Letter from the Editor (13:1)
Being educated Jewishly is a deeply embedded value with origins in the Torah, and reinforced in the Prophets, the Writings, the Tannaitic and Amoraic periods, and in every period since. The value of being knowledgeable about and engaged with Torah has never been questioned. With the advent of modernity and the breaking down of the walls between Jews and Western civilization, being educated Jewishly took on the additional dimension of being a bulwark against dissolution of Jewish identity, assimilation, and intermarriage. It could be argued that for many in the twentieth century, this additional dimension became a central consideration, particularly in light of Alvin Schiff’s study in the early 1960s which dramatically demonstrated that a day school education was a key factor in maintaining Jewish identity.
The Jewish community has come a long way since the 1960s alongside many significant societal changes. The American melting pot has given way to multiculturalism, so that Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah coexist in the public sphere. Jews no longer feel a need to Americanize their names or hide their identity in the workplace; becoming fully Americanized is no longer seen as an automatic threat to being Jewish. The diminishing of this motive for day school enrollment emerged at the same time that the cost of Jewish education skyrocketed.
While schools, philanthropists, and other communal institutions have recently invested significant energy to address the tuition crisis, one of the areas which they have not yet reviewed substantively is the question of what makes a day school education attractive. In other words, why should parents be sending their children to these schools, at great expense, when they are essentially comfortable with them growing up as proud Jews in America (or Americans proud of their Jewishness)? This is a not a question of finances, but one of defining anew the goals of a day school education appropriate for today’s challenges.
This re-examination of the raison d’etre of day schools goes beyond the rewriting of mission statements – it cuts to the core of what day schools are for and why they are invaluable, if not irreplaceable. This process can be both frightening and energizing, and raises many questions. Who should be involved in that process – day school heads, middle management, teachers, students, parents, lay leaders, communal religious leaders? Are the goals identified going to be descriptions of “ideal graduates” with the requisite body of knowledge, skills, beliefs, and behaviors, or a picture of adult members of the Jewish community five, ten, and twenty five years beyond graduation? Will the goals be measurable and demonstrable, or will we have to wait a generation to see if we are successful?
Yogi Berra is famously quoted as saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” This issue of Jewish Educational Leadership is dedicated to re-opening the question of where we are going.
The issue opens with a rich and varied Research section. Jon Levisohn explores an alternate conception of vision for day schools; Shirah Hecht suggests borrowing a model from the world of program assessment; David Harbater examines two schools and their missions from the inside; Yaakov Jaffe reveals results of a survey of halakhah programs in high schools; Sarah Levy explores the role of teachers in determining school mission; and Sara Rosenfeld shares her study of two schools in Australia dealing with a new population. In the Applications section, Eli Kohn presents a model he has used extensively in guiding schools to fulfill their missions; Steve Lorch describes how parent surveys help his school fine tune while Chaye Kohl questions what voice parents should have; Steve Bailey shares a process of examining a school’s goals; Micah Lapidus shares one school’s energizing experience of exploring core values; and Maury Grebenau recounts how a Jewish studies faculty was empowered to re-create its entire program.
Our Features section opens with Jack Bieler’s call to action for long-term evaluation of graduates. It is followed by an exclusive interview with Hanan Alexander who lays out his vision for a new kind of liberal education which embraces religious streams. Levi Cooper’s From the Classics brings to light an obscure story about an educational plan gone awry, with surprising results. The issue closes with Daniel Lehmann’s Perspective on Jewish education.
As always, the journal is not meant to present the last word on the topic but to open important discussions. We look forward to hearing from you.
Rabbi Zvi Grumet, Ed.D.