A mere five years ago, my reading material was limited to things that were religiously uncontroversial, I could count the number of movies I had seen in theater on my fingers, and I was not allowed to use the Internet without parental supervision or consent. Today I am 20 years old, enrolled in Baruch College, and I have discovered that the insularity with which I was raised pales in comparison to the xenophobic and overbearing nature of other religious sects.
About a month ago, I was introduced to Footsteps (footstepsorg.org), a secret society of sorts. This group is comprised of young adults who have elected to leave their ultraorthodox way of life. The members come from religious sects that censored their education and manipulated their lives to a dastardly extent.
They come from communities in New York State with regulatory power akin to that of a regime. These communities have their own judicial system they turn to as a form of arbitration recognized by and supplanting New York’s judicial system. They have their own private schools wherein instead of educating their students, they seem to exist for the sole purpose of depriving their students of education. These schools teach a maximum of one and a half hours of secular studies each day just four days of the week; the remainder of the time is devoted to religious studies. The students leave these institutions without a substantive grasp of the English language and with no knowledge of their country’s history and heritage. They are proficient in a language that is not quite a single language, but a bizarre dialect, a relic of ancient Europe, a conglomerate of languages seldom spoken outside their community. These students have never heard of the United States Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, and they will never learn about the big bang, evolution, and age of the universe or anything scientific that might remotely associate with anything religiously contentious.
These communities have separate institutions for girls and boys. Girls are typically privileged with a more decent education than boys, but even their education pales in comparison with the public school system. The girls, like the boys, are also lacking in knowledge that might be fundamental to even a high school drop out; things children are mandated to learn in grade school. The girls, at the very least, learn the English language and can speak it fluently though amateurishly by comparison. In some of these communities, the boys are expected to pick up the English language once they are married, their wives serving as their teachers.
New York State has very explicit standards for education, and these communities are in flagrant violation of those.
NY EDUC s 3204
Mckinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated Currentness
Education Law (Refs & Annos)
Chapter 16. Of the Consolidated Laws (Refs & Annos)
Title IV. Teachers and Pupils
Part I. Compulsory Education
§ 3204. Instruction required
It should be noted that this law was later amended.
Education Law: First Amendment, Due Process and Discrimination Litigation
1. Religion Issues and Public Education[*]
§ 1:11. Religious Objections to Secular Curriculum and Activities—Generally
This amendment invokes both the establishment clause and free exercise clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) to make allowances and raise objections on religious grounds to school activities or curriculum. However, this amendment also states that “even when there is a substantial burden on religious beliefs, the state's interest in educating its population may nevertheless prevail.”
The state has prescribed standards and requirements for the education of its citizenry and these are clearly not being met by some institutions. The educational attainments of the students who attend these ultraorthodox institutions are not near commensurate to those of even your less than average public school student. These children do not even obtain a high school diploma, depriving them of any hope of attending college and achieving a higher level of education. Some of the very motivated and highly intelligent young adults who have left their oppressive communities turn to organizations such as Footsteps to help them obtain a GED and go on to earn post secondary degrees. Along the way, they encounter many difficulties between supporting themselves, self-teaching things that many others take for granted and coping with estrangement from family that often results from their decision to pursue higher education.
Young Adults for Fair Education (YAFFE, also a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “beautiful”) was conceived to promote student activism, inform the public of the grievance of the victims of these ultraorthodox communities, and to take legal action, whence appropriate. YAFFE aims to provide a more beautiful and enlightened future for those who have been deprived of the education and the tools that would have enabled them to find their futures on their own.