Jewish RIC-CU-LUM OF THE FUTURE

May 4, 2015

The FutureIf we are going to look at the future of Jewish education, at some point we are going to have to stop talking about technique and look at the content. My assumption is that not only are we going to be teaching in a host of new ways, but that we are going to be teaching for very different ends. If the student of the future demands a whole new approach, then the school of the future grows very different skills.

We know that the child of the future will enter with a very different set of skills and a very different learning context. We know that the families of the future will practice their Judaism in very different ways: synagogues will be less central, Israel less overarching. And ethnicity will be the strongest Jewish connections. Parents will be making very different demands. We know that (a) there will be few content demands, (b) Hebrew will not make any more of a difference that we can give to it, (c) life cycle will be more brief (think of shiva as “one” and not “three”) and (d) seeing as parents feel that they learned nothing (and are just as good for it) their worries about their children’s knowledge will be less so. And witnessing those who show up, (e) intermarriage is not the apocalypse.

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Redemption or a Service Industry

September 5, 2014

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.”

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When First Base is as Good as a Home Run

August 20, 2014

Joel Lurie Grishaver

engageIt all started with the word “engagement.” As soon as it was on the table—we began adopting a policy that less can be much more. Engagement as a behavior is little more than eye contact.

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F.A.Q.s or Did You Read Relational Judaism?

March 1, 2014

groupJoel Lurie Grishaver

1. “Why didn’t they come?”

There were forty families in the family class. At the most recent special event thirteen kids and five parents showed. I was asked, “Where was everybody—they love this class and I have been working with them since kindergarten?”

Then came my Q & A:

Q: Did the congregational Rabbi come?

A: No

Q: Was the educator there?

A: No

Q: Were the right families involved in the planning of the event?

A: No families were involved in planning.

Q: Who organized the food?

A: The teacher.

Q: Has anyone read Ron Wolfson’s  Relational Judaism?

2. “Should I buy I-Pads for my “Hebrew School?”

Has anyone asked “What are you going to do with them?

My friend and code-writing genius Russel Neiss says No.” I say, “Yes” and “No.”

I need to ask a number of questions:

  1. Is there an IEP for using them? Is there a reason you need them—or will the reason perhaps follow if you have them?
  2. Is there software you plan on using? There is nowhere near enough Jewish software to validate the costs.
  3. Do you invite Aish and Chabad to teach at your school? Most of what you google on Jewish topics is going to take you to Aish and Chabad sites.
  4. Do you care if your kids watch porn, text, or in some other way blow off your designated use? Don’t tell me you will put filters on the web-link. Any eleven- year-old who can’t hack their way past parental controls isn’t worth keeping.
  5. Do you have enough bandwidth, tech-savvy and other support resources available?
  6. Have your teachers been trained in how to teach with computers or smart-pads in the classroom.

If you’ve answered “yes” to enough of these questions then this magazine confirms that I-Pads will be “the love of your life.” There are lots of perfectly good uses for computer, or rather smart pads, or rather I-pads but do you have a trail of bread crumbs to follow to find them. Do not assume that students and therefore their parents will love you better if you have them.

Some schools are indeed putting technology to good use, but all of those schools have dealt with the above questions. Computers are good ways of doing research (but that means access to the web). There is some Jewish software and more is coming but not enough to support the hardware cost. There are a zillion good ways of using secular apps and sites—but you have to be literate in order to use them in a Jewish context—and you are never going to do as well as secular schools who didn’t manage to put a TV in every classroom. They had the government helping them do so. An episode of Sleepy Hollow that had a golem doesn’t justify YouTube any more than the old X-Files with a golem did.

I-Pads are perfectly useful tools but managing a lot of them is really hard—ask any mother with two kids and three tablets in a doctor’s office.

Besides, has anyone read Ron Wolfson’s Relational Judaism?

If fact, we (Torah Aura) are busy developing e-books, applications and projects all of which put technology to good Jewish use. There is a direction here, but buying the I-pads doesn’t get you there.

