Progressively Speaking: Education shapes lives whether at home or back at school
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Progressively Speaking: Education shapes lives whether at home or back at school

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a topical issue and looks at a Progressive Jewish response

Mother and her child wear masks as students head back to school during the pandemic
Mother and her child wear masks as students head back to school during the pandemic

We have two children, one in Year 3 and one in Reception. Being a family of Jews, we have at least seven opinions on what to do about one of them returning to school.

Like many, we have tried to understand as much as possible about both Covid-19, and the effects of us struggling to manage two children’s home schooling and two full-time jobs (and being a rabbi is more than a full-time job).

It has been stressful, and my parenting has not always been what I would want it to be over the last few months. Everyone else seemed to be achieving more, or feeling fine about learning life skills instead of fulfilling the amazing lessons we were sent home. I felt like I was failing at everything and letting everyone down.

Education, however and wherever it is delivered, shapes lives. Proverbs (22:6) tells us to “train a child in the way they ought to go; and they will not swerve from it even in old age”.

This passage is sometimes understood as meaning that we should train a child in the way that suits their learning style, and I think this is key at this difficult time.

For some, home school has worked well, for others it has been a real struggle. For some, the idea of sending children back to school and risking infection is unimaginable; for others, keeping their kids at home is socially and academically detrimental, and the damage done at home can outweigh the risks (which some scientists tell us are low) of returning to school.

Some of the most amazing families have continued sending children to school over the past few months so they could continue delivering key services, and of course we want to protect the teachers our children adore.

The reality is, just as children learn differently, we will all need to make the decision that is right for our children and our families.

Jews have always valued education, with the establishment of schools, sensible class sizes and the use of qualified teachers being outlined in rabbinic texts. But however important school is, our children’s mental health has to be paramount.

Whether or not our children go back to school before or after the summer, we need them to understand the world they are living in, but not be terrified of it.

There are no right or wrong answers, only what is right for your family and child.

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers serves Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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