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

Tag: identity (page 1 of 2)

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

What Should a Vision of Jewish Education Do For Us?

Jon A. Levisohn is director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professor of Jewish Educational Thought, at Brandeis University. This post is an abbreviated version of his recent article, “A New Theory of Vision,” in HaYidion.

My colleague Danny Lehmann has shared some constructive, generative ideas for Jewish education in the 21st century in his recent article in HaYidion, in which he argues for creativity, hybridity, transformative spirituality, and more. Do these ideas constitute a vision? Well, that depends. Continue reading

Jewish Identity Complex: Why we Cannot, and Should Not, Get Along

This guest post is by Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, community engagement manager for CASJE. It was originally published at eJewish Philanthropy.

We all carry what has been termed FOMO, “a fear of missing out.” Today at least, although Jewry is concentrated in the vicinity of New York and in Israel, technology allows us all to tune in from wherever we are located. We do not have to miss out. I’ve been glued to my computer screen during lectures, communal debates, and the like. I followed people’s Facebook and Twitter comments during Yeshivat Maharat’s historic graduation, for example, while simultaneously watching live-feed streaming from the graduation itself. While the modern age has allowed all of us to participate in a number of events and conferences, our engagement can still be limited due to time, technological glitches and other factors.

As the Community Engagement Manager for the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE), I was thrilled to learn of blogcasting, a new communication medium wherein everyone has equal access to a conversation and all are welcome to contribute; there are few better ways of “keeping up.” Continue reading

The Persistence of “Identity”

This guest post is by Jonathan Krasner of Hebrew Union College. He is a visiting scholar at the Mandel Center this year; next year, we will welcome him to Brandeis as the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Chair in Jewish Education Research.

In 1994 Leon Wieseltier declared in the New Republic that identity was “an idea whose time has gone.” Twenty years later the Jewish identity industry is still going strong.
ID block quote

I recently had occasion to reread Wieseltier’s article in preparation for a conference on “Rethinking Jewish Identity and Education” at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. Listening to the various panel presentations and the vigorous discussions that ensued, it was clear to me that Wieseltier underestimated the enduring power of identity as a concept, particularly within the North American Jewish community. As the opening conference statement made clear, “With the possible exception of ‘continuity,’ identity (and the attendant fears of its disappearance or weakening) has driven more philanthropic initiatives and educational policy than any other single concept.”

With funders and community leaders eager to shore up the Jewish identities of millennials and their younger siblings, there is plenty of money to be had and made in the Jewish identity industry. Hence my quip at the conference that “Jewish identity has basically become the crack cocaine of the Jewish educational world.” Continue reading

Jewish Identity Ain’t What it Used to Be

This guest post is by Ari Y Kelman, The Jim Joseph Professor of Education and Jewish Studies and the director of the Concentration in Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford, and co-chair of the conference on Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education.

Jewish identity ain’t what it used to be.

Let me explain: This isn’t a lament about declining affiliation rates or weak ethnic ties. I’m not writing about actual Jews living actual Jewish lives. I’m talking about the concept of “Jewish identity,” which seems to have entered the Jewish communal vocabulary sometime after World War II, and, by the end of the 20th century, had become part of the internal logic of Jewish life and Jewish education in the United States and beyond. In some circles, “Jewish identity” had become something of a holy grail or ultimate pursuit. Camps, day schools, travel tours to Israel, early childhood interventions, and virtually every other imaginable delivery mechanism for Jewish education had been tasked with enhancing, fostering, growing, nurturing, strengthening, and otherwise doing good things for “Jewish identity.”

The relationship between identity and Jewish education has become axiomatic. Sociologist Sam Heilman opened an article about Jewish schoolingwith the following: “The ultimate goal of Jewish education today is the affirmation of Jewish identity.” (1) Even someone as critical of Jewish education as David Schoem takes the centrality of “Jewish identity” for granted. Shoem explained, “Jewish educators must begin with the assumption that an authentic Jewish identity for life in modern America is not understood either by the masses of Jewish people or by its educators and leaders.” (64)

By the time the Pew Research Center published its report on the state of American Jews in the fall of 2013, “Jewish identity” had been reified beyond recognition. “A key aim of the Pew Research Center survey,” its authors explained, “is to explore Jewish identity: what does being Jewish mean in America today?” (15). But, the best the Report could do was to explain, “Jewish identity is changing in America,” (7) a claim that leaves more substantive examinations of identity to its readers and, more importantly, to the Jewish people it statistically represents. Continue reading

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