The JEWISH EDUCATION CHANGE NETWORK is powered by the people who are making positive change happen in Jewish education today. The vision and values we hold for Jewish education will shape tomorrow’s reality. In an effort to stimulate conversation about that vision and those values, we’ve drafted the following statement about what we believe, what we seek to do, and how we can do it. But, this statement is just a first draft.
We want the members of the NETWORK to respond to it, comment on it, dissent from it, rework it. We’ve set up a forum on the ning where you can make your suggestions or you can edit the document directly by going the Lippman Kanfer Institute wiki: http://lippmankanferinstitute.wikispaces.com. Periodically, we’ll compile the edits and comments and put up a new version of this statement. So please, go to the forum and share your thoughts.
We envision a community in which all Jews throughout their lives participate enthusiastically in diverse opportunities for Jewish learning that are meaningful, joyful, substantive, relevant to their lives, and rich in
Our Guiding Principles
This vision is grounded in three guiding principles for Jewish educational thinking, practice, and policy today:
1. Holistic learning -- Jewish learning that engages and enriches the whole person -- mind, heart, body, and spirit -- thereby helping individuals live more meaningful, purposeful, responsible, and satisfying lives and the Jewish community thrive.
2. Learner empowerment and partnership -- Involving learners and families as active co-creators of their Jewish learning experiences and journeys.
3. A new operating culture for Jewish education – An educational system that is both diverse and collaborative, and that works synergistically across institutional boundaries to ensure that powerful Jewish learning experiences are more widely available, accessible, and affordable.
These principles shape our commitment to:
The Case for Change
For as long as there have been Jews, learning has been at the heart of the Jewish experience. “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam” – Torah study is equivalent to all of the other mitzvoth, we are taught. Wherever they have gone, Jews have educated themselves and their children, understanding instinctively that this was the key to our collective survival and vitality in a frequently hostile world.
Modernity brought new and different challenges to the Jewish people and to Jewish education. We responded to these challenges by creating new educational forms and settings. As the American Jewish population swelled in the 20th century, Jews forged an impressive set of educational institutions – schools (both full and part time), camps, informal programs, adult learning institutes – and an infra-structure to support these. Throughout this period, successive generations of educational leaders, lay and professional, sought to respond to
the challenges of modernity with a variety of innovations in content and methods, as well as with pleas for concerted action to address persistent problems (such as the shortage of qualified educators) and to strengthen Jewish education in the face of social forces that threaten to undermine its effectiveness and impact.
Now, a decade into the 21st century Jewish education seems poised to enter a new era. In one sense, it has no choice but to do so. The past quarter century has seen changes on many fronts – demographic, social, cultural,
geo-political, and technological – of unprecedented magnitude and velocity. Their impact on Jewish life and Jewish education has been profound and destabilizing. Old models and mindsets no longer seem to work for much of the population, or at least do not work well enough.
In the face of these changes, activists and advocates have set out to transform how Jewish education is designed and implemented. The changes being made flow not from some centrally created grand strategic plan, but from the efforts of hundreds of individual educators, parents, entrepreneurs, and institutions trying innovative approaches to make Jewish learning more personal, more engaging, more relevant, more enjoyable, more challenging, and more impactful. Bit by bit, a new vision for 21st century Jewish education has emerged, focused around a few key guiding values and principles and a new openness to experimentation and collaboration. This vision holds enormous promise, but it is also fragile and difficult to realize because it runs counter in critical respects to accustomed ways of doing business in the Jewish community. Despite the progress that has been made, we cannot yet say that we have a Jewish educational system that can guarantee every Jew the
opportunity to experience powerful Jewish learning throughout their lives.
What the New Jewish Education Will Look Like
What would such a Jewish educational system look like? The honest answer is: we don’t know, because we have to create it. But, we know enough from the harbingers that already exist to imagine what it might encompass.
When we look at Jewish education at its best today, we can see glimpses of this future:
But, as long as these models remain just that – exceptional examples, rather than normative practices – we will not be able to realize the vision of enabling every Jew to enjoy a rich array of inter-connected, impactful Jewish
The Opportunity for Change: Our Strategy
Here lies both the challenge and the opportunity. Can we build greater momentum behind the forces of change that are redesigning Jewish education today? Can we elicit and meld their visions, amplify their voices and connect them to one another as allies and partners? Can we, by so doing, erode the barriers that stand in the way of realizing their visions on a system-wide scale? And, will this systemic change result in tangible, sustainable, and wide-spread improvement in Jewish education’s quality, reach, and impact?
There is evidence from other arenas that this can be done and that it will make a difference. We know that Jewish learning can be a source of meaning, fulfillment, and spiritual and moral guidance for every learner. To achieve this goal, we must accelerate the process of change already underway in Jewish education today, enabling the “best” – the examples of excellence and effectiveness that dot the current landscape of Jewish education – to become the “norm” in a renewed system built on shared values and aspirations.
We can do this by drawing on the exciting work already underway and by using the tools of community organizing and social networking to connect change makers and advocates in order to build a powerful movement for Jewish educational change. This movement will in turn energize new activists and new
innovations, creating a virtuous spiral of ever expanding learning opportunities. By empowering and connecting the people – learners, families, educators, capacity-builders, funders – who are shaping and implementing
today’s exemplary models, by encouraging and assisting them to work together both in their own domains and across boundaries to foster innovation, increase the flow of knowledge, and promote new synergies, we can make Jewish learning in the 21st century the powerful force for enriching the lives of learners and for improving the world that it can and must be.