Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


The Problem with Jewish Education

Thirty years ago (way before the 2000 National Population Survey shocked everyone with its intermarriage figures rising above 50 percent), a group of forward-thinking Jewish educators charged the Jewish community with devoting significantly more resources to Jewish education and improving its quality. They founded the Coalition for Alternatives in Jewish Education (CAJE) hoping that creative reform would transform Jewish education and thereby save the Jewish people.

Thirty years are a mere blip on the Jewish timeline, yet much has changed in the field: CAJE’s acronym now stands for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, since so many of CAJE’s original “alternatives” have become mainstream practice: non-frontal teaching, teacher training, creative language acquisition, etc. Boards of Jewish education around the country are staffed with CAJE program graduates. Foundations, from Avi Chai to Covenant, now fund day school and afternoon school initiatives. The number of non-Orthodox day schools and high schools continues to grow. These factors reflect great success. However, there are also a number of significant challenges that remain.

Day schools remain prohibitively expensive. In effect, access to Jewish education becomes an issue not only of priorities but also of economic capability. That may be one reason that, except for the small percentage of non-Orthodox families deeply committed to day-school education for its own sake, many parents choose day school where it is as an attractive substitute for an unsafe or academically inferior neighborhood public school.

While more communal funding is critical, it is not a panacea to all woes.

It is obvious that students in a day school will learn more than those in an afternoon school, if for no other reason than the increased hours spent in Judaic and Hebrew classes. However, while day-school children may have a stronger background in Bible or Jewish history, they still may not be fluent in Hebrew, competent in Jewish ritual observance outside of the daily prayer service recited each morning in school, or imbued with a stronger commitment to Jewish affiliation than their afternoon-school peers, particularly if their Jewish education ends in eighth grade.

One reason is that even Conservative day schools are hesitant to advocate personal observance or a commanding sense of a personal relationship with God. Where the day school is a community school, the value of mutual respect for difference can clash with the educational opportunity to inspire the next generation in Jewish practice where there is an inability to agree on “whose practice” will be taught.

All these challenges are amplified in afternoon schools, where the commitment level of families may be lower, teaching hours less, and the ability of students to pay full attention after a full day of school more limited.

Studies have shown that Jewish peer engagement, not class room hours per sae, is the single most significant variable in determining 21st century Jewish affiliation. Perhaps that is because, though Jewish identity and living skills historically were transmitted in the family, most American Jewish families no longer have the will nor the skill to do so. Therefore, while peer bonding – through programs like Birthright and significant Jewish camping remain critical, the bottom line is that even the best Jewish school education is no substitute for what a child learns and does at home. In other words, until family education becomes mainstreamed and integrated within regular curricular objectives and goals, rather than seen as enrichment or additional optional programming, we will continue to see a gap between the hope and the reality of Jewish education, whether on the day school or afternoon school level.



Advertisement
Comments Post the First Comment »
post a comment

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to t

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those web

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the black and Jewish communities look to this period either

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.