Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The State of Modern Orthodox Education

Atid published a new booklet, Teaching Toward Tomorrow: Setting an Agenda for Modern Orthodox Education, that contains essays from a symposium on the current state and future directions of Modern Orthodox education. The essays are fascinating and, I found, somewhat depressing. Basically, educators and scholars sat down to write what they consider the biggest problems. However, there was such wide disagreement that you basically have a long laundry list of terrible problems. The authors were so far apart that there are three different essays trying to sum up the discussion.

Click here to read moreOne writer, R. Jay Goldmintz (of Ramaz) makes the point that by discussing problems they are overlooking the successes. So, inherently, this discussion is going to be about the big challenges. Could be. Regardless, it seems to me that the most important issue of Jewish education is something that R. Mark Gottlieb (of MTA) discusses, transmitting to students a Jewish worldview. R. Gottlieb wants to create a course on the Jewish worldview but I think Dr. Jon Levisohn (of Brandeis) is right that while this may be an interesting course, this is something that has to be incorporated into all of the courses. Mussar/Hashkafah should pervade throughout every discussion, whether in Jewish or secular studies. Wherever you can find an opportunity to show students how they can see the world through Jewish eyes, you should. Because with this lesson learned, everything else Jewish will come in time.

I think that one of the reasons that Jewish educators have such a hard time in Modern Orthodox schools is because those schools are often "big tents" and include students from a wide variety of backgrounds. So it isn't surprising if many students do not graduate with an attachment to Judaism of the type expected from devout Orthodox Jews. I can't speak to how this affects other students and how (and what) teachers teach. I think this seems like an issue that is worth studying.

In general, I think an issue is how to define success in education. R. Shalom Carmy (of YU) discusses this a little at the beginning of his essay. The feeling I got from reading this booklet is that Modern Orthodox education is not particularly successful, but I'm not sure that this is true nor what the authors were trying to say. You will never be able to teach everything you want to every student. There will always be a spectrum of students, between those who imbibe the full lesson and those who take in nothing. Given the varied starting points of these students, it seems difficult to me to determine how influential Modern Orthodox education is on its students. That might be an issure that is also worth studying.

Note that none of this should imply that Charedi education doesn't have problems. They've got plenty of them.

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