The Great Migration: Back to School 2015-2016

The month of August ushers in one of the greatest of all human migrations: the migration back to school. It’s a migration not only for students but for parents, teachers, administrators, and the countless other people that make schools come to life each year. As we collectively gear up for this annual journey I want to share a few thoughts that might inspire us to pause and reflect on what this migration is all about. Though I write from a very particular context, that of The Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School, I believe most of these thoughts are relevant for anyone embarking on the great migration back to school.


Davis Tree



1. Old School. Formal education is one of the most ancient of human institutions. There have been societies that didn’t have the wheel or know how to kindle fire, but there has never been nor could there ever be a society without a structure for ensuring that the young learn from the “less young.” Though the aims, content, and structure, necessarily vary, education is one of the roots of human experience. It’s something we do out of biological necessity. Knowing that we are participating in this great and timeless undertaking should be a source of pride, and more importantly, a source of meaning. There is truly no calling more noble than that of teaching and learning.

2. Covenant. Too often we think of the relationship between student and teacher, between teacher and parent, between family and school, as a contractual or worse a transactional one. If we dig a little deeper we’ll discover that these relationships are actually covenants. A covenant is a relationship between equals. It is a relationship that places mutual obligation and mutual promise at its core. It’s a relationship that, by its very nature, cannot be broken (though it can be damaged). It’s a relationship of deep accountability and respect. It’s a relationship built on honesty and dialogue. A relationship where both parties are responsible for teaching and learning.

3. Whole child. We talk about educating the whole child, but too often talk isn’t translated into action. The whole child is mind, heart, body, and spirit. Would any of us really assert that American schooling as it exists today is educating the whole child? From where I sit, the answer is no. One particular area where we could and must do better is nurturing spirituality. The separation of church and state doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t be helping students cultivate a sense of connectedness, awe, and wonder. The sciences and the humanities provide endless opportunities for awakening and engaging the human spirit.

4. The classroom. The classroom is an undeniably important learning site, but it’s not the only one. Learning doesn’t start and and end in the classroom. When our students come back to school, they are coming from somewhere. When the bell rings they are headed to somewhere. We are all learning all of the time. Students don’t come to class ready to learn, they come to class in the midst of learning. If what we teach them is operative only within the classroom then our students won’t carry their learning with them. If we ask them to disconnect from the natural learning that they’re doing when they enter our classroom then we are inadvertently stunting their learning. We all have the chance to view our classrooms as spaces wherein we can acquire certain skills and knowledge that will help us thrive in the ultimate classroom of human experience: the world.

5. Poetry. There are times in life when prose is insufficient. Wherever we are, whatever we teach, however we fit into the back to school migration, let us find ways to bring poetry into our lives and into the world. Read a poem, write a poem, be a poem. Let us show our students the poetry of the world and let them show us the same.

6. Relationships. Relationships are the core of our humanity. Our existence is meaningful only to the extent that we are connected to one another. That we value other people and are valued by them, that we take an interest in other people and are of interest to them, that we care… This is what gives our life purpose. The relationships between teachers and students, children and parents, teachers and fellow teachers, teachers and administrators– these and other relationships are what make schools work. Good relationships are built on trust. They take time to cultivate. They are simultaneously strong and fragile, dynamic and stable. Growing and sustaining meaningful relationships may be the most important thing to focus on as we head back to school.

7. Optimism. There’s a great debate out there. Sometimes it takes the form of an obscure argument about whether human nature is good or evil. Sometimes it focuses on whether human beings will eventually destroy or save the planet. It’s basically a debate between people who think things inevitably (if sometimes slowly) get better and people who think things inevitably (and sometimes rapidly) go down the toilet. If you’re headed back to school then you are, by definition, an optimist. Even if you don’t think so. If you’re headed back to school and you’re not an optimist then you should consider taking an eternal summer or reconsider your self-assessment. Optimism, a belief in progress and human potential, is a non-negotiable for education. If we believe in the human capacity to learn and grow then we inherently also believe in the human capacity to become more compassionate, thoughtful, loving, gentle, and interested in advancing not only our own betterment but the betterment of all.