3. How Can I Reduce My School to One Day a Week (and still have it work as well)?

In 1981, the year we started Torah Aura Productions and began Torah Aura Bulletin Board, I wrote an essay called “Time Wars” (that had nothing to do with Dr. Who). It was a then reaction to the tendency to shorten three day a week schools down to two days a week because of working mothers having a hard time carpooling their kids. I wrote as if—but didn’t actually know—that it was the beginning of an end. Now most schools are only one or two days a week and still are downsizing. With the demolition of contact hours has come a radical downsizing of expectations. The question is no longer one of achieving less with less, but how much do we still have any right to hope for.

So this rabbi calls me and says that conditions on the ground have made it necessary for them (a traditional Conservative congregations) to condense their program that had been (a) two days a week and (b) a required junior congregation on Shabbat morning. Given the local pressures, the school was going down to one day a week. The Rabbi called me and asked me the best way to do this. I raised a couple of questions and found out that they already had these things covered.

First, I pointed out that neuroscience says that to move things from short term memory to long term memory (that makes learning a second language successful) takes three interventions a week. The Rabbi added that they were adding a second treatment with a fifteen minute a week over the internet class with a teacher. That built them up to twice a week, use of our new PrayerTech application will bring them up to three times a week. Success is again possible.

Second, I talked about Stockholm syndrome (where captives identify with those who are holding them captive). This has frequently turned schools into communities. The Rabbi took my point, saw me with a new congregational informal family program and raised me with a new youth director.

The basic truths here are the lesson. (1) Reducing number of Hebrew sessions per-week increases significantly Hebrew failure (because of the needs of long term memory needs). (2) Jewish futures are built out of the communal bonds built outside of the school experience. If you are going to reduce the shared hours, you have to build up the other communal contact points including youth group, summer camp, and Israel experiences. Reduce the class hours and you have to up group participation in community building experiences.

The Leaning Tower of Pizza

I learned in a high school science class that the Tower in Pisa will never fall as long as the balance point of the tower remains within its based. It is a precise measurement. I studied a lot of science and I used to be sure about a whole number of things. Now I learn Torah and am sure of very little. I no longer know the shape of things to come. Like most old men, I can tell you better what is gone than I can tell you what next will be. I am not saying that “I know nothing,” but I am now rather very much on the curve. I have read Relational Judaism. I have watched all of Metropolis several times, but all the dates that I have known for the coming of the messiah have passed. I don’t know why the leaning tower is still standing—must have been some intervention. I guess I am now more into dreams than visions.


Jewish Education and the Food Revolution

June 9, 2011

If you are in anyway a “foodie” you know the words “local and sustainable.”

Jamie Oliver is a British Chef who is very much part of the local and sustainable movement. He is also an upstander who has changed the nature of the food served in British State Schools, opened a restaurant where he trains and employs at risk teenagers, and in a reality TV show – Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution – has come to America to try to teach American’s about healthful eating.

His first season was in Huntsville, Alabama – the most overweight city in America – where he made some significant impacts on school lunches among other things. This year he came to Los Angeles and was pretty much defeated by the local ennui. His one big accomplishment was to get the Los Angeles School district to agree to remove flavored milks. Flavored milks (common practice in American public schools) are seen “as the only way to get kids to drink milk” have three times the sugar content of most soda and are probably significantly responsible (with other villains like pizza and fast food) for the dramatic escalation of diabetes in children.

Last year I wrote a probably incoherent tweet about Jamie Oliver being a fabulous role model for Jewish education—having the fortitude and skill to induce people to do what is right even if it isn’t the easiest or most fun choice.

Recently I sat at a conversation to discuss the future of the complementary school. I don’t know what the complimentary school is except that it is the hip-term now used by federated culture to indicate what most Jewish parents describe as “Hebrew School” and “Sunday School.” It joins Religious Schools, Religion Schools, Supplementary Schools, Torah School and Congregational schools in the list of euphemisms for what started life as the Talmud Torah.

All I can figure out is that a complementary school is a place where you get a lot of positive feedback. I hope it doesn’t mean that we are an accessorizing secular education.

Among the people participating in this discussion of the future of majority Jewish schooling was the local communal camp director. His comment was: “We had a school group out to camp for a retreat and at the end of the year the school voted the camp experience their favorite experience of the year.”

Chocolate and Strawberry milk always score highly when students evaluate their food choices.

