Apr 07 2014

A Time to Act and a Time to Tell

Published by under Research

Today’s blog post is by Jonathan Krasner, who is a visiting scholar at the Mandel Center this year.

commissionjewishedNA“When do contemporary events become history?” my eighteen-year old nephew asked me as we were walking together in Jerusalem one evening during my recent research trip to Israel. The question was more relevant to my work in Israel than he could have realized. And it has been very much on my mind since my return. Continue Reading »

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Mar 31 2014

Rethinking Jewish Identity: Questions and Thoughts from Day 1

Published by under Center News

What happens when you get about 45 sociologists, educators, historians, scholars of literature, and people who work in philanthropic foundations in one room to talk about Jewish identity?  What happens when they challenge assumptions about what “Jewish identity” means, and how the concept works in the Jewish community and in Jewish educational settings?

We’re finding out now, at our conference on Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education.

When I invited participants to share their thoughts and questions at the end of the first day (Sunday, March 30), here’s some of what they offered:  Continue Reading »

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Dec 19 2013

Enough Identity, Already

In the blizzard of articles, reactions, and blog posts about the Pew Research Center study of American Jews, the most unexpected came from the prominent public intellectual Noah Feldman.

Writing in Bloomberg, Feldman’s column jumps from the Pew study to some observations about, surprisingly, the Lakewood yeshiva. He explains that Lakewood is a massive ultra-Orthodox educational institution (6500 students embedded in a community of 55,000) focused almost entirely on the study of Talmud and exclusively for male students, that its educational model is “astonishingly egalitarian and democratic,” that it demonstrates that “one kind of authentically Jewish experience is flourishing in America.”

He concludes:

[Lakewood] matters. It matters for the future of Jews in America precisely because it matters for the future of Judaism in America. By privileging ideas and thought over identity, it proudly stakes out a position of genuine durability.

Feldman is no apologist for traditionalism. What he notices about Lakewood, astutely, is that they have identified a particular cultural practice that they value above everything else, and they have set up an educational system to pursue that cultural practice with single-minded focus and discipline. Continue Reading »

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Dec 03 2013

Understanding the Day School Student: What do THEY think about Torah?

Should we focus our efforts to improve the field of Jewish education on teaching, or on learning?

From its founding in 2002, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis has focused on teaching-and-learning. The hyphens in the phrase signal that we (and the field of teaching-and-learning in general) think about the two terms in relationship to each other. We have always cared about both. At the same time, most of our research over the past decade has looked more closely at the teaching end of the teaching-and-learning spectrum.

More recently, we have become increasingly aware that the field of Jewish education needs to be paying more attention to learners and learning, to hard questions about our desired outcomes and how we might assess those outcomes, and especially, to understanding learners’ experiences. In response to this need new Mandel Center projects now being developed and launched will focus less on the former term and more on the latter. Indeed, we have already begun to do so—and the new name of this blog, “Learning about Learning,” is one way of signaling that shift.

How delightful, therefore, to discover that others are thinking in similar ways. In the following guest post, originally published by the Jim Joseph Foundation, Stanford doctoral student Ziva Reimer Hassenfeld articulates why she believes that field of the teaching and learning of classical Jewish texts needs to adopt precisely the shift that I describe above, and how she intends to make that happen in her own work. Continue Reading »

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Nov 19 2013

What We Can Learn from Finland

Published by under Center News

“If you want to live the American dream, move to Finland.”*

I recently had an opportunity to meet and talk with Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation at the Finnish Ministry of Education and author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland (New York: Teachers College Press, 2010). Finland outperforms other countries on international assessments of mathematics, science and reading, and educational leaders around the world are turning to Finland for insights about how to improve education in their own countries. According to Sahlberg, Finland got its vision from the U.S., but it is taking a very different path to get there.
Continue Reading »

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