Redemption or a Service Industry

ballroom dancingThis started as a phone call. As part of the redefinition of Torah Aura Productions, I now spend three days a week calling educational leaders. I am speaking to a Director of Education. In a response to a simple “How are you?” I get, “Today is one of those times when ‘Service Industry’ seems to be winning. You know what I mean? I didn’t, but I listened.

“Most of us when we go into Jewish education think we are entering a redemptive process. We really believe that our work will make for a better world. That vision get wipes out when we deal with parents who believe that we are actually working for a local service industry.”

Another story.

A new principal goes to a meeting that had been set up with parents. One parent says, “My son does competitive ballroom dancing. The best teacher only works on Wednesdays, so that means my son won’t be showing up for Wednesday Hebrew classes—and you are still going to Bar Mitzvah him on time.”

This discussion continues. History is cited. “When a kid couldn’t attend midweek, we had him come for two extra hours on Sunday.” “Two hours is too much!” was the parental response.

Project the compromise. Dancing gets Wednesday and the Jewish people obtain an extra hour on Sunday. But that is not that.

Anybody listening well knows two things. (1) The argument was not over an hour of study, it was about defining Judaism as a service industry (that provides products) verses as membership in a people with a redemptive commitment. (2) The argument was also not over. First a dozen families chimed in that “I want the ‘Kaufman’ deal for my Dallas.” That was still not the end, when the chorus sang, “One hour on Sunday is good until the ceremony.” And the principal sang the descant, “The one hour deal is for the whole school year.” This round ended. Conclusions are conclusions—reality is yet to play out.


The Connection of the Internet, Disconnects

In todays’ New York Times, “The Personal Tech,” column we read, “Halfway through the last school year, Leila Campbell…received the results from a recent survey of her students. On most measures, Ms. Campbell and her fellow teachers…were scoring at or above the average…but the survey, conducted by a tech start-up called Panorama Education, also indicated that her students did not believe she was connecting with them” (Grading Teachers, With Data From Class). When I got my master’s in education there were a lot of courses in methods. I was graded on a lot of criteria, but none of them were in “making kids feel connected.” I can teach for and get results in categories like respect, well-organized presentations, motivation and a lot of other things, but none of them was asking a new white middle class teacher to appear “well connected” to a 96% Hispanic student body. New micro uses of data are scary. Buber philosophy infuses my teaching philosophy. I would hope to be well evaluated on “build’s relationship with students,” but would feel very scared on any seventh grade Hebrew school class evaluating me on “makes me feel connected.” I am behavioral enough to want observable behaviors.

I think this article is scary. I think it is meant to scare. I love reading statistics. I read Nate Silver’s blog on FiveThirtyEight a couple of times a week. I believe that new modes of evaluation and surveying are thrilling opportunities. But this one scares me.

The personalization of social media puts everything up for a vote. We are invited to have an opinion on everything and to react to everyone else’s opinion. Gone are a lot of conventions and many expectations. There are still things you should not say, but the kinds of things you can say is greatly expanded. Everything is now up for (a) bid, and (b) review. Obligations are now basically a matter of personal opinion. Now we can ask, “How many hours will I offer for a Bat Mitzvah,” and now they can ask us, “do you feel connected to your teacher” (or “does your teacher feel connected to you on a scale of 1 to 5)?


Millennial Jews

We are into a decade of writing articles about the nature of Millennial Jews. I am not a demographer (No Nate Silver am I). I am not that keen a social observer. Certainly I am no comedian. These days I spend a lot of time healing the wounds of those who work with Millennial Jews or for those who believe they understand the necessary changes for Judaism an era of millennials. My friend Roberta Louis (North Shore Congregation Israel) proudly samples and studies her families as a way of shaping her school. I look forward to her reaction.

I simply know the truths as they are proscribed. “Child-centered is better than non-Child-centered.” “Technological is always an improvement.” “Older educators (as a group) tend not to understand what is needed because freshness is better than experience when all that has gone before was clearly bad.”

And what about redemption? Kids are definitely into redemption. Service learning is huge. It makes lots of positive feelings. My question, “Is service learning prescribed by an institution’s expectations a redemptive act or subject to the limits of a service industry? This is what I know. Today, everyone in the Jewish world has to negotiate except for the prime minister of the State of Israel.

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