eJP: Let’s Make it Count: The Importance of Studying the Landscape of Supplemental Jewish Learning Opportunities
One of my children counts the money in her piggy bank every Sunday after she gets her allowance. And the counting has become a bit of a ritual, a favorite activity of hers. She turns the little hollow elephant upside down. Takes the rubber plug out from the bottom, and shakes it over her bed as the coins fall out.
There’s nothing like a field trip to shake things up. And this goes the same for teachers as it does for students. Getting out of your every-day space to see something new is one of the most important practices educators can adopt to feed their own need for learning and professional growth.
Whether it’s Steven Covey who said “Interdependent people combine their own efforts, with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success” or... Michael Jordan who said “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships,” the lesson comes through loud and clear and echoes one of the deepest and truest Jewish values.
According to a 2013 JData article, there are approximately 1848 congregational schools in America, in addition to the other supplemental programs being run independently by JCCs and other community organizations. That’s over 200,000 students each year are enrolled in some kind of supplemental Jewish learning program. Twice as many children are enrolled in supplemental, part time Jewish learning programs in the U.S. than there are students in non-orthodox Jewish day schools. If the vast majority of children doing any formal or informal Jewish learning are doing so after school in supplemental programs, which begs the question: why aren’t more resources and attention paid to our largest demographic of youth learners?
My first Grateful Dead Concert was in 1989. I was in the 7th grade and there was no turning back. I was hooked. When I was 15 I ran off with the band for the first time, much to my parent’s chagrin. When I was 17 I dropped out of high school to follow the band around full time, and today I continue to consider my Grateful Dead family as among my closest friends and community, and the music – the music of my soul.
Imagine you’re a new college graduate and you’re playing around with the idea of becoming a Jewish Educator. You have already taken advantage of some isolated part-time opportunities to teach Hebrew school and had some enriching summer leadership experiences. But, the chance to work full-time in a full-year teaching capacity straight out of college is a long shot, since many of these roles require more advanced degrees.
For at least 2,000 years, Judaism has been a text-based religion. Many would argue it’s been longer than that. And, with some exceptions, the language of our texts is Hebrew. Yes, Aramaic plays a part. The Talmud, lots of midrashim and ancient biblical translations often were written in Aramaic — but even then, written in the Hebrew alphabet. It shares many of the same words and cognates, and is at the very least a not-too-distant cousin of Hebrew. For as long as Jews have been calling themselves Jews, we’ve been doing all that Jewish stuff in Hebrew.
It’s Friday at noon. Five Jewish educators sit around a table discussing their recent experiences using Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to defuse tension among students. One educator tells a success story. Another questions the value of the NVC approach, “how do the kids ever learn that there are consequences to actions?”
Oren Massey walks through a warm classroom decorated with children’s artwork and Hebrew characters, greeting young students and teachers alike with a gentle “Shalom” as Hebrew music plays in the background.
We are a “dual-school family.” Our daughter is in 6th grade at the local Orthodox Jewish day school while our son is in 3rd grade at a public school. We often get asked how this came about. I enjoy replying that when deciding which child should learn Torah, we picked our daughter as a corrective step for generations of reduced access to Torah by girls. But that’s really just a line. As with most things in life, there’s a longer story behind this–and as with much of parenting, our intentions only played a minor role.