From the Editor
We invest a great deal in our students, pedagogically and personally, both inside and outside of the classroom. We teach them knowledge, research skills, thinking skills, and who knows what else. Our formal educational programs are supplemented by an array of activities, both competitive and collaborative, from sports to music to drama to creative writing and more. With all of that, who has not been surprised when encountering a student five or ten years post graduation? Who has not experienced the student who sat in the front row and answered every question correctly yet who fell flat when entering the “real world”? Or the student who struggled through the coursework but emerged as a major communal leader or fabulously successful business person? Closing my eyes I can see a parade of classmates and students who fit these descriptions, some to great extremes.
There are no easy answers or formulae to explain these phenomena, but if they do exist then it is likely that someone, or even many someones, overlooked something important in the day-to-day interactions with these students. Were there hidden talents or abilities that could not emerge because the student was so busy trying to become a student? Were there emotional, developmental, social or maturity issues that were never identified or addressed because the student was just so outstanding at being a student: Like the amazing note-taker, whom everyone befriended before tests, whose obsessive-compulsive tendencies that generated those notes later interfered with normal adult functioning? Or the student who mastered the art of being a student but never quite learned how to be anything other than a student?
If this is true in general studies then it is true in Jewish studies as well. There is no automatic translation of Torah text study from an academic enterprise to a life-guide. I interviewed dozens, if not hundreds of students exiting elementary school all of whom wanted to demonstrate their proficiency in Talmud. They could recite the various opinions of the sages as well as a range of commentaries, but when I asked them to describe what they would do if they found a lost object in the hallway I was met with a glazed stare. That basic translation into real life had simply not been part of the learning. How many students have studied the laws of mourning but have no idea what to say when entering a shiva home?
It is these questions that are at the core of this issue of the journal. How can we transform the classroom into a place of discovery that can help ensure that the student is not just covering the material and learning the information but is growing as a person on the path to healthy, Jewish adulthood?
Our Research section opens with an article by Eliana Lipsky, a teacher-researcher, who spent a year co-teaching and doing a form of Action Research in a high school Humash class. Ziva Hassenfeld explores applying a theory of Lev Vygotsky to Jewish text learning, Debbie Niderberg and Hollis Dannaham share some of the recent research on “grit” as a critical factor in success, and Josh Ladon examines how multiple modes of havruta learning can help students develop a variety of social-emotional skills.
The Applications section opens with two articles focusing on leadership. Rachel Levitt Klein suggests redefining leadership so that it is meaningful for every student, while Chaim Botwinick looks at followership as an essential life skill. Ronit Ziv-Kreger provides concrete examples of teaching students “grit,” Rebecca Milder shares an approach she calls “integrated learning,” and Matthew Lipman looks at ethical dilemmas as a vehicle for building student ability to think meaningfully.
In his regular column, Levi Cooper once again exposes us to obscure people, texts and practices, this time investigating a fascinating prayer practice he observed while visiting the Jewish community in Turkey. For the closing “Perspective on Jewish Education” we depart from our model of veteran Jewish thinkers. Amanda Pogany is a young, dynamic, thoughtful and creative educational leader with a vision that she is bringing to fruition in her school – a vision that empowers teachers the way we hope to empower students, and that engages students in rich, multimodal learning designed to find answers to the questions posed in this issue.