From the Constitution to the Classroom: Educational Freedom in Antwerp's Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Schools
8(3) Journal of School Choice 475-502 (2014)
30 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2014 Last revised: 1 Nov 2014
Date Written: March 18, 2014
This study explores how the constitutional right to educational freedom penetrates to the schools of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Haredi) community in Antwerp, which is one of the largest Haredi communities in the world. Previous studies exploring the schooling of ultra-religious communities were conducted through a normative lens, focusing on the content of the legal rules governing the schools. This study contributes empirical findings regarding the impact of these rules, which are formulated, interpreted, and applied by various agents. The methodology combines legal analysis with fieldwork, aiming to reveal the connections between the different metaphorical cogwheels operating education policy. The findings indicate that the constitutional educational freedom is altered by various legal rules, social norms, and implementing agents that transform it on the way down to the Haredi schools. Consequently, these schools face a dichotomic choice between absolute autonomy as independent schools and strict state control as free-subsidized schools, which use Flemish text books, participate in external exams, and hire non-Jewish teachers. Such a dichotomic choice has a limited ability to reflect gradual changes of educational preferences. Moreover, processes of fragmentation within the Haredi education system exemplify how the recognition of and support for schools organized along various lines of affiliation, which attempt to embrace cultural differences, may constrict the actual choices of parents. The complex, illusive, operation of the cogwheels of education policy demonstrates that education laws should be shaped with considerable thought, taking into account their long journey across the arenas of education policy. Laws reflecting certain values may not always incorporate these values into compatible policies and practices.
Keywords: Educational Freedom, Education Law, Haredi, Ultra-Orthodox, Religion, Belgium
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