What is the biggest challenge facing Jewish education today?

We believe that Jewish educators, policy makers, and curriculum and program designers are flying blind.

Too often, across the various settings of Jewish education, we are unclear or imprecise or just unsophisticated about our desired learning outcomes. We lack the language to articulate those outcomes in compelling ways, in terms of knowledge and skills but also in terms of dispositions, both moral and intellectual. We assess outcomes inconsistently or not at all, in part because there are few if any effective instruments within Jewish education for assessing our most ambitious goals.

Nor is the problem limited to learning outcomes: We do not know enough about the learners, either. We lack a deep understanding of learners’ or participants’ understanding of the subjects that we teach, or of what sense they make of their formal or informal educational experiences. We do what is expedient or what seems like it might be engaging, but we actually know very little about what students think or feel, how learners learn whatever it is that we are trying to teach, what they understand about specific subjects or about their place in the world, or what they can do as a result of the learning opportunities constructed for them by Jewish educators.

The Learning Agenda project will bring together researchers in Jewish and general education to share their perspectives on how to advance the learning agenda in Jewish education. They will draft essays and present them at a spring 2015 conference.

Following discussion and constructive critique at the conference, papers will be revised in order to be published in a volume, tentatively titled Learning About Learning: Advancing the Learning Agenda in Jewish Education. Collectively, these papers will make a case for advancing the learning agenda, and will provide a set of well-grounded ideas about how that work could or should proceed.

Contributors:

  • Rena Dorph, Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley:  Activating Jewish Learners: Positioning youth for persistent success in Jewish learning and living
  • Janet Kolodner, Georgia Tech: Fostering identity and disposition development in Jewish education: A view from the learning sciences
  • Eli Gottlieb, Mandel Leadership Institute: Learning how to believe: Why the kinds of thinking related to religious beliefs and attitudes require learning of kinds different to those commonly practiced in contemporary Jewish education
  • Ari Y. Kelman, Stanford University: Learning to be Jewish
  • Jeffrey Kress, Jewish Theological Seminary: Self-reflection, identity and emerging brain research
  • Gil Noam, Harvard University: Socio-emotional skills in children and youth:  An approach for students involved in Jewish Education
  • Joseph Reimer, Brandeis University
  • Daniel Resnick, Carnegie-Mellon University and Lauren Resnick, University of Pittsburgh: How text study can be reclaimed as a vehicle for advancing contemporary education and community engagement
  • Baruch Schwartz, Hebrew University: Observing havruta learning from the perspective of the learning sciences
  • Simone Schweber, University of Wisconsin: Articulating a framework for thinking about how students in Jewish educational settings learn about the Shoah
  • Sam Wineburg, Stanford University: "Is this a real story?" Learning and the Narratives of Jewish Identity

Leader: Jon A. Levisohn, Mandel Center