7.10.2005

Coeducation revisited, ten years later

In July 1995, on a sometimes venerable Jewish listserv, there blossomed one of the usual arguments about coeducation ("usual argument" if you frequent these kinds of listservs). Someone who thought that co-ed schools bred sexual immorality among teenagers wrote that Maimonides was "integrated" because that was all the community could support in 1938, as opposed to because that was what Rav Soloveitchik thought was ideal. (I think this falls into one of the areas on which Bostoners and New Yorkers agree to disagree.) In response, I wrote a hotheaded piece indignantly supporting coeducation in Jewish day schools as the best way for boys and girls to learn to respect each other and each other's intelligence, and that "bad behavior" (or what passes for bad behavior in the Orthodox world) is not a function of going to school with people of the opposite sex, but of deriving values from TV rather than Torah. Something like that. I do not think it was entirely well thought-out, but I was sixteen, so it's excusable.

Recently, someone came across it and asked if they could actually republish or repost the piece in a forum for Jewish educators where coeducation was, once again, being discussed. I declined for two reasons.

The first is because I find it mildly embarrassing. It is self-righteousness in the way that only a sixteen year old can be, and it displays a total naivete about life outside of my lucky isolated bubble of Othodox Boston youth. Also, some naivete about life inside my isolated bubble, since I really didn't know everything that was going on at the school. (Yes, it's online, but I'm not linking to it for those reasons. You can find it if you try.)

The second is because it seems irrelevant to me now. I don't disagree with the thrust behind what I wrote in 1995, but it seems beside the point. For me now, the most important reason for coeducation in Jewish day schools is to educational parity for boys and girls. The experiences I had after that, especially during my year in Israel, only supported that. I felt that I was getting a second-rate education, possibly with some second-rate teachers who wouldn't have cut it at a "real yeshiva." (More on that another time, maybe. I'm not really interested in smearing any institutions, so I will probably leave it at that. Overall, I feel lucky and grateful for the extensive Jewish education that my parents and the larger Jewish community provided.) Other personal experiences I've had and things I studied at college mostly reinforced my feelings that "separate but equal" does not apply to education. (I understand that the rest of the world, or at least the US, arrived at this conclusion fifty years ago, but as we all know, some things take longer in my corner of the Jewish world.) I care much more about educational parity right now than I do about whether 16 year olds will or won't be shomer negiah. I think then, as I think now, that they will or won't be regardless of whether they go to school with or without boys/girls. And if that was the biggest or most important thing that the Orthodox community had to worry about, we would be a very blessed people.

I started this post wanting to write about the Makor thing, and about the draw of other sex-segregated gatherings, but this wanted "out" first, so I'll save the rest for a later post.

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