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Jewish Education in England, 1944-1988

Between Integration and Separation

David Mendelsson

Today, the dominant model for Jewish education is the community-wide, technologically advanced day school, where the Judaic subjects are taught by professional educators using student-friendly, interactive methodologies. Not so long ago, however, most Jewish education consisted of rote repetition of prayers and biblical passages and their translation into awkward English by teachers with no formal pedagogic training, in classes – often located in synagogue basements – held on Sunday or once a week after ‘ordinary’ school.
This book explains the radical reconfiguring of Jewish education in England in historical and sociocultural terms. It explores the transformations that took place in every aspect of Jewish education: curriculum, religious/ideological orientation, school format (afternoon classes vs day schools), funding (private vs state), and more. The author shows that this dramatic transition directly reflects both changes in the socioeconomic profile and self-identity of Anglo-Jewry as well as demographic and cultural changes in British society in general. Tracking the shift from integration to separation, this book maps the effect of competing societal, personal and communal agendas, pedagogic paradigms, and pragmatic constraints on the rise of the Jewish day school in England.

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Chapter 7Conclusion 275

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Chapter 7 Conclusion Overview The period from 1965 to 1979 was a watershed in the history of Anglo- Jewish education. Within a relatively short interval, loss of faith in the state system, following the demise of the grammar schools and their replacement with non-selective comprehensives, generated unprecedented parental enthusiasm for Jewish day schools. Attendance at Jewish day schools soared, and many had long waiting lists. There was also much interest in ‘public’ schools, but this was not surprising, since a ‘public’ school education had long been acknowledged as the best route to academic success and upward social mobility. Some have invoked an Anglo-Jewish religious and spiritual revival associated with the Six-Day War and the campaign for Soviet Jewry to account for the increased willingness, beginning in the mid-1960s, of Anglo-Jewish parents to send their children to Jewish day schools. As we have seen, however, the explanation for the change in parental enthusiasm for day schools is far more prosaic. For Jewish parents, state-aided Jewish day schools were appealing primarily due to their academic excellence, as well as the fact that, like the other state schools, they were free. The Jewish studies component was, overall, of little concern to most parents. More attractive was the perception that Jewish schools embraced traditional values and provided a more disciplined and secure environment than did the state schools, which were considered impersonal, overly permissive, even dangerous. Jewish parents were often worried by the high proportion of immigrant children and ethnic minorities in comprehensive schools,...

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