Let me make two things absolutely clear:

  1. I am NOT saying that camp and camp-style learning present a clear danger the way that flavored milks do, and
  2. I am NOT saying that schooling should not be “fun,” but, I will continue to quote the mission statement drafted by the Brookline High School faculty, “We believe that education is an addiction to the tart and not the sweet.”
    (Quoted by Tom Peters in A Passion for Excellence.)

What I am saying is that good Jewish education should be “local and sustainable.”
By “local” I mean, that Jewish education should take place within the dynamic of a living Jewish community. Judaism that cannot be lived can’t be all that functional. Likewise, those who teach should be part of that Jewish community. This does not mean that one can only hire members to be teachers—BUT RATHER—communities need to work hard at making faculty feel invited to participate.

By “sustainable” I am meaning that Jewish Education should lead to future Jewish living. It is impossible for me to define what is adequate learning to sustain Jewish life. For me, it includes a lot of text literacy and tools for “making-meaning” out of primary Jewish sources. These are the tools to remix the Jewish tradition. But, I am more than willing to admit that adequacy has a lot to one’s definition of Jewish living.

I fully believe that the community built at a camp retreat is a useful and highly functional expression of the community that creates “local,” but I doubt that it transfers a lot of sustainability. I know that you can’t teach until you have engaged. That makes engagement necessary, critical, and probably achievable, but it isn’t sufficient to the task of continuity.

We no longer live within the physics of “if you teach them they will come” but I can’t support reduction past the point of sustainability just to achieve demographics. My tradition teaches me that sha’ar yashuv. We will be sustained by a surviving remnant.

Unflavored milk is best for kids even when it isn’t their first choice.


End the Drop-Off Soccer Practice

March 9, 2011

soccerrJust as all parents “know” that Hebrew School are failures; all Jewish teachers “know” that Soccer is to blame for that failure. I want to write in praise of Soccer.

Soccer is probably less successful than Jewish schools. Fewer AYSO participants grow up (especially in America) to be professional soccer players than Jewish students grew up to affiliate with Jewish institutions. The Passover Seder is probably more repeated item in adult Jewish lives than the corner kick.

But, Soccer is really good at teaching some things and instilling some values. Soccer is really good at teaching players that they have obligations to their teammates. Youth soccer is really good at dealing with diversity and drilling in the acceptance of less successful players. It does teach the value of practice, the importance of conditioning and the thrill of victory (sometimes). Any questions about the good of sports, watch The Bad News Bears.

Ironically, if there is one criticism of Youth Soccer is that it is a drop-off activity that doesn’t involve the family. Like the Bravermans’ on Parenthood, we probably need more times when the whole family plays sports together.

Perhaps the only significant criticism of Youth Soccer (and the other drop-off activities) that our students participate in comes from Joseph Chilton Pearce who criticizes the adult involvement and control of organized sports. He teaches, “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” He is the parenting philosopher who best gives voice to the teachings of Vivian Gussin Paley.

Here is the bottom line: Soccer manages to be compelling while Jewish studies rarely play as well in the elementary years. (Very few Jewish preschoolers have negative experiences). The drop-off part of the experience is more a parental complaint than a destructive force. Drop-off is not a reason to end Jewish schooling, though teaching about belonging as well as soccer teams do is a worthy goal. It remains our challenge to make students’ time in Jewish schooling as “rewarding” (notice I didn’t say “fun”) as soccer.

If I was going to choose the number one sport activity it would be skateboarding for its affirmation of individuality and its goal of progression. But, the simple truth is this, I no more choose our students leisure time activities than I do their media use.

My truth, I don’t want Jewish learning judged on the leisure time scale, any more than I do real school. Compelling, individual, affirming and caring is the goal of all learning. Our job, is not the corner kick, but doing those things well.


The “Do It Like the Public Schools” Fallacy

August 18, 2010

Somewhere in a box of books I have an early 1950’s book on Sunday school that tells teachers (and or principals) to go to the “public schools” and learn how to be educational professionals. Teachers are told to watch the way they conduct lessons, manage their classrooms, and organize their days. The paradigm that “true education” takes place in the “public” and now “private” schools and what we do in Jewish education is a pale imitation.