As we flock to gather our school supplies and migrate back to school I want to wish all of my fellow teachers and learners a meaningful and memorable school year.

On Israel- Rabbi Laura Baum, Dr. Alex Sinclair, Felicia Voloschin

Rabbi Laura Baum of and Congregation Beth Adam writes:

“On this Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), I think of a soldier whom I don’t know.  He is in the photo below, taken by my friend Barbara when she visited me in Israel.  A young man, a soldier, we saw eating a burger and fries at McDonalds in Jerusalem. So ordinary, and yet the gun in the picture feels so out of my ordinary.  Still, I know it is good and necessary – for it protects Israel.”


Dr. Alex Sinclair, Director of Programs in Israel Education, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Jewish Education,Jewish Theological Seminary shares:

“Loving a baby is simple.  You love and provide for her.  She can do no wrong.  It’s uncomplicated.

Loving your adolescent child is more complicated.  You still love him, but you sometimes disagree with each other.  You try to have these disagreements become educative and nurturing.  You can collaborate and build ideas together.  You sometimes find each other infuriating and frustrating; yet you still try to remain in loving dialogue.  It’s a more complicated love – and a much richer love.

Our problem in Israel education is that too often, we imagine that our love for Israel should be baby love, whereas in fact it should be adolescent love.”

Felicia Voloschin, CPA/CFP and Davis Academy parent asks reflects:

“History reveals others have given so much.  Risking all.  Devoting all.

To Israel, a place I have not yet been, yet so deeply long to go.  Knowing all the lives lost and all the self-less actions by others for the Jewish Homeland to be returned to the Jews of recent times.   There are no words, only utter admiration for those heroes who have guarded Israel, and give us all the opportunity to dream of a peaceful time when true negotiations and not bombs will be directed at Her cities.

To contemplate my role is a constant struggle.  Along with all the daily responsibilities of family and work, I did not have the Outliers fortune of Jewish Study throughout my life.  Thus far, I have only taken little steps to try and continue the big steps taken by others.

What part do you play in joining others you may or may not always agree with to support the Jewish home of Israel?  Are the holidays of the Yoms just passive remembrance or a move to actively inspire?”

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Jewish Ed

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”

1. In 2012 I will model authentic learning for my students by learning alongside them.

2. In 2012 I will do my best to treat the questions, ideas, and insights of my students with the respect they deserve.

3. In 2012 I will open my heart to receiving feedback from students, parents, colleagues, and supervisors.

4. In 2012 I will demand of myself that I go the extra step(s) helping my students and peers mature and grow.

5. In 2012 I will break down the walls of my classroom so that the outside world can infiltrate with the hopes that my classroom will then transform the outside world.

6. In 2012 I will partner with students, parents, and fellow educators in a covenant of learning with the individual student at the center.

7. In 2012 I will champion the cause of Jewish education by demanding that Jewish studies be relevant, inspiring, nourishing, engaging, and joyful.

8. In 2012 I will sing, laugh, play, dance, and chill with my students.

9. In 2012 I will view the Jewish holidays through new eyes and with renewed energy.

10. In 2012 I will bring the fullness of my humanity into my work as a Jewish educator so that I might be more fully human (loving, caring, aware, thoughtful, passionate, intentional, reflective, kind) through my work as a Jewish educator.

