Placing a Value on Jewish Education During a Pandemic

A school director recently posed a question in an online forum about how to set tuition for next year. Some of her board members are pressuring her to lower fees under the theory that students will be attending for fewer hours if they are meeting virtually.

It feels terrible to even address such questions. These past few months, I have seen educators work so hard and with such dedication and heart and creativity and concern for their students and families.

Far too much emphasis is placed on cost-based pricing. It diminishes the perceived value of what educators do. Cost-based pricing is for commodities—oil and flour and paper. What Jewish educators provide is the polar opposite. It's connection and caring and personalized attention—the very qualities families cited this spring as they praised educators for keeping up meaningul contact with their children. And it's connection with content.

And even if we must address costs, one thing I’m noticing is that dealing with all this is MORE costly. Education directors have to rethink all their plans, access materials differently and find new versions of them, train themselves and their teachers to use new technologies, and pay for the technologies (is anyone still using Zoom for free?)

Perhaps the appropriate response about costs ought to be: ”Despite the enormous challenges and higher costs of mounting our outstanding educational and communal programs, we have committed this year to holding religious school fees flat.”

Yet another assumption embedded in the question about costs is that the programs that include remote learning will be worse than what would have been in place under the models we had pre-pandemic. I reject this.

First, there are indications that some learners are actually doing better in remote learning settings compared to in-person groups. And if communities ensure equal access to technology for all learners, many of the problems of learning remotely can be addressed.

But to go further, I am watching in awe as educators, clergy, and others bring a dramatic level of inventiveness to our new circumstances. Yes, everything is and will be different. We are seeing that in Zoom b'nai mitzvah ceremonies and shiva calls, and are about to see it in the ways communities approach the High Holidays. And yet what I am noticing is that different does NOT mean worse.

In fact, in some ways we are beginning to notice a host of ways in which different is actually better—more inclusive, more individualized, more encompassing, more creative.

None of us chose this environment in which we now find ourselves. But how we adapt to it and the opportunities it affords us is surely more valuable than any commodity.



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