Monday, December 13, 2010

Jewish Educational Thoughts

Two articles on the same page of the NY Times Saturday caught my eye, and are worth reading for what they suggest about Judaism and about education - my two favorite topics, as you know.

What Works in the Classroom?  Ask the Students.
There has been a great deal of attention paid recently to the issue of teacher evaluation.  Most honest people would agree that some teachers are better than others - the disagreement seems to be around what the criteria should be for making that distinction.  Race to the Top, the national program for improving education, includes as one of its four areas of concentration
Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; 
Good idea, but doesn't define "effective teachers" and in practice relies on standardized test scores for its judgments about whether or not a teacher is effective.

Sam Dillon's article identifies a different way of evaluating teachers that asks students directly what they think. According to Ronald Ferguson, the developer of the questionnaires,
"Kids know effective teaching when they experience it."
If this is true in the public school sector, it is even more true in the Jewish sector.  We are not simply in the business of learning and education, we are also very much in the business of attitude development.  It's been said before - the way in which your students relate to you as their teacher becomes in many cases the way in which they relate to the Jewish world in general, and to their Jewish identity in particular.  So it's not just a matter of being "nice".  It's also of modeling the kinds of behaviors and values we want our students to internalize as fundamental to Jewishness - love of learning, compassion, intellectual curiosity, kindness, you fill in the rest.  Teaching in a Jewish school is one of the most challenging and weighty responsibilities one can have.

Which brings me to the next article:  On the same page as the article about asking students is a fascinating story in the Beliefs column, by Mark Oppenheimer - "Agency's Shtick is Jewish Humor For a Good Cause"
I have a few questions I'd like to raise about this article, which troubled me on many levels.

  1. Why is repeating negative stereotypes about Jews and Jewish behavior humorous?
  2. Is it OK to say derogatory things about Jews if you yourself are Jewish?
  3. Is it OK to say these things if the agency sponsoring them thinks it will raise money?
  4. What is the "Jewish" that the celebrities in these spots feel?
  5. Is the "Jewish" these personalities present the "Jewish" we hope our young people grow up to be?
Judd Apatow, who ran the project and is quoted in the article as saying,
“I am the kind of Jewish person who feels very Jewish but does not practice at all. I did not take part in this project because Jewish people run this charity. I got involved because they do very important work that is changing many people’s lives in a positive way.”
The final question:  Am I being overly sensitive?  Is it generational?  Should I just 'get over it?'
I'd like to know what your reaction is.

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