Checks and Balances

“The marvelous development of science and technics has been counterbalanced on the other side by an appalling lack of wisdom and introspection.”
– Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion, 1937
Technology rocks. Flying machines and all that good stuff. Seriously, if we didn’t live in a web 2.0 (3.0, 4.0 ff.) world, I wouldn’t be writing this. And if I were writing this in an analog world it wouldn’t be called “user generated content.” It would be… I don’t know… a quaint diary entry or something like that. 
We live in an age of texting championshipsrobotics competitions, digital remixing, and a million +1.0 other technologically driven phenomena of which most people of a certain age have 0.0 experience and awareness. By the time I click “publish post” this post will be obsolete. It’s dizzying, awesome, fun, and foundational. Technology is driving the spaceship. 
When Jung, writing in 1937, wrote of an appalling lack of wisdom and introspection, one suspects he knew that, unfortunately, his observation would be eternally relevant. At present, the gap between technological innovation and moral/spiritual life is about as “Grand Canyon” as it ever has been. It seems like technology and morality might even have an inverse relationship:
Technology= fast
Morality/Spirituality= slow
Technology= innovation
Morality/Spirituality= old fashioned
Technology= cool
Morality/Spirituality= rabbi, philosopher, mom
Technology= computer
Morality/Spirituality= mind, heart, soul
Technology, and web 2.0 in particular, are at best, morally and spiritually neutral. Start following #God in Twitter and it’s like stepping into a river of theologically themed currents. Start following #JustinBeiber and… well… it’s sort of the same thing. The point is that technology is a platform/ media. It cares less about the substance and more about the process of communication. It cares less about what you say and more about how you say.0 it. 
As an educator I’m all for technology. I’ve seen, firsthand, how bells and whistles help get kids excited about learning. I’ve typed up rubrics for multimedia assessments and seen the pride and sense of accomplishment that kids have in knowing that they’ve not only demonstrated learning, but created something. 
What resonates for me in Jung’s observation is the need for balance. As technology becomes increasingly savvy, nuanced, responsive, dynamic, and powerful, it seems like “wisdom and introspection” should, at minimum, keep pace. I’d go so far as to say that wisdom and introspection, morality and spirituality, should be driving the ship, rather than computer code. Unfortunately, the “how” of technology– quick, shiny, flashing, highly edited, impersonal– is in direct opposition to the “why” of wisdom and introspection. The latter are slow, reasoned, steady, and in many cases, unchanging (and therefore not dynamic). With the world at my fingertips, it’s hard to justify working through a a difficult problem when all I’ve got to do is Google it. The challenge is compounded by the current political/media world, which daily erodes what little space remains in the public square for thoughtfulness and sincerity. 
As educators we play a vital role in advocating for greater balance between the two extremes that Jung identifies. As educators we are both ambassadors for technology as well as ambassadors for wisdom, introspection, morality, and spirituality. As educators we can embrace the “how” of technology and the “why” of wisdom and introspection with equal enthusiasm. We can challenge our students to advance wise and meaningful causes in new and exciting ways. 
Judaism has long affirmed the need for balance: The six days of work are balanced by a day of rest; our particularly Jewish concerns are balanced by a commitment to universalism; our sense of blessing is balanced by our recognition that the world is unredeemed. Our sense of balance, of dialectical creativity, can serve as a guide in our efforts to make sure that the tension between technological innovation and the commitment to wisdom and everything it implies, remains a vital one in the public square. At present we teeter on the precipice of a complete subjugation of our unique human capacities for reasoned thought and ethical conduct to the “flying machines” of tomorrow. The “new bottles” of technology are only useful if they are filled with the wine, old and new, of wisdom, introspection, and a commitment to the life of the soul. 

8.2 Unsubstantiated Claims (and three questions) about the Meaning and Scope of "Integration" in Jewish and Non-denominational Educational Settings

Welcome! If you’ve made it past the unfortunate title of this post, then there’s something wrong with you: you care. Caring is SO 1990!! Caring means responding, it means engaging in dialogue. It means lovingly denying the premise of the argument. It means sharing your thoughts with me or someone you like more.

Which brings me to the premise (AKA unsubstantiated claim #1):

(1) “Integration” is NOT about making cross curricular references between otherwise discrete and alienated academic disciplines. If that’s the essence/ big idea of integration then “lame” on us!

(2) Integration is a noun and not a verb. It’s not content specific. It’s actually a “process” (really a series of processes).

(3) Integration is a series of processes that reflects a deep and natural human yearning: to be whole. The precondition for integration– the thing that makes integration a necessary process– is the fact that our world is fragmented and broken. The fact that teachers who share walls don’t share goals is but one dim reflection of the shattered world which we are blessed to inhabit. Sadly it’s not our biggest problem.

