When many of his students looked unusually well-groomed, New York City high school teacher Steven Mazie wondered why. Mazie, an associate professor of political studies at Manhattan’s uber-competitive Bard High School Early College (where kids spend two of their high school years on a college curriculum, hence their teachers’ professor titles), soon learned that it was senior portrait day. Students showed him the card they had been given with strict instructions as to how boys and girls should show up for their photo shoot. Mazie was shocked — both by the gender disparities and by what appeared to be his students’ passivity.
Girls were instructed: “Prepare yourself as if you were going to your senior prom. This means that your hair, nails, makeup, eyebrows etc… should all be done. Remember, the photo will only look as good as you do… please wear a tank top beneath your attire as the yearbook photo will require you to have bare shoulders. (If for religious purposes you cannot show your shoulders, please wear black attire including any head covering.)” Boys did not get the warning that the pictures will look good only if they came looking good. They were told to get a haircut and shave the day before, to make sure their nails were trimmed and to wear a fitted and ironed shirt and tie, with a jacket optional but highly recommended.
There’s a new Hasidic Montessori school for elementary boys in Crown Heights and creative women are behind the change.
Lamplighters Yeshivah opened two years ago, driven by a group of Crown Heights parents who “allowed themselves to dream; to envision a new holistic educational experience for their children,” the school’s website says.
Lamplighters is a small school of 40 students still in its early seedlings, yet it has tripled enrollment since its inception in 2010. Although the school includes a mixed-gender preschool, the revolution lies in its boys’ lower elementary class, which is challenging the mainstream institutional approach. The curriculum includes child-directed learning centers, art and Montessori materials to integrate Torah and secular subjects. It also caters to parents and children who are not satisfied with the status quo. (The other Hasidic boys’ schools in Crown Heights do not teach any English subjects, at least not until fourth grade.)
Lamplighters celebrated its innovative approach at a December event for 400 women called “In the Glow: Basking in the Light of Creative Jewish Women” that featured Hasidic women artists, performers and entrepreneurs, plus comedian Yael Hanover as emcee.