The “do it like the public school” fallacy assumes that education is universal and all we add as Jewish educators is some Jewish content. So we hear, “they use filmstrips, we should use filmstrips, they use overhead projectors, we should use overhead projectors, they have computers in every classroom, we should have computers, and they have smart boards so we should have smart boards.” The fallacy rests in the outcome. The goal of the secular school, whether stated or not, is now to get kids into college, since a high school diploma is now good for nothing else. The goal of Jewish education is to create the next generation of Jews who will continue to educate their children. We can add do mitzvot, self-actualize as a human being, develop an understanding of the Divine, redeem the world, and a lot of other things to this list.

The foundational question here, taking the gift of good “backwards planning” from the “Educational Leadership Torah” is “do our goals really suggest the same methodology?”

Here is What I Hear

  • They still use textbooks but we are not supposed to use textbooks because they are the primary reason that Hebrew schools suck.
  • They give homework. We are not allowed to give homework.
  • They test. We are not supposed to hold our students accountable.
  • We may use some measurement tools, but our evaluations are designed to build self-esteem.
  • They have gym, many of our school sessions are too short to even give recess.

Here is What I Know

Bahya ibn Pakuda teaches “the Torah cannot be learned except among friends” and we are taught in the mystical tradition that the real goal of Torah learning is dibbuk haverim, friends that stick together.

My bottom line is this quote from Avot d’Rabbi Natan:

A friend is someone with whom you eat and drink. A friend is someone with whom you study Torah (God’s word) and with whom you study Mishnah (ethics and laws). A friend is someone who sleeps over or at whose house you can spend the night. Friends teach each other secrets, the secrets of the Torah and secrets of the real world, too.

And echoed by these:

What is a friend? Someone who for the first time makes you aware of your loneliness and his, and helps you to escape so in turn you can help him. Thanks to him you can hold your tongue without shame and talk freely without risk. That’s it. (Elie Wiesel, Gates of the Forest )

If it has any value at all, friendship must be understood as a tentative… step towards a meaningful and creative use of the space between birth and death that each person knows as life. (Jacob Neusner, Fellowship in Judaism)

I can’t say more than this, “I have a core belief that Jewish learning is centered in relationship (sleep softly Martin Buber) and the future of the Jewish people is rooted in the friendships we build.

To my last blog posting I got this response from Michael “Zaydie” Scolnick:

“My mind goes back to last year when I was teaching Jewish cooking to 12th graders. They were in and out of the kitchen, cooking (or just schmoozing with other Jewish kids) and, at the end, when the latkes were made (the BEST latkes the world has ever seen) carrying them around to other classes to share them.”

That simple post tells the whole story.

What Secular Schools Can’t Do

As Jewish teachers we need to center our work on the things that secular schools don’t do.

Schools that get to real life issues and real life questions and make Judaism an important tool in the way that their students deal with reality — they go on the list of the impactful. When Judaism becomes a resource is answer the questions posed by ultimate issues or when it becomes a guide in resolving ethical choices the student wins and the school is a winner. When Jewish content becomes a way of coping with the reality of death or motivates involvement in human need the school that made that possible has made a difference. And, we should add, when students find prayer an important personal too for self actualization — we have made a difference. Lots of schools make these things happen. More should.

When a school gives a student a hands-on experience in redeeming the world, when tikkun olam becomes part of their world view, we have another check in the victory column. When students and their families commit to make acts of g’milut hasadim an ongoing commitment in their lifestyle — that earns a gold star. When learners make a difference in the world we have made a difference in their lives. That is our job.

And most of all, when students become teachers the school that made that happen deserves a standing ovation. Virtually all schools in this country have madrikhim and tutoring programs. Not all of them are great, but all of them begin the process. The more they create a sense of value in their participants, the more they provide training and learning, the more they enable the transition to real teaching jobs in college, the better they are. These schools move to the successful list.

When schools get their students to Israel they have also won for themselves a place in the victory circle. This is another criteria for victory.

I was taught that Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav taught: “Everyone reaches in three directions, out to find others, in to find themselves, and up to find God. The secret of creation is that when one grasps in one direction one grasps in all three.”

As we write and actualize our school mission statements, we need to center them on helping students grasp in all three directions.