(4) God has many names: Truth, Good, Beauty, Love, Endlessness, Dwelling… Another name for God is “One.” God is Indivisible Unity. God is Perfect and Seamless Integration. God is Process.

(5) The Divine image that resides within every human being remembers the experience of Oneness that we once self-consciously enjoyed (and still CAN enjoy) but more often than not fail to affirm. Healthy individuals integrate all the time and even have moments of joyful affirmation. Spiritually unhealthy individuals need to be guided back to an understanding of how to integrate. Healthy and unhealthy aren’t meant to be judgments. I’m sorry that they sound like judgments and would love better vocab.

(6) Children know how to integrate IN SPITE of adults. Maybe it’s because they’re closer to the initial experience of Oneness. Maybe it’s because they’re children (but that would be a “tot”-ology). If we think that children are unable to integrate then we need to evaluate the conditions that we’ve imposed upon them that undermine this natural human process. I’m arguing that these conditions are generally unconscious, deeply embedded, and invariably lamentable and arbitrary.

(7) Two critical areas where the process of integration radically transforms social and educational experience (and therefore makes the world more integrated, whole, and healthy):

             Home/School– There is nothing more powerful than the integration of these two institutions. Nothing should be easier. Happens all the time right? Go figure.

             Learning/Living– The places where we learn and the places where we live (i.e. act, interact, impact) need to integrate. The school bell should never actually ring. Learning should be learning, learning should be living, living should be learning, living should be living, and this sentence should stop.

(8) Integration undermines the rigidity of roles and strips away the illusions that perpetuate the compartmentalization, departmentalization, Procrustian Bed-itization, Not In My Back Yard-itization, of the human experience. Teachers are students, students are teachers. We’re all in this together. Kumbaya.

Three Questions:

If you’ve made it this far then let’s ask:

(1) What identity markers am I so tied to that I can’t experience the transcendent/grounded fullness of being a radically integrating, processing, striving, embracing creature of God?

(2) Why aren’t more hugs initiated and received on any given day?

(3) Why do I say hello to some people I pass on the street and not others?




Jewish Digital Wisdom: 21st Century Hokhmat Lev

Digital Wisdom and Jewish Digital Wisdom: 21st Century Hokhmat Lev

A robust discourse regarding the unique characteristics and opportunities of 21st century education is ongoing in educational and sociological literature. While there are voices within the Jewish community that are engaged in this discourse and actively trying to apply it to Jewish educational milieus, the Jewish community has a long way to go. In order for Jewish education to remain relevant and grow in relevance, Jewish educational institutions need to integrate “digital wisdom” and 21st century educational theories and insights into our cultures and curricula. The concept of 21st century hokhmat lev (“deep wisdom”) is presented as a Jewish lens through which to explore 21st century education.

