Remarketing Jew Education

We are at an interesting moment in the world of parenting. This parenting chaos directly impacts the way we present ourselves as Jewish “schools.”

The first voice is Amy Chua, author of  “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,”  who says give your child no room to do anything but succeed. The other voice is Wendy Mogul, whose long overdue second book, “The Blessings of a B-Minus,” cajoles us to accept our child as human beings. Both books are now coming to prominence. One is about high achievement, the other is about resilience. Both take a swipe at the long over emphasized issue of self-esteem.

Chua wants us to be tougher on our kids and demand “perfection.” Mogul understands that “failure” is a useful growth opportunity. Both of them wind up as commentary on new reports about the failure of American schools to even teach the difference between facts and opinions and the overall failure of American Universities to make any impact on the learning of many of their present students. Richard Arum, lead author of the study, “Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) came out in January, too, is the third voice putting the foundations of the way we parent at risk.

Believe it or not, all this comes back to the role and optics of Jewish schools, particularly Jewish supplemental schools. Who we are as a school has a lot to do with what our parents believe a school is.

We are simultaneously being told be like regular schools and become technological. At the same time we are being told, don’t be like a school at all (we’ve had enough of that) be a camp or a program or something interesting (and do that using a lot less time). What is common knowledge every where but in our classroom, is the universal belief that the present Jewish schooling system is a total failure.

Here is a radical idea. We ought to play to our own strengths. We know that the Jewish tradition centers on learning how to close-read texts. (Think reading comprehension!) That we use a thing called “Talmudic Logic” that teaches you how to evaluate evidence, reason, and know the difference between fact and opinion.

Jewish schools can and should do camp pretty well. We need to get better at technology. For sure, our tradition centers on building both self-esteem and resilience. But, what Judaism really is good at is learning—deep learning.

In the future, when the alternative (for example) is 10 minutes of Skype a week plus one informal event a month probably involving families, we will brag:  “We help our students become better learners.”

Camp will do camp better than we do. Other schools will always have more money to spend on technology than we do (and Web 2.0 apps only go so far). But what we can really brag about is “let us teach your children the Jewish tradition and they will do better in life.”

We will incorporate the camp selling point: “You children will make friends to last a lifetime.” We will have the technological appeal: “We allow your children to remix the Jewish tradition.” But our unique promise is about learning skills. Right now we teach not language but mechanical reading. Language provides useful insight. Mechanical reading is self-serving. We are geared to teach names and facts, but “meaning” and “insight” are what are precious. We have to work to make our classrooms both challenging and responsive, and those are goals we can achieve. It is perhaps the only truth that will keep us in business.

To stay on the weekly schedule, to make it worth the carpool time, Jewish Schooling has to have advantages. The good thing is that we own them: Friends, Remixing, Creativity, Resilience, and Academic Excellence. We know how to do this—we simply need to become good Torah teachers and not a pale imitation of secular schools.

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2 Responses to Remarketing Jew Education

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Valley Temple RS, Ijoel grishaver. Ijoel grishaver said: Remarketing Jew Education: http://wp.me/pfIKN-36 […]

  2. Rabbi Cheryl Weiner says:

    For years, I have said that after school Jewish programs need to count for something to be viable. Principals, teachers, and school committees are bound by some notion that school needs to be free, fun, and fabulous…. As Jewish educators, we have the opportunity to be able to do things after school that the budgets have cut out of school hours. Art, Music, Creative Writing, even gym of sorts. We can build those into the curriculum in meaningful ways that create culture. If our public schools are going STEM, what happens to literature and history? I learned to appreciate Shakespeare’s sonnets through reading Hebrew sonnets. I learned world history, not taught in public schools. I learned Jewish values, one of the most important being able to engage in both sides of an argument from the same set of texts. The kids who won awards and moved on to college were the kids who went to Hebrew High School===two schools, not one. AND my current best facebook friends were my Hebrew School/Jewish Camp buddies. We do a disservice to everyone, if Jewish schools don’t stand for something. After 6 years of after school programs, do we truly want to have to hire tutors to prepare our students for Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes, except to learn trope? Should they not be able to read Hebrew? Should they not be able to write a sentence of Jewish thought? We need a re-marketing for sure— not our parents or grandparents Hebrew School, but the content of Jewish continuity for sure.

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