Showing posts with label NewCAJE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NewCAJE. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Waiting for Superman: New CAJE, Old Battle

Another great piece from eJewishPhilantrhopy! Sadly NewCAJE comes when I serve at Eisner Camp, so I was not able to be there. Sounds like it was excellent. I truly appreciate and agree with David Steiner's conclusion, and would have loved to have been in the room! Thoughts?


by David Steiner

Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving … conflict is a sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.
John Dewey

The highlight of NewCAJE #4 held at Nichols College, just west of Boston, was not the exemplary learning or rich celebrations of Jewish culture. It was the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the debate about the nature of Jewish education for the 21st century, which was set up like the famous heavyweight championship fight between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire and played out like the battle of the Mitnagdim and the Hassidim.

Dr. David Bryfman
In one corner, there was Dr. David Bryfman, Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership at the Jewish Education Project in New York, and, in the other was Rabbi Danny Lehmann, President of Hebrew College of Boston. The room was packed, the stakes were high and, in place of a referee, Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox moderated. There were no KO’s, but the crowd, passing judgment with the SMS app on their smart phones, gave a lean victory to Dr. Bryfman with the cellular poll asking which speaker would be most accepted by the audience member’s congregation or school board.

Rabbi Danny Lehmann
What were the stakes? The debate was set up to address the future of Jewish education. How important is Jewish literacy to the 21st century learner? What is the importance of Judaic text-based education in experiential learning? What is the importance of recreation (a sense of fun and belonging) in a Jewish education context? These were the questions, and if you removed references to the 21st century and experiential education, you might just think you were transported back to the era of apostasy following the false messiahs of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Standing in for the Hasidim was Dr. Bryfman, a new Baal Shem Tov, hoping to convince the crowd that the individual experience of a child, at the center of Jewish education, is best served with “positive Jewish experiences,” while his opponent, the Mitnaged, standing in for the Gra, Rabbi Danny Lehmann took the position that positive experiences are not a substitute for engagement with Jewish texts, which is at the center of Judaism.

To help decide whose vision of Jewish education is more appropriate for the 21st century, this writer turns back to the first century of the Common Era when a similar battle was being waged. In preparation for the Jewish people’s departure from their home turf in Roman occupied Palestine, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva argued the question: “Which is greater, education or action?” Tarfon insisted on experience, while Akiva defended learning. In the end, the rest of the rabbis settled the dispute by saying: “Education is greater because it leads to [proper] action.” Notice that education comes first, and, more importantly, not all action is proper.

In making his case, Dr. Bryfman delivered a body blow with an anecdote. He told the story of a woman who remembered the food she ate to break her fast on Tisha B’Av over two decades earlier at a Jewish summer camp. His point, we remember and identify with the world we experience. But Rabbi Lehmann, the southpaw, came back with an upper cut by lamenting the lack of substance and asking what is the benefit of an identity which is hallow? He asked why should we remain Jewish if it doesn’t stand for anything. Essentially, he was saying that there are many identities out there, and educators help to define Jewishness so young Jews will choose our identity.

Experiential education, John Dewey’s brainchild, was the centerpiece of the New CAJE debate, but there was a distinctly non-Dewey feeling in the air. Experience was being touted by Dr. Bryfman as a panacea for the ills of a religious school system that was failing our youth, while Rabbi Lehmann sounded like the naysayers of Progressive education. Both thought their educational philosophy is a natural outgrowth of Dewey, who would respond to them,
“[A]ny movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” 
It reminds me of the joke about the two scholars fighting over the true meaning of the Rambam.

“My Monides is right.”

“No, My Monides.”

Remaining loyal to Dewey, we can say that, “There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract.” Kal v’chomer, if this is so, then how can there be a panacea.

In my session, Exposing the Gorilla’s in the Complimentary School Classroom (and thinking about what to feed them), a group of religious school directors introduced themselves by telling each other where they are from and the particular challenges of their schools. We looked at this question through the lens’s of geography, demography and finance. What we discovered was just how complicated our situation is.

