Do religious Orthodox private schools satisfy state mandated education criteria?

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Answered by: Miriam, An Expert in the Religious Skepticism Category
Imagine a community where education is not necessary. Imagine a community that believes it is self-sufficient with its own language, its own little shops, its own dress code, its own set of rules, and even its own industries. The people of this community do not speak English, they will not purchase regular American merchandise or food products unless it has the stamp of their community's approval, and they impose a more severe system than what the United States law demands. But still they subsist, many of them living in luxury.

Imagine this community existing in America. Imagine having many of these communities. They do exist.

These communities have educational institutions providing rigorous schooling in religious studies, but hardly educate their students at all in the secular domain, not even meeting the basic New York State curriculum requirements. Yet with their far inferior education systems, many of their constituents live comfortably with an above average standard of living. So why should we be educated anyway?

If the purpose of education is to provide students with the tools they will need to earn a living and have the means to take care of themselves, then these communities are doing a very decent job, perhaps a better job than many other communities that do abide by the education laws of their state. So maybe these communities are right…

As right as every little child who questions the need to go to school. After all, the child will tell you, his or her knowledge of American history is not what will make him or her successful later in life. And why study literature either, for that matter? Yet New York State mandates that its students be educated and that education meet specific requirements.

Although the people who are the product of these insular communities will continue to form these self-reliant communities, they have hardly had the opportunity to develop themselves as individuals. They might not be dependent on the country, but they are unhealthily dependent upon their community. They have the means to support themselves and perpetuate their way of life, but this deprivation of education incapacitates them from achieving independence and significantly diminishes their chance of successfully leaving the community or pursuing something that the community does not approve of.

"Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids," President Obama said in his State of the Union Address. Educating our citizenry is crucial for America. Education not only enables the individual, but it also invites the individual to contribute to the welfare of the country. Is this Utopia or is it a nightmare?

"When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don't meet this test," President Obama continued. The schools in these communities purposefully do not meet this test, and perhaps they are justified. The education law was amended to make allowances when educational requirements conflict with religion.

Education Law: First Amendment, Due Process and Discrimination Litigation. Chapter 1. Religion Issues and Public Education § 1:11. Religious Objections to Secular Curriculum and Activities — Generally: The amendment invokes both the establishment clause and free exercise clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof") to make allowances and raise objections on religious grounds to school activities or curriculum. This amendment however, also states that, "even when there is a substantial burden on religious beliefs, the state's interest in educating its population may nevertheless prevail."

Perhaps these communities have created their own sovereignty, and the existing order within their communities is one we ought not upset. Though they may seem indistinguishable the from one another, the line between a dream and a nightmare is a fine one. And the value of education is an overriding one, as evidenced from public policy regarding the matter, and education's returns, for the individual and for society as a whole. The education that these communities offer is often more rigorous in their concentrations than the state mandates for secular studies. But what is it that makes education valuable? If it is curriculum dependent, then the students in those communities are being provided a very deficient education.

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