Early Education Day of Action Today
Last week, the Brookings Institution invited Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a panel of experts to discuss the President’s ambitious plan to expand early childhood education. The American Jewish community, and the Reform Movement specifically, have historically been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that “any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children” (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1). The URJ affirmed in 2001, “Historically, the public schools have been the ladder that American Jews, and so many others, used to climb from poverty to affluence in American life.”
Public schools, and particularly early education centers, provide this ladder out of poverty that embodies the American Dream. Early education benefits society as a whole, too, not just the individual. Research suggests that the return on investment for early childhood education is huge: $8 for every $1 invested.
While walking along a road, a sage saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. The sage then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world, because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise I am planting for my children.” (Talmud Ta’anit 23a)
Children get the short end of the stick. They cannot vote, and their voices are often overpowered by parents and other people older than them. But you can raise their voice, and speak to these pressing issues. Every year, religious organizations across the country mark the third weekend in October as the Children’s Sabbath. This event is an opportunity for communities to come together and celebrate the children and children’s advocates in their midst, as well as evaluate and reaffirm their commitment to bettering the lives of children across the country.
We urge our congregations to hold a Children’s Sabbath celebration, either as individual congregations or in conjunction with other faith organizations in their communities. The Children’s Defense Fund has extensive materials to help plan such an event, as well as a section solely devoted to Jewish resources.
We must invest in our children. You know it instinctively, we know it economically and our religion teaches it. Just as a prerequisite for Maimonides’ cities was a functional school, preparing for our children’s future is a foundation of Judaism. We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Image from National Women’s Law Center