We quickly discovered that our fears had no basis in reality. In Aleeza's first year, her class put on skits commemorating Thanksgiving and later one about Chanukah. I still remember her coming home so excited to tell us how she learned all about Mozart and Beethoven in school -- Jewish Day School. Even I, who played the violin as a kid, didn't learn about Mozart until college.
Two words: Get Real. If there is a yeshiva that offers a full limudei kodesh curriculum and has a parent/student body committed to rigorous observance of halacha that also offers (I would even settle for one that tolerates!) a rich secular studies curriculum with appreciation of arts, sciences, and the best of higher culture, will someone please let me know where it is so I can enroll my kids!!! The Jewish world and jewish education is unfortunately very polarized and it is disingenuous to suggest that one is not forced to choose between full commitment to halacha and an immersion in the world of Torah and and appreciation of higher culture and secular knowledge. I have daughters too and have tried it both ways. When we moved a few years ago we originally had our daughters enrolled in a school that you would describe as more-or-less modern orthodox, which offered what we perceived to be a rich curriculum. I too would like my daughters (and son) to learn about Mozart, to study literature from the canon of great works, etc. Unfortunately, one of the great failures of modern orthodoxy is that there is only a small minority of people (like myself) who are committed to it as a philosophy because of an admiration of the Rav or Rav Kook, a belief that secular studies and culture have value, an appreciation of Zionism, without sacrificing anything in the way of shmiras hamitzvos and committment to limud torah. Modern Orthodoxy for many means Orthodoxy-lite – keep the big stuff like kashrus and shabbos, but the little stuff is just details that don’t matter too much (this is obviously a generalization that does not apply to all people or communities). While my daughters were in this school they found themselves just about the only ones wearing skirts and long sleeves even on Sundays, the only ones with no TV at home, etc. So we switched. They are not in the most chareidi school in the neighborhood, but one which has taken a more rightward tilt as it has evolved. Thanksgiving is a half day of school (it is discussed by some teachers as well); Yom haAtzmaut is not marked on the calendar or noted (when my wife attended the same school years ago the former was a day off, the latter celebrated). Literature is filtered; music is Jewish only. But, I have no fears that our lack of TV or adherence to hilchos tzniyus is out of step with what the school reinforces. My kids can live without Mozart; they can’t live without commitment to halacha. Fortunately, education is still valued and a priority at the school they are in: girls are expected to study and do well within the somewhat filtered exposure to the outside world. But this is moderate by chareidi standards. Jewish Worker recently posted a piece from the chareidi press explaining the desiderium of the Bais Ya’akov movement – “We are not interested in teachers who have a good (secular) education for our daughters, we don't want teachers with degrees, rather we want teachers who know less (my emphasis), who are vessels full of fear of God who can influence their surroundings “. I personally wish I could have my cake and eat it too – I wish the world was more sympathetic to a vision of Orthodoxy that did not see a dichotomy between knowing more and fear of G-d. But alas, this is a world of dreams.
Just to be clear – I agree with the premis there is simply no way to raise a child with a strong Jewish identity without minimally a basic Jewish day school education (see here for a roundup of research, the most comprehensive of which is the Schiff survey which concluded “Extensive Jewish day school education is the most important contributor to the formation of strong Jewish identities”). But to imply that that commitment comes without sacrifice (and I have only written of ideological choices and have not even commented on the tremendous financial burden yeshiva ed places on parents) is wrong. And I have not even touched on boy’s yeshivos where the number of hours spent immersed in gemara is in direct proportion to the negativety conveyed toward all things secular, with no discrimination between Mozart and Rolling Stones, between Lear and Looney Toones.
The article concludes, “Many Jewish parents find it difficult to believe that it is possible to successfully educate children in both what Harvard wants from them and what G-d wants from them at the same school. Anyone who has genuinely checked it out has seen that it is completely doable.” Yes, it is doable if one minimizes G-d to the bare essentials and devotes the rest of one’s day to Harvard. I wonder what the kiruv workers who tout these articles would advise a girl in a Bais Ya'akov high school interested in medicine who desired to go to college away from home? Something tells me the message delivered would not be about the glory of aspiring to knowledge and realizing potential. For the overwhelming majority of students, our schools and society force a choice – Harvard or the Bais Medrash? Either/Or – but not both.