By Ziva R. Hassenfeld
This year marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in Jewish education. A few weeks ago, Prizmah, a new organization comprising the five major day school networks, held its first conference. Thousands of educators from across the country gathered to compare notes, share best practices, and chart the future of Jewish education in North America.
This moment represents an opportunity to take a fresh look at what day schools, regardless of their particular ideology, share: the study of Jewish texts, however defined. For the last 15 years, the Jewish Day School Standards and Benchmarks, developed by the William Davidson School of Education at JTS, have offered a clear picture of what it looks like to read Tanakh successfully. The first standard, for example, states that students will be “independent readers of the biblical text.” They should notice textual details and ambiguities, and will be able to “cite a text to prove a point opinion or claim.”
But how do we get students to that point? Continue reading
Today we hear from Jane Kanarek (Hebrew College) who, with Marjorie Lehman (JTS), led the Mandel Center’s Learning to Read Talmud project. In June, they convened ten scholars of rabbinic literature to reflect on how students learn to read Talmud. Here, Jane considers how learning to read Talmud can cultivate certain dispositions in students.
In its simplest and most straightforward sense, learning to read means learning to decode. It involves learning to assemble letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Of course, this understanding of reading is far too narrow. First, it ignores the importance of sense-making, of forming some kind of coherent understanding of these different words, sentences, and paragraphs. Second, it elides the fact that learning to read is not a linear process.
This post, by Diane Tickton Schuster, is based on her talk at the Mandel Center’s Conference on Transformative Jewish Education. She is a visiting senior research fellow at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.
The Conference on Transformative Jewish Education gave me a special opportunity to revisit conversations about this topic that several colleagues and I began in the early 2000s. It also provided me with a glimpse into the kinds of innovative educational programs that have recently emerged—exciting and creative programs that have the potential to build on the insights gleaned from research. Continue reading
This post is based on Mandel Center Director Jon A. Levisohn’s introduction to the recent Conference on Transformative Jewish Education, held at Brandeis in March. The conference web page has more blog posts and other resources.
When people describe Jewish educational programs as “transformative,” what do they mean?
Some argue that “transformative education” is an empty bit of hyperbole that does not mean anything in particular. There’s no reason to believe that there’s any well-reasoned conception of transformation that grounds the use of the terms. And there’s certainly no reason to believe that those who are using this language have any evidence that their programs are actually transformative for their participants.
The skeptics have a point. We often make claims about our programs that we cannot really justify. And there’s no reason to think that, each time someone uses the term “transformative” to describe a program, those usages can all be subsumed under one coherent conception.
Nevertheless, when we talk about “transformation” in Jewish education or use the adjective “transformative” to describe a program, there’s something else going on. The term, I believe, points to a desired outcome: an aspiration for the program to have a certain kind of impact on the participants. Continue reading
Lila Corwin Berman, of Temple University, and Noam Pianko, of the University of Washington, contribute this entry to our series from the Pedagogies of Engagement in Jewish Studies seminar.
In 1939, sociologist Robert Lynd published a polemical book called Knowledge for What? The book was a call to rethink why scholars studied what they did, and what their work had to do with the world in which they lived, and it came to mind as we thought about gathering a group of Jewish studies directors together. We found ourselves asking, “Jewish studies for what?” Continue reading