Category: Education


Harnessing technology to create efficiencies and revolutionize education hasn’t had the intended impacts in the past. In part that’s because we ascribe a magical quality to it and try to force it into paradigms that it was never designed to do. Technology should be a method of enhancement, never a cost-efficient replacement for face-to-face learning experiences, or a smokescreen to distract from other cost-efficiencies.

No amount of artificial intelligence or blended learning or Smart-this or i-that is going to be able to replace the pedagogical benefits of a highly trained educator who can help students gain and apply knowledge (Judaic or otherwise) to help them make sense of the world in which they live. Trying to harness technology to supplant these professionals in search of some perceived vast savings that has yet to be realized is a fool’s errand.

Russel Neiss, “Jewish Ed Tech Macher Says Tech Is Not – NOT – the Answer to Affordability“, eJewish Philanthropy (19 May 2013)

The key, [Robin Britt] said, is personalized learning — breaking free of the mass-production model, tailoring the curriculum to the student and redesigning it around proven competence rather than accrued face time, so that each student can go at his own pace. “Now your job is not to dispense knowledge,” Britt told the trainees. “It’s to facilitate learning. No longer is the teacher the bottleneck between students and knowledge. Rather, the teacher architects the environment — in the classroom, on the tablet, online, everywhere.”

Carlo Rotella, “No Child Left Untableted”, The New York Times Magazine (15 September 2013), 29.

When people refer to “higher education” in this country, they are talking about two systems. One is élite. It’s made up of selective schools that people can apply to—schools like Harvard, and also like U.C. Santa Cruz, Northeastern, Penn State, and Kenyon. All these institutions turn most applicants away, and all pursue a common, if vague, notion of what universities are meant to strive for. When colleges appear in movies, they are verdant, tree-draped quadrangles set amid Georgian or Gothic (or Georgian-Gothic) buildings. When brochures from these schools arrive in the mail, they often look the same. Chances are, you’ll find a Byronic young man reading “Cartesian Meditations” on a bench beneath an elm tree, or perhaps his romantic cousin, the New England boy of fall, a tousle-haired chap with a knapsack slung back on one shoulder. He is walking with a lovely, earnest young woman who apparently likes scarves, and probably Shelley. They are smiling. Everyone is smiling. The professors, who are wearing friendly, Rick Moranis-style glasses, smile, though they’re hard at work at a large table with an eager student, sharing a splayed book and gesturing as if weighing two big, wholesome orbs of fruit. Universities are special places, we believe: gardens where chosen people escape their normal lives to cultivate the Life of the Mind.

But that is not the kind of higher education most Americans know. The vast majority of people who get education beyond high school do so at community colleges and other regional and nonselective schools. Most who apply are accepted. The teachers there, not all of whom have doctorates or get research support, may seem restless and harried. Students may, too. Some attend school part time, juggling their academic work with family or full-time jobs, and so the dropout rate, and time-to-degree, runs higher than at élite institutions. Many campuses are funded on fumes, or are on thin ice with accreditation boards; there are few quadrangles involved. The coursework often prepares students for specific professions or required skills. If you want to be trained as a medical assistant, there is a track for that. If you want to learn to operate an infrared spectrometer, there is a course to show you how. This is the populist arm of higher education. It accounts for about eighty per cent of colleges in the United States.

Nathan Heller, “Laptop U”, The New Yorker (20 May 2013), 84.

Experiential education, which partakes of certain characteristics of formal education but rejects others, aligns with one of the key realities of emerging adults: They are ambivalent about institutions. On the one hand, they rightly sense that legacy institutions frequently are more motivated by concerns about institutional self-preservation than mission or innovation. This leads to suspicion of institutional life. On the other, they are adept at navigating the institutional demands of large institutions (most notably universities and often large corporations), and some easily identify with institutional life.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, “Emerging Adulthood: Finding One’s Place as Jewish Educators”, eJewish Philanthropy (21 May 2013).

The goal of a Jewish educator should not be to remain in the sublime, deeply personal experience…, but to build upon it, recognizing that only by facilitating a community comprised of individuals of rich, meaningful experience will Jewish communities be compelling enough to want to join.

Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff, “Jewish Peoplehood and the Biblical Landscape”, eJewish Philanthropy (21 May 2013).

While the rabbis continued to express different views on the subject of teaching “wicked” students, the general tendency was to admit all those who thirsted for knowledge, even if their character was not all that might be desired. It was very rare for a rabbi to refuse to teach a student who genuinely wanted to learn, except in the case of specialized studies which were not part of the normal curriculum.

M. Aberbach, “The Relations Between Master and Disciple in the Talmudic Age” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the occasion of his seventieth Birthday, eds. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz and I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press, 1967), 23.

One teacher shared with us that his measure of engagement is whether the teens are on their phones or not during class. In fact, he identifies potential participants for his program by looking for those who are texting during a service. He invites those students to a religious school class to learn about the prayers so that they can eventually return to services with a greater appreciation and understanding of what is going on – and at that point, they no longer feel a need to be on their phones during a service.

Barb Shimansky, “One Hundred Jewish Professionals Walk Into a Church…”, eJewish Philanthropy (22 February 2013).

“Even if we had not had the financial crunch, we would have continued to focus our energies more and more around innovation and change, because of other things taking place in Jewish life,” he said. “The kind of multipurpose national service agency model that was in existence…in 1981 isn’t as relevant as it once was.”

Julie Wiener, “For Jewish Education Reform, A ‘Very Messy Period’”, The Jewish Week (1 February 2013), 18.

…classes should reflect concern with texts but also concern for people’s feelings. Education at any level is not concerned with progress in a limited area, but in the general intellectual development of a student. Students cannot develop properly if they bear hostility toward a subject area, a particular professor, or themselves. The cultivation of proper attitudes in the student, towards his/her own self, colleagues and teachers, and the discipline as a whole is what we mean by good education. A congenial atmosphere, a pleasant emotional climate in the classroom, and the mutual respect of achievements is necessary to promote high standards and excellence without resentment. It is amazing what students will do if they want to and what they will not do if they do not want to.

Herbert W. Basser, “Approaching the Text: The Study of Midrash,” in Methodology in the Academic Teaching of Judaism, ed. Zev Garber (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986), 128-129.