Edu­cat­ing in the Divine Image: Gen­der Issues in Ortho­dox Jew­ish Day Schools

Chaya Rosen­feld Gorset­man and Elana Maryles Sztokman
  • Review
By – December 10, 2013

This excel­lent book exam­ines the edu­ca­tion­al, reli­gious, and social expe­ri­ences of girls and boys in Ortho­dox Jew­ish day schools in order to under­stand how chil­dren are taught about gen­der roles and how the lessons they learn expand or lim­it the children’s poten­tial in their Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties and beyond. Each chap­ter ana­lyzes a dif­fer­ent kind of learn­ing expe­ri­ence — class­room instruc­tion, books and cur­ric­u­la, sin­gle-sex and co-ed learn­ing, mod­esty and dress codes, sex edu­ca­tion, and Jew­ish rit­u­als — while the final chap­ter address­es women’s posi­tion and advance­ment in school lead­er­ship. The research is impres­sive and time­ly, and the authors expert­ly draw on sec­u­lar arti­cles and stud­ies to pro­vide con­text and under­stand the Jew­ish day school expe­ri­ence in com­par­i­son to sec­u­lar edu­ca­tion­al experiences. 

The book’s sur­vey results are espe­cial­ly use­ful for under­stand­ing the on-the-ground expe­ri­ences of chil­dren. Bro­ken down by gen­der, the data tables doc­u­ment spe­cif­ic expe­ri­ences, such as par­tic­i­pa­tion in AP class­es or after-school clubs, which demon­strate exact­ly which edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties boy and girls expe­ri­ence in their schools. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, it turns out about how one might expect, with boys more like­ly to be in oppor­tu­ni­ties relat­ed to sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing, and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) fields, and girls less like­ly to do so. Yet the details are fas­ci­nat­ing and the con­se­quences made more real through the authors’ analysis.

More inter­est­ing from a Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al per­spec­tive are the results of the qual­i­ta­tive inter­views with edu­ca­tors and stu­dents and the field­work, includ­ing obser­va­tions that one of the authors con­duct­ed at sev­en schools. The authors present a range of anec­dotes that demon­strate the many ways in which instruc­tors — both women and men — mar­gin­al­ize girls in teach­ing Jew­ish rit­u­als and val­ues. These include but are not lim­it­ed to call­ing on boys first to answer ques­tions, assign­ing girls and boys spe­cif­ic roles in Jew­ish rit­u­al, and explain­ing Jew­ish tra­di­tions and sto­ries in terms that cre­ate mixed mes­sages about the roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties of Jew­ish boys and girls. It is par­tic­u­lar­ly inspir­ing and a wel­come change to see the authors artic­u­late why the instruc­tors’ actions are incor­rect from an edu­ca­tion­al per­spec­tive, what the child learns from that expe­ri­ence, and what the impli­ca­tions are from that les­son, and what could be done better.

This book is appro­pri­ate read­ing for any Jew­ish edu­ca­tor, no mat­ter the denom­i­na­tion or affil­i­a­tion of the insti­tu­tion where s/​he works and regard­less of whether the insti­tu­tion is a day school or class­es meet less fre­quent­ly. Stu­dents from across the reli­gious spec­trum expe­ri­ence gen­der social­iza­tion in their Jew­ish and sec­u­lar edu­ca­tions, and it is an educator’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to under­stand the impli­ca­tions — espe­cial­ly the neg­a­tive impli­ca­tions — of such social­iza­tion for the stu­dents and to work to fix the school com­mu­ni­ty so that every child, regard­less of gen­der, has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to succeed.

Relat­ed content:

Read Chaya Rosen­feld Gorset­man and Elana Maryles Sztok­man’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Post

10 Ways You Can Pro­mote Gen­der Equal­i­ty in Your Local School 

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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