Digital Wisdom and Jewish Digital Wisdom: 21st Century Hokhmat Lev
            Prensky (2009) defines “digital wisdom” as a “twofold concept.” In his definition it is both wisdom enhanced by technology and wisdom exhibited in the proper use of technology (Prensky, 2009).  While there is a decidedly science fiction tone to his description of technologically enhanced minds with implanted, “lie detectors, logic evaluators, and executive function and memory enhancements,” Prensky’s “digital wisdom” ends up being a fairly banal concept exemplified by Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election (Prensky, 2009).   While Prensky’s writing is at times provocative, the sum total of “digital wisdom” is little more than, “making wiser decisions because one is enhanced by technology” (Prensky, 2009).   By referencing Aristotle’s definition of wisdom and Socrates’ objection to the technology of writing, Prensky actually mitigates the novelty of his argument that technologically enhanced wisdom is something hitherto unheard of. 
            Prensky’s strength is his ability to provoke conversation.   While “digital wisdom” may not be as revolutionary a concept as Prensky would have us believe, it is useful educational/sociological shorthand for thinking about the impact of technology on education and the pursuit of wisdom in the 21st century.   
            In order for Jewish educators to apply the best educational theories and practices to our specific Jewish educational milieus we often need to play the role of meturgamim (“translators”).   Such is the case with Prensky’s concept of  “digital wisdom.”
            What is Jewish digital wisdom? At first glance it might seem like Jewish digital wisdom would be a more limited concept than digital wisdom generally.  Ironically, the opposite is true.  I would suggest that Jewish digital wisdom is rooted in a nuanced definition of the concept of hokhmat lev, which I translate as “deep wisdom.”
            In his Dictionary of the Talmud, Jastrow delineates the multivalence of the Hebrew words lev and hokhmah.   Lev, a noun, refers to both heart and mind: “[innermost,] heart, bosom; thought., inclination, mind” (Jastrow, 686).  Hokhmah, a verb, has a wide range of semantic resonances based on the permutation of the Hebrew root hacham.  Possible meanings include, but are not limited to, “to be wise, to know, to meet for deliberation, to become a scholar, to make wise, to stimulate a person’s mind by ingenious suggestions or questions; to subtilize, philosophize, to be shrewd; to be learned, to recognize, to know, to remember, to teach, to outwit, to be informed, aware; to learn, to hold counsel; to teach, to be a disciple or scholar” (Jastrow, 462-463).
            Jewish digital wisdom is best understood as 21st century hokhmat lev.  Hokhmat lev, by virtue of its broad semantic range, makes digital wisdom a meaningful and useful framing concept for Jewish educators.  Hokhmat lev is about the heart, the mind, and the rich interaction between them.   It encompasses ethics, morality, and critical thinking.  It requires not only enhanced access to information but “deliberation”, scrutiny, “philosophiz[ing],” recognition, memory, erudition, awareness, scholarship, mastery, inquiry, and critical thinking.  Implicated in the process of cultivating hokhmat lev is teacher and student, master and disciple.  Hokhmat lev assumes no digital divide or achievement gap.  It is a holistic and deeply Jewish concept. 
            As a Jewish educator qua meturgeman (“translator”) I am interested in bringing the concept of hokhmat lev into dynamic interaction with the various opportunities and challenges associated with the 21st century that are facing education generally and Jewish education in particular.  I believe that Judaism should embrace the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century and articulate a Jewish educational vision of 21st century hokhmat lev.   There is a high level of synergy and the possibility of unbounded creative dynamism at the various intersections of liberal Judaism and the cognitive and social processes at play in 21st century education.  Amazingly this synergy has not been systematically explored in Jewish education. 

