Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Okay, so I have been thinking about this Jewish Education problem and...

Okay, so I have been thinking about this Jewish Education problem and …

I learned a very long time ago that to state a problem is not enough. One must think about and propose some ideas to fix what is wrong so that we can move on. Therefore, I must provide at least some initial thinking regarding the issues I discussed in my last blog entry, though clearly I could write tomes on this topic. Now, before I begin, remember my philosophy that we will never fix in five minutes... or five days … or five months what took decades to evolve, or devolve, as the case may be. That being said, we all know that the only constant in our lives is change. Our communities change, our priorities change, the very context of our teaching changes, and so forth…. And of course, we change.

So, our educational institutions must change as well, and herein lies part of the problem. Years ago I was consulting with a large congregational school and had helped them reconceptualize and ultimately rewrite their curriculum and trained their teachers to incorporate the new strategies and pedagogic style into their teaching. At one of the last meetings when everyone was so pleased with the work we had collectively done, one of the congregational leaders stood up and said, “I don’t understand why we had to go through this process. This was done forty years ago or so and we had a perfectly good course of studies from then.” Needless to say, there was a collective audible gasp in the room for all of the obvious reasons.

Thus, here we sit, understanding and accepting that we will never come up with the PERFECT and TIMELESS solution and magic formula for Jewish education or any program in which past, present and future conflate in different and variant ways in different places and spaces. Rather, we should strive for the contextually appropriate model and insure that it works within our present reality. That being said, I will revisit a few of the problems indicated in my previous writing and suggest approaches that we may want to and more importantly, need to consider.

1. Dreaming and visioning of educational planning and goals were the stuff of which Jewish Education in the Eighties and into the Nineties prided itself. Today, often people feel that we have ceased dreaming and visioning to the degree we should. Concerns about testing results, covering required material (which grows exponentially as time passes), what is fiscally responsible and making sure that we “hold onto our customers,” as one colleague put it (?!), overrun our initial understanding of our roles as educators. THIS ROLE NEEDS TO BE RECLAIMED. When I work with communities as a consultant, educator or educational leader, I always focus on my role as facilitator and gatherer. What do I mean by that? As we work together, there are three general outcomes – building a sense of community ownership of the program and school on which we are working; the work product, be it a curriculum, actual school entity, new mission statement and goal structure, or whatever; and the acquisition of the tools necessary to go through and replicate the process we have just engaged in as the community continues to change and grow. As I often explain, I have parented four children. Our youngest is a fourteen year old young man who is growing by the week. We are buying new wardrobes monthly, not because the clothes from before are now bad or he, G-d forbid, is bad; but rather these good clothes and this great child just do not fit together any more. So, we use our well honed skills of shopping to rectify the situation. This is actually analogous in many ways to how we need to look at “the what and the how” of our educational system, consistently holding ourselves accountable to the foundational elements while stretching, putting in new parts and the like as needed.

2. In hiring Heads of School, many communities have not distinguished whether
they are looking for a COO/CEO or an Educational Director.
This often leads to confusion in terms of the expectations of the person being entrusted with the running of the school on the part of all involved. It is a reality that we are not in the same fiscal situation we were in twenty or thirty years ago. Our demands for our institutions are greater and the available dollars are harder to find (though I would contend that more are out there than we think and that how they are used is sometimes problematic). Nonetheless, to sacrifice the quality of the product so that we are fiscally responsible is actually being institutionally, communally, and yes, fiscally irresponsible. I am amazed at how communities tout their brand new beautiful facilities and state of the art technology and then don’t have enough money to pay faculty, make individual classes larger and larger, and the like which is counterintuitive to how we must regard the education of our children, with so many different needs and learning differences. It appears that the problem is further exacerbated by the many advertisements for Heads of School that begin with fiscal skills as the first skill set. THIS PROBLEM MUST BE ADDRESSED as wonderful educators are sitting and languishing while, frankly, the wrong people are too often in these top positions, earning much higher salaries than these institutions can afford, adding yet another obstacle to putting dollars where they are most needed. Communities MUST distinguish their legitimate needs for HEAD ADMINISTRATORS from their increasingly profound need for VISIONARY EDUCATORS. As communities that used to work together to insure that both types of support were provided are now torn and make forced choices, the educators are the ones that are relegated to being expendable. WE DEPARATELY NEED VISIONARY EDUCATORS AS HEADS OF OUR INSTITUTIONS AND THESE SPECIAL PEOPLE NEED to be able to work on educational viability and growth.

3. To whom and what are we comparing our Jewish day schools? Who is our
target population?
To be sure, there is a long and changing history of Jewish
Day School options and programs in our lives. As a child, I remember when you
either went to an Orthodox single sexed program or public school supplemented by a religious education within the movement in which you were raised, including those of us who were Orthodox. Now, we boast our many day schools and affiliations. I noted in my consulting in the eighties and nineties that every small Jewish community had a day school. Recently so many of these schools and others have closed their doors. To be sure, demographics have played havoc with our Jewish communities. However, when I hear many community members and even community leadership, up to and including area Federations, speak of their Jewish day schools as analogous to fancy private schools, I am profoundly confused. This was NOT the choice my family was making when we worked hard to provide the resources for our first three children to attend Jewish Day School. At this point, this is among the many reasons our fourth child is NOT in Jewish Day School and instead attends our wonderful public school district and is home schooled in Jewish Studies. Further, looking at the widely differentiated scale of what day school tuition is in various communities indicates that this equation of affordability of Jewish Day School education for those who are not looking for FANCY PRIVATE SCHOOLING is even more of a profound problem in some of our Jewish areas in this country. If Jewish Day Schools were to provide a substantial and meaningful dual curriculum and infuse students with the notion of living in an American Jewish laboratory, how much of our board meetings and decision making time is allocated to these issues – these goals, this vision?

There is so much more to discuss, but this is enough to begin with for now. How sad it is to watch the demise of so much that has been built, hoped for and created through the years. I do sincerely hope that the future will greet us with brighter days and possibilities.

No comments:

Post a Comment