The problems of Jewish education are numerous but not uniform. (Repeat 3x) Like the seventy faces of Torah, each educator faces different challenges. Some of us are in big cities with large Jewish populations. In these cities, day school becomes an option, most often, when the public school system is failing. The consequence tends to be two forms of day schools; Jewish day schools and private schools for Jews. In all densely populated Jewish communities, the synagogue doesn’t need to be the center of Jewish life and bagels at the local deli may satisfy families’ needs for Jewish community and ritual.

In small towns, isolation from highly trained teachers can be a major obstacle. One participant in my session told me about the positive role the Institute for Southern Jewish Life has in supporting these schools. Many are limited by finance. They can’t afford professional development for their teachers, and some even need to draft unpaid teacher volunteers. ISJL supports these schools through conferences, teacher mentorships and ongoing support.

I could go on about the challenges of the various religious schools, but my goal is not to make lists. I want to direct the reader’s attention to the fact that discussions about the nature of religious pedagogy, whether it is experiential or more like a traditional beit midrash, mislead us into believing that we can find uber remedies. In American public education, this is called “Waiting for Superman.” It doesn’t work.

For millennia, Jewish communities have been led by the mara d’atra, usually rabbis, but essentially the “teacher of the place” whose charge it is to serve as a facilitator of Jewish knowledge and practice. Left to it’s own devices, this system wouldn’t work because the communities would eventually become so disparate in there beliefs that they would not find a common core.

This is why they chose a big Jewish library of content to stand at the center of the curriculum. Each mara d’atra would have his favorite books and ways of teaching and expertise, but they would all emanate from a common set of constantly developing knowledge, an oral Torah. Left alone, this wouldn’t work either because some communities allowed their Torah to include false messiahs and unaccepted revelations.

This is when the librarians came in and said, as I learned from my teacher Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, there need to be some borders for Judaism. This is where our system of checks and balances comes to play. We are pluralistic because we want the entire family at the table. It also teaches us to be humble and not assume that we have the monopoly on what’s right. We are tolerant because we stand for something, which means that not everything goes, i.e. we cannot have people at our table that will not sit with everyone at the table.

And we allow some deviance because the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go askew, and we have to address issues that we never thought would come up, like we do in conducting wars against terror or finding ways to accept the sexuality of all our family members.

Rabbi Lehmann is right that we have to look to our own library and grind our teeth in pursuit of these answers, and Dr. Bryfman is right in our need to create laboratories, a term I borrow from Dewey, where Jewish students can have Jewish experiences that make them want to be members of the tribe, and both of them are wrong if they think that theirs should be the dominant paradigm of our religious schools.

In Hebrew, we have three letter roots for our words, and often they become the source of a system of binary thinking that can be wonderful and terrible in the same moment. The root, shin, chet, reish, can create the word shachar, dawn, the beginning of light, and shachor, black, the absence of light. This gives us a spectrum on which to find ourselves. The same can be said for pey, shin, tet, which can create pshat, the simple or literary meaning, or moofshat, abstraction. Again, a binary. It’s the same idea that Bialik wanted us to learn in his brilliant essay, Aggadah and Halacha, Legend and Law. Each is the side of a coin. They cannot exist without the other. Think heaven and Earth, water and land, the workweek and Shabbat.

There are, however, other paradigms in Judaism. Seventy faces of Torah is a three dimensional paradigm. It recognizes the limitations of spectrums of thought. Seventy faces of Torah is why we need more organizations like New CAJE because Jewish educators need to come together and discuss our challenges and constantly brainstorm their solutions and share what works and what doesn’t. This is why I went to New CAJE, not for the heavyweights and their rumbles, not to make choices between mitnagdim and Hassidim, but to be in the company of my peers and colleagues and to face the challenges of the 21st century without waiting for Superman.