Not So Sure About Woocher’s “New Approach”

July 15, 2009

[cross posted to TAPBB.]

Jonathan Woocher is chief ideas officer at JESNA (Jewish Educational Service of North America) and director of the Lippman Kanfer Institute. He once thought that religion would disappear in the North American Jewish community and that all would be left would be secular institutions.

He has said,

“From an educational standpoint, there is good reason to welcome a situation in which learners drive the agenda. The learning itself will be more powerful and more enduring when it responds to authentic questions, when the learner actively seeks out the answers to these questions, and when there is ample room for diverse learning styles and formats.”

When he wrote that a few years ago, that sort of thinking was a breath of fresh air, and it was especially poignant for day school educators. At the time, booming enrollments and adequate funding gave them the opportunity to do some innovative things in their classrooms, and Woocher’s notion of learner-directed education was very helpful.

With the recent economic downturn spurring reports that day school enrollment is down, Dr. Woocher is now thinking about supplemental schools. In an article published in the recent edition of The Jewish Week, Woocher wrote:

“At JESNA, we believe that every family that wants to send its children to a quality day school should be able to do so. And we want the same for those choosing supplementary education. It will take some creative thinking and a lot of collaboration. But it’s doable, and we’re working now with our partners in central agencies across North America to make that vision a reality.”

He gives the following example of this free choice in action.

“Take a day school family now seeking an intensive supplementary program, perhaps one that meets eight or 10 hours per week, rather than the typical four or five, and that emphasizes serious Hebrew literacy, either for purposes of conversation or text study in the original. Or, take a very different, but not uncommon family whose Jewishness is primarily cultural, not religious, or focused on social justice and activism. Perhaps the family has a child who is passionate and gifted in the arts and wants to approach her or his Jewish learning through this lens. Perhaps the family is an interfaith one, and seeks a Jewish educational program that is uniquely sensitive to their life issues.”

There are only a few problems with this thinking. First, it does no good in Shreveport, Louisiana and places like it, where there are fewer than thirty students in the combined religious school. Filling classes, finding teachers, and enabling success is the problem. Offering alternative school models is beyond fantasy. This is exactly the problem that the Institute for Southern Jewish Life is successfully focusing on, and they are doing it by going in the opposite direction. They are doing it by standardizing curriculum while training and inspiring teachers.

Second, this is not a moment in history to have great faith in market driven economies. My Rabbi and teacher, Shelly Dorph, used to worry about Gresham’s Law that states that “Bad money drives good money off the market.”

He was saying that given the decision making ability, families that want less will always control the level of Jewish education. That is how we moved from three days a week to two or one. Believing that there are a significant number of families who want ten to twelve hours a week of “Hebrew School” is one of the fastest ways of putting a school out of business.

The idea of involving families in making choices is a good idea. All the best of congregations are doing so in their visioning and executing of excellence. In Jack Wertheimer’s latest study he says, “Good schools regard families as allies and also clients.”

Dr. Woocher is right that we need to have our ears to the ground, that we need to offer options wherever possible, and the market place has room for entrepreneurs who want to find and serve niche markets.

Where he is wrong, however, just as he was wrong about civil religion, is that Jewish life begins and progresses as community. This is not the time to follow the rules of the market place, but of the extended family who knows how to meet the needs of each member.


Altneu Non-Shul — The Sunday School for Jewish Studies

June 19, 2009

[cross-posted to TAPBB]

Started around 1970 by some Harvard professors, just about the same time some other Harvard faculty started the Harvard Hillel Children’s School (that morphed into Congregation Eitz Chayim), The Sunday School for Jewish Studies is a non-synagogue, parent cooperative, not for profit, way of providing a Jewish education and accessing a bar/bat mitzvah experience.

The school was featured in a recent article in the Boston Globe. The article described it as (a) a non-Synagogue and (b) cheaper way of providing a bar/bat mitzvah. The article centers on the fact that this “non brick and mortar” (non) institution that charges as little as 1/4 the cost of belonging to (and sending your kids to school at) a “brick and mortar” synagogue.

Here are the things I know.

