing districts with extremely high costs, all figures publicly available. Find the figures yourself. Anyone that wants to argue this is too ignorant to keep up with the issues.

If you are a poor inner city parent within the poverty guidelines in the OSA that has sacrificed and scrimped and borrowed and maybe you just decided that next year is not do-able, (and your kid has been costi ng taxpayers zero) should your neighbor with the public school scholarship get that scholarship instead? (shrug) With such a tiny number involved here, there are so many injustices baked into the cake no matter what, then fine, draw a red line through that and screw that family if it makes you and Jazz happy.

If the goal is truly (blah balh Somehow a defense on the NJEA side against the OSA is always that it isn't LARGE enough to achieve some goal. So make it larger. Secular private schools will spring up like daisies after a spring rain.

Anonymous said...

I'm not without sympathy for either of those women. Divorces cause a lot of rear mirror hindsight and rethinking of decisions, etc. Those regrets have no bounds of race or color or creed. Most people hate their exes, at least for awhile. And a lot of them would love to cr@p on their ex and their family in the newspaper, I'm sure.

Fraidy's whole emotive plea seems to be based on her fears prior to divorce about custody of her children. Sort of tossed into the cross chop storm sea she whips up is this little bouy of info:

Feldman and I each managed to settle and avoid divorce trials, and each of us retained custody of our children.

Rats. Sort of an anti-cliffhanger there.

So, I'm not going to take those two women's personal anecdotes and shut down school systems. If you, Jazz, want to extrapolate some real or imagined traits onto a whole religion or ethnicity, that is of course your decision. But don't be surprised when the historical words describing your actions follow you around.

Duke said...

Let's boil it down:

You want to give corporations tax credits so they can fund religious schools that will be free to teach any religious doctrine they choose - including, but not limited to, the subjugation of women.

Tell me where I'm wrong here. Enlighten me.

Anonymous said...

You left out one word -- parents. What the OSA is about is giving our most vulnerable, powerless families -- inner city minorities -- the chance to choose the school their child attends rather than the government-run union hellholes they are currently legally mandated to attend.

The fact that you, as a financially-involved unionista, want to feign concern about the flavor of their religion is not persuasive in the least.

In today's pragmatic reality of right now, what's there -- I would much rather send my 7 year old kid to an Orthodox Jewish school where 99 percent of their kids (or whatever) graduate criminal record free and ready for college than send them to the local failing government-run union school with the terrible crime and drug problem and where MOST kids DON'T even graduate, never mind college.

I'll take that deal, and I'll sort the religious stuff out at the dinner table.

How about you, given those choices?

Duke said...

So you admit it: you want to give corporations tax credits so they can fund religious schools that can teach whatever they want.

And the other parents - and all taxpayers - are obligated to fund your choice.

If you choose to send your daughter to a school that teachers her that she cannot go to college, that is your choice.

Don't ask the rest of us to pay for it.

By the way, there are plenty of other choices: forcing the governor to fund SFRA fully, demanding the wealthy and corporations play their fair share to fund wrap-around services, universal health care, etc.

Why don't we ever talk about those choices?

Deb said...

While not central to the argument, please do not deceive yourself or anyone else that the Yeshivas will provide a warm welcome to the non-Jews, or even non-Orthodox, in the community.

But central to the argument is that the most vulnerable will not be served by OSA - they will have to sign acknowledgements that the OSA school does not serve their special needs, they will be counseled out, and shuffled back to the schools they came from. And special interests will largely dictate who gets these vouchers.

The state has a choice - address the underlying problems behind the struggles in urban schools or defund them as they privatize education in this state.

My choice, as a non-unionista parent, is to use the public school system or to send my children to private schools. That is a choice and I am okay with it. I also choose to fight for public education in this state and not let it get taken over by special interests.

Anonymous said...

By the way, there are plenty of other choices:

(List a bunch of things that the bankrupt state of New Jersey has no money for.)

If you choose to send your daughter to a school that teachers her that she cannot go to college, that is your choice.

Specifically, which Lakewood yeshiva that you are hatemongering against teaches this?

And you ignored my question. If you had to choose between your OWN 7 year old going to a safe, successful religious school in your neighborhood or a dangerous, failing government-run one -- this Sopetember, no other choices, choose right now -- which would you choose?

Don't even bothering lying, every parent knows that answer.

But the truth is the OSA will give many parents other choices, including successful public schools.

forcing the governor to fund SFRA fully, demanding the wealthy and corporations play their fair share to fund wrap-around services, universal health care, etc.

Why don't we ever talk about those choices?

Anonymous said...

last two paragraphs above should be deleted.

Duke said...

Yes, of course, you want to delete those paragraphs: they are a hard truth that get in the way of your argument.

I am telling you the state can and should do much more to help the public schools in the former Abbotts. I am telling you - as I have over and over on this blog - that it is a lie that we don't have the money; we just choose not to get it by making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.

Of course you want to delete that. You have no answer, expect to promote a false choice to families that were sold out by a status quo that threw them overboard years ago.

You give away the game when you ask us to ignore those paragraphs. This is all about diversion and sleight-of-hand. You want to convince those families that they have no other choice but to give in to the destruction of their neighborhood schools; that they have to send their children to schools that teach values they do not believe in.

I reject your choice, because it is a false choice. No parent should have to send their child to a school that indoctrinates their students in religious values the parent does not hold. It is an anathema to our free, pluralistic society that you would suggest this is acceptable. It is not.

We really can do better.

BTW, don't ask me about specifics when you create the hypothetical. And the parenthetical snark around points you don't want to address is really, really lame.

A Nonny Mouse said...


I have taught in Camden, as well as two other South Jersey Abbotts and a Bacon.

I would rather send my two children (ages 7 and 4) to any of the schools in which I have taught than to a religious school that teaches the subjugation of minorities. The teachers are better, the curriculum is better, and the values are better than in any yeshiva, madrassah, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Mormon, or Christian school that uses religion as a bludgeoning tool against people "not like them."

And I will not allow MY TAXES to fund someone else's choice to do so. You are disgusting.

Anonymous said...
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Duke said...

I warned you before: you will not use this blog to call me or anyone else a racist or anti-semite.

Further: you will not use this blog to accuse the women in these articles of lying.

You're done.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Thank you Duke for not subjecting us to the typical idiocy of a person who has no valid argument.

Troll has every right to send his/her child to whichever religious school they choose. Troll just has to pay for it. If you think there is something wrong with the public school, actively seek a way to improve it. So instead of complaining, do something constructive instead of parroting the same tired non-arguments.