As my regular readers know, I am generally a critic of formal education (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). It’s a Procrustean Bed (or a Sdoim Bettle, as Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky reportedly called it) and always has been. The ideal relationship between schools and homes is that the schools provide the tools and skills to develop the values that the student imbibes in the home. If Shmuely Boteach is right that Prof. Feldman can layn any parsha at the drop of a hat, then Maimonides can be proud of the training that they gave him. Of course, they are not proud of him, because schools always have ambition to do more than reinforce and develop the parents’ values. They wish to mold a particular product, with specific attitudes and values, or at least aim for their alumni to fall within a certain defined spectrum of belief and practice. Maimonides, far from being the exception, set itself a goal of producing graduates who would be as comfortable with Shakespeare as with Tosafot. I’d recommend An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston's Maimonides School to get a picture of the founding vision of the school. It was built on a very particular ideological vision.
This brings us to the attitude of schools toward alumni who do not ‘toe the line’, and this can even mean things that are examples of egregious and flagrant violation of the school’s ideology or values. Schools make an effort to inform and maintain relationships with alumni only to the extent that this information furthers the school’s aims and advertises its culture and mission. Basically, it’s for recruitment and fundraising. These newsletters are marketing material, no more and no less, and the school is trying to market itself as a supplier which can produce a particular type of product. I had the good fortune of taking a graduate school class in the history of Jewish Education with Prof. Shaul Stampfer. His emphasis on community-driven ‘market forces’ as a major determinant of the success or failure of educational institutions was truly eye-opening. Every educational institution in the world makes ‘business’ decisions about what alumni accomplishments to take pride in and what not. Every announcement and every photo in their publications and on their websites are part of this general promotion of their product. News concerning alumni which does not promote the school’s vision in some way will simply not be advertised. News which really provides an example of the type of alumni achievement that the school strives for will be celebrated.
For example, my brother-in-law recently completed a Ph.D. in Talmud, and is now doing postdoctoral work at Yale, where he earned a prestigious fellowship. Had he graduated from the
A few years ago, my closest friend from high school (TA of Baltimore) was honored as ‘Alumnus of the Year’ at our alma mater’s annual dinner. He is a great guy, without a doubt. But his selection as alumnus of the year spoke volumes about what the school strives for. This friend was a good guy in school – a good ball player, a good friend to many, and a respectful student. He worked hard and got solid grades, but was not a valedictorian. After a few years in Yeshiva, in