[1] Harvard Hillel Children’s School (that I do know about) was started as a chance to provide an innovative, better, experimental Jewish education for a number of positively identified but “syno-phobic” Jews. It did a lot of pioneering work with adult education, family education, alternative education and a lot of the other frontier (for its age) areas of Jewish Education. For a lot of years it was guided by Rabbi Cherie Kohler Fox and her husband Dr. Everett Fox. The hallmark of the school was not its cost, but its ability to innovate. Much of that innovation was its ability to create community among a population that was considered fringe. That community ultimately felt the need to evolve into a synagogue.

[2] I had never heard about The Sunday School for Jewish Studies until The Globe article appeared. The little I’ve been able to learn about it on the internet makes it sound little different from the Harvard Hillel Children’s school at its prime. It is devoted to serving its students and its families. It has a social action vision of Judaism. It is open to all kinds of definitions of Jewish family. All this is to be praised!

[3] It is The Globe article that bothers me, not my understanding of The Sunday School. I have nothing against Jews creating independent institutions that meet their own needs. I have nothing against people choosing and creating alternatives to the synagogue. I do wish Jewish life was cheaper. What bothers me is the smug sense that this is a better way of providing a Jewish education because it has less overhead. The article provides no other way of evaluating the quality of the education offered at this school.

The article ends by quoting the father of a Bar Mitzvah, “He read it perfectly. I’d put his training up against any synagogue training,” Note: the standard was “his training” not “his education.” The author has a pretty classic misunderstanding of Jewish education. The school’s job is to “train” students for b’nai mitzvah. If the kid reads well, the school must have succeeded. It’s an economics equation. The school provides a product (“training”) for less money, so it must be a great deal.

[4] The article actually comes as a warning. The congregational school, that long believed that it has a monopoly on non-day school Jewish education, now needs to look over its shoulder. While we thought the major threat would come from “tutoring,” there are other alternatives on the horizon. Simply put, we are not the only way to have a bar/bat mitzvah. God’s creation of this world does allow for the rental of tents, the borrowing of Sifrei Torah and the photocopying of service booklets. If the only thing our schools offer is bar mitzvah training, we have a big problem because (a) we know that this isn’t a sufficient Jewish education, and (b) as this article teaches us, families can get a do-it-yourself b’nai mitzvah somewhere else.

[5] So here’s my final synthesis:

The article teaches us that congregational schools are not the cheapest Jewish education option in many cities. But we need to be the best. The research of Dr. Jack Wertheimer (School that Work: What We Can Learn from Good Jewish Schools) puts creating a nurturing Jewish Community, engaging Judaism at a high level, providing opportunities for experiential education, and valuing themselves and their students on the list of elements of high-quality Jewish schools.

As my friend and teacher, Rabbi Phil Warmflash, likes to point out, “The success of the synagogue school has as much to do with the success of the synagogue as the success of the school.”


Self-Paced, Point & Click: The Jewish Problem with Programmed Instruction

March 13, 2009

[cross-posted to TAPBB]

Programmed Instruction

There is a growing fantasy in Jewish education that everything will be better if we only take the teacher out of the equation. This is manifesting itself in the claim that low level computer exercises can replace a day a week of Jewish learning. And it is leading to tools like self-checking folders that students work their way through at their own pace. What all of these hold in common is a reliance on an old education technique, programmed instruction, which was used mainly for industrial training and has mainly shown itself to be a failure in general education.

Programmed instruction grew out of the work of B.F. Skinner, the behaviorist who believed that learning was conditioning. In rewarding students who get the right answer, students become conditioned to repeat that answer. Programmed instruction sends students through a series of frames where they (a) receive information, (b) are asked about that information, and (c) are shown the correct answer. In more sophisticated forms, there is now a “branching” opportunity. If the student got the answer right, they move on to the next frame. If they get it wrong, they are put into a review loop.

The good news seems to be (a) the ability of each student to move at his/her own pace, (b) a high rate of retention (at least in the short term), and (c) the freeing of the class from the imposition of a teaching doing bad “frontal” education. But most of the advocates of programmed instruction, whether in software or folders, seem to forget three things:

1. Levels of Learning

Benjamin Bloom, one of my teachers, wrote a big book with J. Thomas Hastings and George F. Madaus called Handbook on Formative and Summative Evaluation of Student Learning. In it is a taxonomy of educational objectives that describes a series of “levels” of learning. In the cognitive domain there are six: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The problem is simple. Jewish life and real Jewish learning is all about Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation, the higher levels. Programmed Instruction is best for Knowledge, Comprehension and Application, the lower three levels.

