Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mah mishtaneh beit ha-sefer hazeh?

Having come to Jewish education from a career in secular education, I am often struck by how little of what we do would be recognized as education in any form by most secular educators. Some of it is socialization; some of it is indoctrination; some of it does attempt to teach something, but is not really education. A while ago I tried to envision a Jewish (supplementary) school that would have more to do with education. Here's what I wrote:

How is this school different?

All Jewish religious schools have similar goals, but our school strives to be different from most.

  • Our school is for learning. We have a carefully planned curriculum and we minimize the time relegated to activities that don’t contribute directly to learning. For example, we integrate arts and crafts with the main elements of the curriculum; they are never ends in themselves. We use videos selectively to further explicit learning goals, not to fill time.

  • Our school is for growth. In addition to imparting the knowledge and skills a student needs for Jewish living, we attempt to contribute to each student’s intellectual development. Rather than hold an entire class to a level that every student can achieve, we use differentiated education to ensure that, while all students in a class study the same material, each student receives appropriate intellectual challenge. We believe that education in any subject, at any level, should stretch intellectual horizons and develop the capacity for further learning.

  • Our school has a foundation of intellectual integrity. What we teach is compatible with the best scholarship in the field. While we do not burden children with scholarly detail beyond their understanding, we do not teach anything that a teacher at a more advanced level would want to “unteach.” Thus, we approach the Torah not primarily as a book of history or science, but as the story of our people and as a guide to living.

  • Our school respects Jewish pluralism. We teach the practices of Reform Judaism, but we respect those of every stream of Judaism and we accept the religious choices that parents make for themselves and their children. Furthermore, we consciously include customs from many different ethnic expressions of Judaism as well as the new customs that are developing in our own time.

  • Our school gives every student personal attention. No class will ever exceed an enrollment of ten students.

  • Our school recognizes the influence of family life. Children spend more time at home than in religious school, and parents have more influence than teachers. We ask parents to cooperate in three ways:
  1. The student’s attendance. While illness, emergencies, family celebrations, and other events may require a student to be absent occasionally, we ask parents not to schedule recurring events that conflict with our school hours.

  2. Support for our mission. We do not attempt to dictate a family’s religious belief or observance, but we ask that parents not ridicule or dismiss anything that we teach. We respect your choices, and we want you to respect ours.

  3. Jewish learning at all levels. We will expect parents to participate in family-education programs during the school year. We also ask that you participate in some other Jewish learning at an adult level each year that your child is enrolled.

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