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Fixing Alabama

March 5, 2014

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             Recently, in the Mobile Press Register, there was a rather troubling article about economic measurements for the State of Alabama.  Among the most shocking statistics was the total U.S. job growth in 2013 was three times faster in the rest of the country, than for the State of Alabama.  Alabama ranked 49th in job growth in 2013.  Other measurements such as construction and household income were also very poor. 

            One of the most enigmatic teachings in the Hebrew bible is found in the book of Exodus, Chapter 34, where it tells of God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.”  The same teaching is contradicted three other times in the Hebrew bible, where it says, as in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death for children, neither shall children be put to death for fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”  Clearly, it is only fair for criminals to be punished for their own personal crimes.  The child or grandchild of a murderer should not be punished for his or her father’s crime.  But the sad truth is that the wrong actions of one generation can take many generations to be corrected.

            Why is Alabama lagging in so many crucial statistics compared to the rest of the country?  Why are we so often thankful for Mississippi for keeping us from being 50th in negative state listings?  Though there are many answers to this extremely complicated question, there is one most important solution to what ails the State of Alabama: improving education and the literacy of our workforce.

            There is a sad lesson I remember well that I learned from my father.  It summed up the centrality of education in Judaism.  These are the words of a refugee from Hitler’s Europe.  He said, “Do everything you can to get the best education, because it is one thing that can never be taken away from you.”  These are words from a man, who at the age of 16, was forced to leave his family and all he knew, to go by himself to Palestine, the only place in the world that would accept him as a refugee.

            The horror of the Holocaust aside, there is a fascinating lesson in that thought.  It is, I believe, because of the historic love of learning and knowledge that Jews are disproportionately represented in many occupations and professions in a far greater percentage than the Jewish population statistics.  It is the key to the Jewish people’s success even while facing anti-Semitism for hundreds of years.

            Even in the time of the Talmud, codified 1,500 years ago, there were detailed laws in how to best develop an educational system.  There were rules for class size: “if there are more than 25 children in class for elementary education, an assistant must be appointed.”  There were rules for teacher competence: “A teacher who teaches less than his fellow instructors should be dismissed.  The other teachers will become diligent both out of fear of dismissal and out of gratitude.”  There are rules for hiring teachers: “When appointing a teacher preference should be given to him who teaches thoroughly, not to one who teaches superficially.”

            Though the solutions are far from simple to what ails the State of Alabama, excellent public education is central, plain and simple for improving our future.  Only with an educated workforce can we bring top-notch jobs and improve the quality of life for the residents of this beautiful area.  Everyone need not attend a university, but everyone should be trained for the computerized workforce of our time

            Judaism teaches study is equated with the highest of values, because study can lead to the fulfillment of all other values.  Can we move beyond the errors of our fathers and our grandfathers and grandmothers to improve education in Alabama and to move our state to where it rightfully should be in the rankings among these great United States of America?  

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