Showing posts with label NATE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NATE. Show all posts

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Finding God in my Phone"

This was written by friend and colleague Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin. She is Congregational Educator and Director of the Religious School at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, CA. It was written for the members of the congregation on their Synablog, and it draws some wonderful lessons form the recent NATE conference.

Every Friday, Jonah Bryfman lights Shabbat candles with his grandparents.  They always make it a point to be together as they say the blessings and welcome Shabbat. His father David explained that due in part to this weekly ritual, Jonah's grandparents played a significant role in fostering Jonah's powerful connection to his Jewish identity. 

Here's the catch: Jonah's grandparents live in Melbourne, Australia.  David and Jonah live in New York.  Their Shabbat tradition takes place over videochat on the computer.  Despite the distance, grandparents and grandchild are able to share this simple moment together from thousands of miles away.  Does the fact that they have only met in the flesh a few times lessen the power of their connection?  Does it make their bond any less real?

I spent the last week at a conference for the National Association of Temple Educators, and the theme was technology.  While I was a fairly young digital immigrant, I am not nearly as tech savvy as most of our students at Temple Emanuel.  The topic posed a fair challenge, and I went in skeptical about the degree to which recent advances to the digital landscape will really impact Jewish education.

But I came out of the conference changed.  I was reminded of the ways that I myself have been part of virtual communities that have been different from the norm, but still meaningful. For example, so many of us were deeply impacted by the music, memories, and sense of togetherness shared at Debbie Friedman's funeral, even though we were only able to attend via the streaming internet broadcast.  May we learn from this that there are times when we can extend the power of our prayer at Temple Emanuel to include those who are limited by the boundaries of physical space? 

Recently at Temple Emanuel we have seen our prayer and our learning enhanced by Rabbi Aaron's beautiful and thoughtful visual components of Shabbat B'Yachad.   In the future, perhaps our students will also learn to interpret ancient prayers through this kind of contemporary visual artistic expression.  The ways that technology can enhance our Jewish experiences are limited only by our own imagination.

As Jews, we are the people of the book.  It's true that we resonate with scrolls and pages, pens and ink.  But as our lives expand to encompass the mobile realm, so too can our sanctuaries.  Not only does God dwell among people who study together from across a table, but God can also dwell among people who light candles together from across an ocean.  The screen does not have to devalue our ancient words and texts.  Rather, there are times where it may have the power to make holiness even more accessible to those who are as adept with the flick of a finger across the surface of a smartphone as they are with the flip of a page in a book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Remarketing Jew Education

This week the Jewish Educators Associatian (JEA) is having their annual conference. This coming week, I will be joining my colleagues from the National Association of Temple Educators (NATE) at our  annual conference in Seattle. Both the Conservative JEA and the Reform NATE conferences are making technology and futuring the centerpiece of their learning. It is very exciting. 

In The Networked Non-Profit, Beth Kantor and Allison Fine point out that when it comes to Social Media, the important word is SOCIAL not MEDIA. In other words the technology is a tool for bringing people together, and in our case, making Jewish learning happen.

Joel Grishaver has posted what I think is a very interesting idea about futuring on his blog, The Gris Mill, and I am glad he wrote it now so I can think about it while I am learning in Seattle.

Remarketing Jew Education
by Joel Lurie Grishaver

We are at an interesting moment in the world of parenting. This parenting chaos directly impacts the way we present ourselves as Jewish “schools.”

The first voice is Amy Chua, author of  "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,"  who says give your child no room to do anything but succeed. The other voice is Wendy Mogul, whose long overdue second book, “The Blessings of a B-Minus,” cajoles us to accept our child as human beings. Both books are now coming to prominence. One is about high achievement, the other is about resilience. Both take a swipe at the long over emphasized issue of self-esteem.

Chua wants us to be tougher on our kids and demand “perfection.” Mogul understands that “failure” is a useful growth opportunity. Both of them wind up as commentary on new reports about the failure of American schools to even teach the difference between facts and opinions and the overall failure of American Universities to make any impact on the learning of many of their present students. Richard Arum, lead author of the study, “Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) came out in January, too, is the third voice putting the foundations of the way we parent at risk.

Believe it or not, all this comes back to the role and optics of Jewish schools, particularly Jewish supplemental schools. Who we are as a school has a lot to do with what our parents believe a school is.

We are simultaneously being told be like regular schools and become technological. At the same time we are being told, don’t be like a school at all (we’ve had enough of that) be a camp or a program or something interesting (and do that using a lot less time). What is common knowledge every where but in our classroom, is the universal belief that the present Jewish schooling system is a total failure.
Here is a radical idea. We ought to play to our own strengths. We know that the Jewish tradition centers on learning how to close-read texts. (Think reading comprehension!) That we use a thing called “Talmudic Logic” that teaches you how to evaluate evidence, reason, and know the difference between fact and opinion.

Jewish schools can and should do camp pretty well. We need to get better at technology. For sure, our tradition centers on building both self-esteem and resilience. But, what Judaism really is good at is learning—deep learning.

In the future, when the alternative (for example) is 10 minutes of Skype a week plus one informal event a month probably involving families, we will brag:  “We help our students become better learners.”
Camp will do camp better than we do. Other schools will always have more money to spend on technology than we do (and Web 2.0 apps only go so far). But what we can really brag about is “let us teach your children the Jewish tradition and they will do better in life.”

We will incorporate the camp selling point: “You children will make friends to last a lifetime.” We will have the technological appeal: “We allow your children to remix the Jewish tradition.” But our unique promise is about learning skills. Right now we teach not language but mechanical reading. Language provides useful insight. Mechanical reading is self-serving. We are geared to teach names and facts, but “meaning” and “insight” are what are precious. We have to work to make our classrooms both challenging and responsive, and those are goals we can achieve. It is perhaps the only truth that will keep us in business.

To stay on the weekly schedule, to make it worth the carpool time, Jewish Schooling has to have advantages. The good thing is that we own them: Friends, Remixing, Creativity, Resilience, and Academic Excellence. We know how to do this—we simply need to become good Torah teachers and not a pale imitation of secular schools.

Cross posted to The Gris Mill and Davar Acher.