Radical Exploration: A response to Estee Eisenberg Fleischmann
We are used to thinking about learning as a sequence of classes, workshops, visits – and that’s how many institutions design educational experiences. It’s true for most schools and for many Israel tours; Estee Eisenberg Fleischmann explains that it is not the case for camps – or at least Camp Stone, where they thought of “the entire campus as the classroom.” It’s a powerful insight which has been previously theorized by Houle: learning is not about a group of people stacking knowledge, but requires interaction between individuals and a great variety of components. A series of incredible speakers will never be as impactful as a space where people, landscapes and ideas are there for each individual to engage with through interaction or dialogue. Deliberately, yet organically.
At Masa’s Educational Design Unit, we’ve been experimenting with those insights to understand how to apply them in long-term experiences for Masa fellows and alumni in Israel. In our case the classroom is not even a campus: it’s a whole country. And Israel is richer and more complex than any program can contain. How do you design a learning experience when the space is an entire country? We work with young adults, and we do our best to stay true to the guiding principles and models of adult learning. How can we design a non-touristic, authentic and productive experience that serves its participants?
I’ll share two main principles which guide our work with Masa fellows and alumni.
Our Exploratory Approach
A four-to-ten-month long experience in Israel is different than a three-week summer tour or a retreat: Masa fellows come with specific needs, interests and motivations. Most programs allow them to choose the components they want to include in their journey in Israel – this is true for internships and academic experiences, as it is for post-high school and volunteering programs. Therefore, Masa fellows are in control of the experience. The program is a platform for them to recruit Israel to fulfill those needs. In order for them to do so successfully they need opportunities to explore the different Israeli landscapes – the social, cultural, professional, spiritual landscapes – and understand how to turn the people, places and organizations they meet into resources for their own personal and professional development. Exploration is a skill, and Israel is a sandbox where that skill can be learned. We invite Masa fellows to explore Israel not as a tourist would, but as an adult trying to build a complex mosaic; by researching what’s around them and experimenting with crafting their new routines with people, places and habits they are in the process of discovering. Masa fellows become co-creators of their programs, which raises their chances of having experiences which meet their needs.
Still, Israel is a wide, incredibly rich, and quite overwhelming space. In order to allow a productive exploratory experience, we understand that we need to curate the exposure to the different landscapes very accurately. Just like in a museum: some items are given more exposure than others, the halls are designed to guide the visitors into a conceptual journey, and still – each visitor can pick and choose how much attention to give to each element and how emotionally involved they want to be with it. There is a concept behind those decisions; as Gil Perl writes, “without ever speaking a word, the spaces we inhabit send us messages, convey values, and evoke emotions all of which enrich or inhibit our ability to learn.” This understanding is much more dramatic within a long-term experience framework.
We ask ourselves the question “What people, places, events, and communities can help the fellows with their personal and professional growth?” in order to accurately curate Masa experiences. It’s a radically alternative approach to the usual question “What content can push our educational agenda?”
In a healthy exploratory experience in Israel we want each Masa fellow to know that the whole space is available to them. Then they will be able to experiment and choose what to integrate in their own journey.
We understand that “inspiring” our fellows is not an ambitious enough goal for long-term programs, and that is why we strive for designing productive programs, where the fellows can make progress in their personal, professional and Jewish lives. We strongly believe that an authentic connection to Israel can develop only if each individual is free to experiment with the resources that the Israeli landscape offers.