From the Editor
Ethical challenges confront each and every one of us in our daily lives. How honest should we be with our co-workers? To whom do we owe our greatest loyalty? How do we balance between our responsibility to family, community, profession, and self? The famous Mishnaic debate between the Houses of Hillel and Shamai about how to sing the praises of an unattractive bride (Kallah Rabbati 9:1) captures just one slice of the honesty conundrum and reminds us that grappling with ethics is an ancient enterprise and is very much a Jewish preoccupation.
Institutions deal with ethical challenges as well, and the way that they deal with them often defines the essence of the institution. Just think of how our perception of an oil company is affected by the way it chooses to handle a major spill (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill) or how a major fabric manufacturer treats employees who have no work as the company rebuilds after a devastating fire consumes the factory (www.cbsnews.com/news/the-mensch-of-malden-mills).
Few institutions are affected as deeply by their handling of ethical challenges than schools, and few institutions have their very essence defined by the way they deal with ethical questions as schools. Michael Fullan writes: “Moral purpose is about both ends and means. In education, an important end is to make a difference in the lives of students. But the means of getting to that end are also crucial” (Leading in a Culture of Change, p. 13). TJ Sergiovanni points to the special role of the school leader in this. He writes: “Leadership based on moral authority relies on ideas, values, and commitment. It seeks to develop a shared followership in the school – a followership that compels parents and principals, teachers and students to respond from within” (Value-added Leadership: How to get extraordinary performance in schools, p. 34). And if this is true for public schools, it is even more acutely true for Jewish schools bearing a religious tradition.
Many view these kinds of challenges as obstacles to be overcome; others, however, see them as opportunities for schools to grow and find their most deeply held values. Much like a real-life Kohlbergian values-clarification exercise, the process of dealing with the challenges sometimes matters as much, if not even more than, the actual results. The process can help examine questions such as: Whose interests does the school place at the core? Who is involved in addressing the problem? What criteria are established for determining the most appropriate course of action?
These questions touch the heart of the school’s identity, and it is questions like these to which we devote this issue of Jewish Educational Leadership. We open our Research section with a study by Jeffrey Glanz on school leaders’ perception of ethical issues. We continue with Lior Misrachi’s report on a system-wide ethical challenge in Jewish day schools in Australia. At the core of the question of ethics is translating those ethics into practice. We turned to two groups of educational leaders and presented them with a series of dilemmas, and share with you a symposium based on their responses to those dilemmas.
Continuing our Applications section we hear from a number of former school leaders, who share with us insights based on their rich experiences: Devora Steinmetz, founder of the Beit Rabban school in Manhattan; Paul Shaviv, who devoted the bulk of his professional career to Community High School of Toronto; and Menahem Meier, founder and long-time principal of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ.
As this edition of the journal was going to press I received a fascinating Master’s thesis exploring the differences between the way ethical challenges are handled by religious and secular schools in Israel. There was not enough time to even get an abstract in English, but the paper can be accessed here.
Levi Cooper’s From the Classics explores a fascinating case revolving around the ethics of anonymous authorship. Finally, our Perspective on Jewish Education column features Deborah Court, an insightful educator and former principal who now studies educational communities in Israel. As always, we hope that this issue sparks rich discussion and thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you.