Learning about Learning

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Category: Resources (page 1 of 4)

Inside Jewish Day Schools: Initial Reflections from Conference Participants

Jon A. Levisohn

At the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis, we’re used to hosting conferences of various sizes. At least once a year and usually more often, we bring together groups of scholars, practitioners, and other stakeholders to share ideas and learn from one another. But each time, those first moments catch me off guard. After all the planning, all the coordinating and communicating, all the preparation, people show up on campus and this thing—which had been abstract and conceptual—emerges into a concrete existence. It’s kind of miraculous.

Our conference this year, chaired by my colleague Jonathan Krasner and me, focused on Jewish day schools. But more specifically, we wanted to draw attention to questions of teaching and learning. Hence our title: “Inside Jewish Day Schools.” Some of our plenary sessions explored questions of race and ethnicity, class and economic justice, and gender and sexuality. Other sessions focused on pluralism, teacher preparation, and teachers’ conceptions of purposes, as well as on the teaching and learning of classical Jewish texts, Hebrew language, and Israel.

In the coming days, we will share some reflections from conference participants, cross-posted with our colleagues at Prizmah. Today, we offer two: one from Dr. Sarah Levy, Director of Jewish Life and Learning at Denver Jewish Day School, and a second from Rav-Hazzan Dr. Scott Sokol, Head of School at MetroWest Jewish Day School in Framingham, MA.

. . . these sessions focused on some of the biggest challenges in American education today and highlighted that day schools, while unique in the educational landscape, are not unique in other ways . . .

Sarah wrote:

After the first roundtable, a session called “Embracing Diversity, Teaching Equity: Race and Ethnicity in Jewish Day School” … it seemed as if we were left with lots of questions and no answers. And that was the theme of the afternoon as a session about gender and sexuality was followed by a session about privilege and class, and a session about the emotional climates in Jewish day schools ended the day. During each session, the conversation focused on challenges that are prevalent in Jewish day schools, but not the kinds of challenges that are usually the focus of day school conferences. We didn’t focus on the questions that tend to occupy our daily thoughts in the world of practice such as meeting our fundraising goals, lowering attrition, raising the bar for academic excellence and supporting our teachers in 21st century methodologies.

Rather these sessions focused on some of the biggest challenges in American education today and highlighted that day schools, while unique in the educational landscape, are not unique in other ways, and these are all topics that need to be addressed in our schools. Equity in education is something to discuss, even amongst our population, as race and ethnicity impact our students both inside and outside of our buildings. Questions about gender and sexuality concern our students, not in spite of the fact that they are Jewish, but sometimes even more so because they attend Jewish day school. Economic and class distinctions impact the nature of our schools and who attends our schools. Sure, we’re not driven by standardized testing in the same way as public schools, but the pressure to succeed is just as high, if not higher.

Instead of going to bed depressed, however, Continue reading

Engaging the Public Through Jewish Languages

Sarah Benor, associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religioncontributes this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar. She can be reached at sbenor@huc.edu.
image003I became interested in Jewish languages as a college student. Initially I had only heard of Yiddish, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Judeo-Arabic, but eventually I learned about endangered languages/dialects like Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Malayalam (from Southern India), and Judeo-Tadjik (Bukharan, from Uzbekistan), as well as emerging languages/dialects like Jewish English, Jewish French, and Jewish Hungarian. For the past two decades, I have been researching and teaching about the phenomenon of Jewish languages, and I find great satisfaction in sharing what I’ve learned with scholars and students.

But classroom teaching, academic publications, and conference presentations have limited reach. Only a few dozen students each year encounter my ideas in the classroom, and given that linguistics and Jewish studies are both small fields, maybe a few hundred people hear my presentations or read my articles. Continue reading

The Dispositions of Jewish Service-Learning

Volunteers on a Jewish service-learning programEarlier this year, after publishing an article in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service on the topic of the goals of Jewish service-learning, I posted some of the ideas from my article on this blog. I wrote that, while the goal of service is to benefit the person or community served, the goal of service-learning entails the growth or development of the person doing the service as well. And that growth, I argued, ought to be understood in terms of dispositions.

Which dispositions?  I proposed that we ought to consider three:

  • service-humility, a stance in the face of deep and abiding social problems that is not oriented toward the generation of solutions primarily but rather, more simply, toward doing God’s will in the world;
  • service-discipline, avoiding the ideal of moral heroism in favor of non-heroic, small-scale work in the world, characterized by showing up every day;
  • service-wisdom, exercising our critical and independent judgment in order to discern what God wants us to do in the world.

I’m delighted that these ideas have resonated with some readers.  Most recently, I was honored that Rabbi Jan Katzew and Wendy Grinberg asked for permission to publish a revised and abbreviated version of my article on their new online journal, Avodat ha-Kodesh:  A Journal of Sacred Service Learning.  That revised article is now online.

Image courtesy American Jewish World Service.

Torah-Centered Judaism and the Rabbinics Classroom

This guest post, by Rabbi Joshua Cahan, is reprinted with permission from eJewish Philanthropy.

If you are a Jewish educator looking to teach Talmud outside of the Orthodox world, you will probably end up teaching high school. Outside of seminaries, high school students spend more hours a week studying Jewish texts, and are more likely to study them in the original, than any other group in the US. This makes the Jewish high school an ideal setting for a rich conversation about what in-depth Jewish learning should look like in the non-Orthodox world. It is a setting that demands real answers to the question that bedevils visions of our communal future: what precisely is the Jewish content that should fill in our vague dedication to Jewish Continuity? Continue reading

Interpretive Experience: The Core of Meaningful Tanakh Education

Classroom Beit MidrashThis blog post, by Mandel Center researchers Allison Cook and Orit Kent, is based on an article recently published in HaYidion: The RAVSAK Journal. The full article is available here.

Through the Mandel Center’s Beit Midrash Research Project, we have been visiting early childhood to high school classes for years. We have seen that Tanakh learning tends to fall into two major types of student activity: language and/or translation exercises, and personalization. Language exercises range from picking out patterns of suffixes and roots in the original text to doing full written translations of Tanakh passages. In personalization exercises, students explore pre-determined themes in the text and apply them to their own lives, such as discussing their relationships with siblings when studying the Jacob and Esau narrative, or answering the question “what would I do in this situation?”

There are many good reasons why teachers use translation and personalization in Tanakh study, but when they are the main or only approaches they can limit the extent to which students can meaningfully engage with the text. Continue reading

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