Sunday, September 24, 2006

As the new year swings into action...

My new resolution: sleep more. Teach the babes to sleep more. Haul the man into bed before midnight to, yes, sleep more.

Many good things come from sleep, including the ability to read the sleep book, whereby we will teach the babes to sleep...and round and round we go.

I have a rumbling of thoughts about knowing one's child and distance and the role of schools, but first I wanted to direct you all to this: on Jewish debt . Yes, she's literally talking about Jews in financial debt, and not some homily on the glory of Jewishness. As I pore through the various pamphlets from the local religious schools, we are also worrying about paying our ever escalating medical costs. The two topics make for a dangerous intersection, as you can imagine.

In brief, then, here is the problem of Jews and debt. My quick disclaimer is that I'm talking about Orthodox jews, that being the sort I know - I make no claims or comparisons otherwise. Right, then. First, kosher meat costs more than non-kosher meat. Same for cheeses, wine, some prepared goods (freezer section-type stuff), restaurants. We send our kids to religious (private) schools, where they do a double curriculum in secular and religious studies. We hope that this prepares them to balance a life rich with religious investment as well as a fulfilling job, secular or otherwise.

The partner and I are lucky: some communities, the women wear expensive suits and hats to sabbath services. Some communities, the families spend thousands on a bris, a simchat bat (girl's baby naming) or bar/bat mitzva. We don't live in that kind of community, and economic cojones aren't necessary to prove that you're a good sort. Combine that with the partner man having a good job, that fascinates him while paying well, and we're okay.

But I look at these school tuitions, and setting all else aside, I'm shocked. I see prices of $12,500, of $14,00 and $16,500 a year. How old do these schools think we are, we parents? How wealthy? Looking around at my friends, I see them calm, relaxed. Why? Inevitably, the grandparents are paying most or all of the tuition, allowing their children to focus on things like paying the mortgage, or just paying the bills.

It bothers me that this situation is being perpetuated. I understand that the rising cost of constructing a good institution has forced schools into this position, and yes, of course I'd choose a good school over a lesser one, given the choice! But there's two problems that I see here: first, applying to the grandparents means asking them to agree with my choice of a school for my children, and to (literally) support it.

What if they disagree?

Second, while part of me insists that something so crucial will happen, if only we want it enough, I know the numbers. At the end of the day, priorities just don't change the income stream enough for miracles to happen.

These schools are drawing on a population that cares enough about religious affiliation and identity to pay the extra money for kosher food, and to buy the home within walking distance of a synagogue. These are families who are already spending more than other families, so why hit them with these astronomical bills for tuition? Wherefor this assumption that these families, of all families, have disposible income?

Because the very idea just makes me laugh. And angry. And sad. I have too many friends who are planning on sending their children to public school because they can't afford the bills, and don't qualify for tuition assistance. We started saving last year, to avoid being in this group - but I know that all we've done is possibly delayed the moment of financial truth. These schools are beginning to make the education they offer a matter of class and opportunity, and while that might be what prep school is about, but it isn't what a religious institution is meant to do.


Sandi Kahn Shelton said...

I have to tell you how much I adore your blog! And I'm angry on your behalf about the health insurance thing and the tuition thing, and not angry but amused by the kids-not-sleeping thing...and I was also grateful that back in July, you mentioned a book I wrote, "Sleeping Through the Night...and Other Lies," which made me so happy! It was through that mention that I recently discovered your blog, and now I am reading you every day. I feel I'm late to the world of blogging. I've been writing novels for the past few years...but now that I've discovered it, I want to do it more and more. Thank you so much for sharing with us your stories of your life and your kids and the bean-counting partner man. I'm definitely one of your fans!

mama o' the matrices said...

What a thrill to hear that from an author whose book I like to lend or give to new mothers... especially the extremely tired ones.

Welcome (belatedly) to the blog, Sandi! and do share, should you start a blog of your own. That's a great, silly, honest book that you wrote, and it's high on my list of 'things someone should have told me before.'