Sometimes when meeting parents, I hear the comment “but, will my child know how to live in the real world after being educated in such a small insulated environment?” When hearing this, I wonder about that parent’s definition of the real world? Isn’t any place (perhaps Disneyland is an exception) that we find ourselves the “real world.” Is the upper middle class neighborhood public school a real world? Or is the inner city public school a “real world”? What the parent is really asking is not about an illusive “real world”. The question asked to a head of a Jewish school or any other independent school is code for - will my child know how to interact with people who are religiously, ethnically, racially or socio-economically different.
What then is the “real world” of Wornick JDS? Our student body is more diverse than appears on the surface. In many ways it is more economically diverse than a neighborhood school that pulls students from a limited geographic area with relatively similar socio-economic status. There is also diversity of language groups and countries of origins of our families.
Nearly all Jewish values begin with the ideas of empathy and dignity for all. This means that our teaching actively engages children in understanding and in interacting with “the other”. This is why we place so much emphasis on not excluding others. As we teach peaceful communication, students must understand how to express their needs and how to understand conflicting needs. They are given the tools to deal with, and not walk away from, conflict.
Our graduates are the students who become leaders on high school campus programs with diverse student groups. They are the students who have the capacity to empathize, to understand and respect “the other.” This idea is further supported by compelling data from a study produced for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA that compared high school graduates from public and private schools on academic and personal indicators during their first year of college.
The study showed that independent school graduates were more tolerant of those who have different beliefs than they do, more able to view the world from someone else’s perspective and more likely to work cooperatively with diverse people. “This high degree of tolerance and open-mindedness extended to being more willing to have their own views challenged and more able to discuss and negotiate controversial ideas. (Amada Torres “Independent Schools: A Well-rounded Preparation for College and Beyond, in Independent School, Fall 2011, p.24)
Finally, the “real world” of an independent school addresses identity formation in a serious and methodical way. Along with our mandate to approach each subject seriously and well, independent schools spend time addressing individual student needs with the goal of helping each student formulate a winning personal identity. The identity includes the teaching of resiliency, compassion, humility and confidence. Those qualities,when taught well, lead to graduates who easily navigate any “real world” that they face.