David J. Steiner, Ed.D. is working to complete his rabbinic ordination. He has been a congregational director of education for both the Reform and Conservative synagogues, and he recently returned to America from a fellowship at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inclusion By Design, Not By Default

This is turning into a week of daily posts by people who make me think. I hope they make you think as well - and react. I have known Fran Pearlman longer than she would like me to say. She is an educator's educator, and whenever we are together I learn something new. When she came to the Detroit area in the early 90's she demonstrated a mastery of special needs education that I could only hope to achieve - and this was back when most of us were just bemoaning doctors who over-prescribed Ritalin, rather than redesigning our Religious Schools to be responsive to the needs of nearly all learners. This was published today in the The Jewish Educator, Summer 2010/5770, the journal of NewCAJE. A conversation about NewCAJE is for the future. For now, I thank them for creating a new forum for Fran's learning and teaching to be shared more widely. And I cannot agree enough that we need to get much better at inclusion and meeting all learners where they are. I am very proud of the work of my congregation. We have done a lot, but we still have far to go. I would love to hear how you are addressing these needs in your setting.   -- Ira

Fran Pearlman
In 1981 I began my administrative career in Jewish education in a part-time position. The responsibilities were described as hiring, training, and supervising staff; creating programs; and writing curriculum. Nothing was shared about the students in terms of learning styles or preferences, and certainly the words “inclusion” or “special needs” were never mentioned. At that time, special education was a separate entity in the secular world and certainly in the Jewish education world. There were separate classrooms with specifically trained and experienced faculty who, theoretically, met the needs of those students who were classified as “special edu.”

Almost thirty years later, Jewish education across denominational lines finds itself facing the challenge of inclusion, modification, adaptation, and a vast, new lexicon of educational terms. To date, Jewish education has advanced only baby steps toward the inclusion of all students. The time has come to confront this need and move from being Jewish educational institutions of inclusion by default to ones of inclusion by design. The time has arrived to formally address the challenge of inclusion by providing our educational leadership with the proper training and knowledge in order to welcome all students into their schools. Jewish educational leaders need to be both educated and welcoming; to be both cognitively aware of the needs of all students and able to expend the emotional investment to invite all students into a warm and inclusive community.

Where does the transformation need to take place? The first place is in the formal training of our educational leaders. Just as innovative and up-to-the-minute pedagogy, with its strategies and philosophies, are a necessary and integral part of the education of these future leaders, special education experience and training also is an essential component. Providing the terminology, definitions, strategies, and approaches of special education and how it can be adapted to Jewish educational settings is critical. Tools and practice in communicating with parents of special needs students also is essential for the development of a successful inclusionary school. Educating these leaders about the difference between a self-contained classroom and inclusion, the benefits of each, and when each is necessary or preferred are other aspects of this education.

The second level of education needs to be directed towards the entire faculty. Statistically, 4-5% of every classroom consists of students with some special needs, diagnosed or undiagnosed. Sometimes we know who these students are and sometimes we do not, however, teaching to reach all students and to the multiple skills and intelligences in the average classroom is a charge to each and every Jewish teacher. It is up to the Jewish school and its educational leader to provide appropriate and regular guidance and education in how teaching to all can maximize the learning of all.

The demand for successful inclusion is not new to Judaism. The mandate for inclusion is steeped in Jewish tradition. Within the bounds of Jewish law, rulings specifically are articulated regarding the disabled in Jewish ritual law. Leviticus 19:14 specifically prohibits cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block before the blind. Rather than ignoring those with disabilities, the body of Jewish law specifically addresses those who are blind, deaf and/or mute. While these categories of disabilities certainly are not exhaustive and do not address the scope of the disabilities found in our society today, it is a beginning, based on what was known then.

We are well past the beginning of fulfilling the mitzvah of inclusion. It is time that we are proactive and assertive in both our philosophy and in our actions as we move towards Jewish educational institutions of inclusion by design.

Fran Pearlman is the Director of Education at Oceanside Jewish Center, NY, and serves as a consultant for MatanKids, which provides consultation and direct service in the area of special education in Jewish educational settings.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different...

So like many of you, I just received an e-mail from Cherie Koller-Fox, one of the founders of CAJE, an old friend and the "facilitator" of NewCAJE, which was officially unveiled this afternoon. I am feeling a bit like Tevye considering each of his daughters' requests: "On the one hand...but on the other hand..."

