March 9 2015: Jewish Education Still Siloed

This past weekend two important ongoing conversations about Jewish education crystalized at in-person conferences. One conference focused on the biggest challenge(s) facing Jewish education today. It offered an attempt to define an agenda for understanding Jewish learning and for identifying possible goals. The other conversation was on the same topic…

The Mandel Center at Brandeis University hosted a conference of renowned scholars of education, chaired by Jeffrey Kress and Jon Levisohn that is a piece of a larger project that aims to rectify the 

unclear or imprecise or just unsophisticated [language] about our desired learning outcomes. We lack the language to articulate those outcomes in compelling ways, in terms of knowledge and skills but also in terms of dispositions, both moral and intellectual. We assess outcomes inconsistently or not at all, in part because there are few if any effective instruments within Jewish education for assessing our most ambitious goals.

Further, the organizers stated that

…the problem limited to learning outcomes: We do not know enough about the learners, either. We lack a deep understanding of learners’ or participants’ understanding of the subjects that we teach, or of what sense they make of their formal or informal educational experiences. We do what is expedient or what seems like it might be engaging, but we actually know very little about what students think or feel, how learners learn whatever it is that we are trying to teach, what they understand about specific subjects or about their place in the world, or what they can do as a result of the learning opportunities constructed for them by Jewish educators.

This project promises an important book (publication date TBD) that could help researchers, educators, and philanthropists think more seriously about Jewish education.

Simultaneously, the North American Jewish Day School Conference (which, ostensibly, includes camp, Hebrew school, and other sorts of formal and informal education) hosted “an uncommon conversation,” which began with the assertion “that all our assumptions about day school education are wrong.” The educators, many of whom are high level administrators and well respected thought leaders, worked to develop a language to understand the lack of clarity around outcomes and to question the existing structures underpinning education.

The educators came away with a list of “what ifs” that they hope will drive their thinking about program development. The top one reads: what if we could “break silos of teaching and learning”…

This is a single, important conversation. With unparalleled connectivity, it is inexcusable that these silos that separate researchers, educators, and everyone else are as alive and well today as they were 50 years ago.

It’s 2015. Get it together.

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