There is also a taxonomy of affective objectives: Receiving (or Awareness), Responding, Valuing, Organization, and Characterization by a value or value complex. These affective objectives (usually called “Krathwohl’s Taxonomy”) are all about a process called “internalization,” whereby a student’s affect towards something goes from being aware (that’s the “receiving” part) all the way to the point where their affect has been internalized and consistently guides or controls the person’s behavior. It’s the path between knowing that kavod is a Jewish value and going through life treating people with kavod. Programmed Instruction can get you to Awareness, but it is not great at getting to the rest of the domain. Jewish education should be all about valuing and the rest of that process.

The argument can be made that Programmed Instruction is mainly being used to teach Hebrew language. That Alef Bet is only Alef Bet is partially true. But Alef Bet leads to Ashrei and Ashrei is supposed to build a connection to God. While learning folders with self-checking and computer programs may have a role in mechanical learning, they are incapable of taking it any further. When do you feel close to God? What is the right thing to do in this case? What do you think of when you say the Shema? These are all moments of Jewish learning that are simply not part of a computer’s function.

2. Community

The purpose of Bar and Bat Mitzvah is to acknowledge that a child is now old enough to function as an adult in the ritual life of the Jewish people. Reading Torah is a symbol that a child can now function as a member of the community. A new adult can now be counted in a minyan. Most importantly, this means that a new adult is old enough to go to a shiva house and be counted among those whose responsibility it is to help heal the pain of death. If we are going to turn our schools into B’nai Mitzvah mills, we could do worse than if they included the skills of participating in Jewish communal life and learning compassion and empathy. Those are not things that come from the kind of computer programs we have and are likely to have in the foreseeable future. They are the inverse of things learned when each student is moving at his or her own pace.

Tolerance is one of the things that one learns from being part of a learning community. So is patience, leadership, and being a good listener. The best way to learn how to participate in community life is practice. It is not an accident that Jews pray in community and demand community for most Jewish events. Studying prayer at home on the computer is not the best way to learn about community. Working alone at your own folder, checking your own answers, doesn’t develop leadership skills.

3. Teachers

Finally, the Jewish tradition believes in teachers. It sees teachers as rich (not mechanical) enablers of individualization and personalization. Teachers allow lessons to go off on tangents, listen to student needs, and take advantage of the moment. Teachers can appreciate and celebrate, understand and empathize. A teacher-free classroom can maybe transmit Jewish information, but it is not a Jewish classroom. The modeling of the Jewish classroom as Jewish learning community, the enabling of the community by a person manifesting and applying Jewish values – this is our goal. I know of no one who can claim that their best learning moment took place when completing a self-guided booklet. Not every teacher is ideal, but teachers are our ideal.

Every teaching tool that is effective has its time and purpose. Programmed instruction and computer-assisted instruction are tools that have their time and place. But ironically, as we have less time to spend together with our students, now is precisely the time for more student-teacher interaction, not less. As we are trying to teach the skills of communal worship, now is precisely not the time to invite our students to learn Hebrew from computer screens. When we are trying to instruct our students to maximize their humanity and use it to change the world, now is precisely the time to make human interaction a foundational value of Jewish education. The elimination of the human in education is a step backwards.

Steps Forward

At Torah Aura Productions, we are dedicated to producing curricular materials that realize a depth of understanding rather than focusing only on facts and feelings. That means that we also must be active partners with teachers and educators to maximize the Jewish educational impact on their students.

Programmed instruction is perfectly useful if the goal is to develop students who can perform at a one-time event. We’re encouraging a different goal: students who are lifelong Jews. Our mission is to make materials that help teachers and educators to enable their students to become empowered Jewish adults.

We believe in doing what it takes to develop good teachers who can actualize impactful Jewish learning. That may be more difficult than asking teachers to facilitate programmed instruction in booklets or on computer screens, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Human interaction is the key to the Jewish future. And because we believe in humanity, we believe that Jewish schools can succeed at doing something bigger, better and worthwhile.