Since my first conference in DeKalb, IL in 1986(?) CAJE was home. It was where I learned to teach with the big kids (literally, the leadership was riddled with people who had been my camp counselors, youth group advisors, religious school teachers and the authors of the textbooks we had in Sunday school). It was where I got to meet new people from all over the world - like Rafi Zarum and Sybil Sheridan, Ed Feinstein and Amichai Lau-Lavie - who were teaching in ways that were new and exciting. And where people whose teaching and story-telling skills would come and learn with me in my sessions as I developed more confidence, and built me up by giving me praise and constructive criticism.

It was for many of those years, the only place where I knew I would be having Shabbat dinner with a mixed salad of Jews: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Israeli Secular, Chabad, Renewal, Humanistic, Sephardic Orthodox, Young Israel, Labor, Likud, hetero, GLBT, confirmed bachelor, day school, congregational, camping, agency, early childhood, musician, actor, storyteller, cybergeek, teenager, college kid, grandparent and everything in between. My wife was usually happy to see me go to CAJE, because she saw how it recharged me and how it energized the teachers in my school.

When the CAJE-isphere bubble burst, I was not the only one who was sad. I was also not the only one who began to to think - and some said - that we may have stayed at the same party too long. Peter Eckstein tried mightily to steer the St. Louis conference in a new direction that would speak to the needs of the new generation. The founders of CAJE created the paradigm ex nihilo when many of them were in their twenties. They were my camp counselors. I am now 48 years old (and Peter a little older). When those of us on the pre-planning task force were brought together by Peter it was to try and reshape the paradigm to begin to meet the needs of those now the age the founders had been. To renew and redefine.

It was a noble effort, but after more than three decades, CAJE had become a huge institution. My teacher Sam Joseph of HUC in Cincinnati often compares large synagogues to Nimitz class aircraft carriers. (That's the USS Nimitz at left) Nimitz class ships are the largest in the world.

They measure 1,092 feet (2/10 of a mile) long, are powered by two nuclear reactors, carry a crew of 3,200 plus the Air Wing (pilots and support crew) which has 2,480 people and as many as 85 aircraft of varying types. At full speed they can travel at 30 knots (about 35 mph) - which when you consider they displace 112 tons of water at full load, is a lot of metal moving really fast - a Nimitz class ship takes SEVEN nautical miles to turn 90 degrees. Large institutions like big synagogues - and CAJE - are not able to turn on a dime!

After the bubble burst, and while much of the hand wringing was done, a conversation began. Cherie Koller-Fox and many others began talking on the CAJE Net, a Ning site begun before the final conference. And Josh Mason-Barkin and Danny Kochavi started a Google group. There was a lot of interaction in both places which included a lot of the same people.

There emerged a group of vatikim - CAJE veterans - of various ages who wanted to fix the financial disaster and rebuild CAJE in the image of the original. Others, many younger, felt that it would be better to create something as new and different as CAJE had been in the 60's. Some wanted to act quickly, others wanted to wait. I participated in some of those discussions. Some became a little heated, but I believe all were B'shem Shamayim - for the sake of heaven (and Jewish Education).

A Beta version of the NewCAJE (or a nostolgic nod to old CAJE, depending on your perspective) was put together as the MANAJE
conference this past August. People who attended speak glowingly of it. So now NewCAJE has been unveiled. Part of me wants to go home and is eager for NewCAJE to be, in the words of David Byrne: "Same as it ever was." But mostly I am hoping that younger voices will jump into the breach that Cherie and some of our vatikim have opened and help to shape it into what we will need to take us forward.

NewCAJE is no longer a Nimitz class organization. That is scary. It has little in the way of money or infrastructure. It is also wonderful. If the twentySomthings and thirtySomethings will step up and teach something to the rest of us, NewCAJE is now stripped down and nimble enough weave through the traffic of this Brave New (and often digital) world. It is ready to become something new while remembering the lessons and traditions of what came before.

Joel Grishaver taught us all that the "True Story of Chanukah" had five different endings. Each ending told the story in a way that made sure the new genereation would understand AND embrace it. NewCAJE gives us the chance to do that again! NewCAJE needs to be more new than CAJE. I believe we can make it happen, if we all work (and argue) together. I hope we all step up.