21st Century Education and 21st Century Jewish Education
            While it would be foolish to deny the impact of technology on contemporary education and the current generation of students in K-12 schooling (Tapscott, 1998; Prensky, 2001; Oblinger & Oblinger 2005; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008; Hayes Jacobs, 2010) it would be equally foolish to limit the concept of 21st century education by focusing only on the integration of technologies into classroom instruction.  In the words of one 21st century position paper, “A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 8).  21st century Jewish education too must focus on “fostering skills” and transmitting “cultural knowledge” with particular ends in mind. 
Liberated from a narrow view of 21st century education that focuses only on technology integration, the opportunity exists to take a much broader perspective and pose more fundamental questions regarding education.  For example, we can and should ask, “What should it mean to be an educated person in the twenty-first century? (Bereiter, 2002, 11).   Bereiter’s question and others like it take seriously the notion that we live in a “knowledge society” that is undergoing a “social transformation” (Bereiter, 2002, 12-13).   In order to prepare students for future success, schools need to be transformed into institutions that “produce knowledge” in ways that transcend even the majority of constructivist curricula (Bereiter, 2002, 19-20).  Again, the meturgeman asks, “What should it mean to be an educated Jew in the 21st century?”
            While a robust conversation among educational theorists and practitioners, social scientists, and policy makers is raging in general society, select voices within the Jewish community have begun a conversation on the topic of 21st century Jewish education.  The work of Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher (2008) articulates a vision regarding the need, direction, and strategy for change in Jewish education today.  In articulating “Design Principles for the 21st Century” the authors take a broad view of 21st century Jewish education that focuses on 1) “empowering the learner”, 2) “the centrality of relationships and the social experience of learning”, and 3) “Jewish learning as ‘life-centered’” (Woocher, Rubin Ross, & Woocher, 2008.  3).  While technological innovation is undeniably part of the changing milieu of education it neither the primary cause nor the ‘magic bullet.’  Ironically, there is little in these “Design Principles” which is unique to the 21st century.   In fact, the notion that Jewish learning should be “life-centered” is attributed to Franz Rosenzweig, and the notion of empowering the learner can be traced back to the basic tenets of educational progressivism.  While these “Design Principles” are not saturated with 21st century lingo, the change agenda set forth has the potential to be visionary depending on how practitioners of Jewish education pursue new ideas and institutions.  As we will see, “empowerment,” “relationships,” and “life-centeredness,” all appear in 21st century educational discourse (Jenkins et al., 2006 in particular). 
21st Century Jewish Education—Possible Directions
            Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher (2008) argue that, “Jewish education has responded… only partially and unsystematically” to the “dramatic” changes of the last quarter century (p.  2).   While we may grant that Judaism has not been quick to articulate a systematic new vision of Jewish education commensurate with the rate and nature of social change, this is more a reflection of a kind of institutional paralysis and fragmentation than it is a reflection of the potential within Judaism to do so (Wertheimer, 2008).  The spiritual side of Jewish institutional stagnation was identified by Mordecai Kaplan (1933) who bemoaned, “The lack of controversial writing about Judaism” as “the peace of stagnation” (Kaplan, 1933, xiv).   Implicit in Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher, Wertheimer, and Kaplan, is the belief that Judaism can articulate a “controversial” or at least forward thinking vision of Jewish education.  It is my belief that Judaism is not only capable of doing so, but uniquely qualified to do so.  When viewed from a historical perspective, Judaism has demonstrated time and again a dynamic interaction with changing social conditions (Meyer, 1988 among others).  In spite of the strong traditionalist tendency within Judaism, Judaism has always synthesized and engaged various aspects of secular culture in exciting and authentic ways.  Such will be the case as Jewish educators explore the various aspects of 21st century hokhmat lev.  While it is beyond the scope of this (or any individual author/paper) to fully develop a vision of 21st century hokhmat lev (due to the communal/dialogic/dialectical nature inherent to such a task), it is possible to indicate a few compelling possibilities for Jewish educators to explore and consider. 
            Shifting notions of text, reading, authorship and literacy.
            The notion that technology in general and Web 2.0 in particular necessitates a rethinking of the concept of literacy has gained widespread traction in 21st century educational literature (Inter alia Jenkins et al, 2006; AASL, 2007; Marsh, 2007; Prensky, 2001 and 2008; Black, 2009; Dresang & Kotrla, 2009; Merchant, 2009; Trilling & Fadel, 2009; Mills, 2010).   Literacy needs to be rethought not only in relation to digital content but in relation to “the reading, writing and creation of texts” generally as Web 2.0 has accustomed young and old alike to being “active users” and generators of content (Marsh, 2007, 267, 273).  Beyond impacting traditional notions of reading, writing, and text, there is a growing sense that literacy encompasses “a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 4).   Far from being limited to content knowledge, 21st century literacy promotes cognitive as well as societal goals.  The American Association of School Librarians’ Standards for the 21st– Century Learner focuses not only on “critical thinking” but also on “applying knowledge to new situations,” “creat[ing] new knowledge,” and “participat[ing] ethically and productively as members of our democratic society” (AASL, 2007, 3).  That literacy should be concerned with ethical conduct and promote democratic citizenship is not unheard of.  However the distillation of ethics and citizenship into concrete academic documents and their renewed attention in discussions of digital literacy is significant and reflects the unprecedented access to knowledge and information of varying qualities as well as the ability to produce knowledge and information with increasing ease and obliqueness (Jenkins et al., 2006). 
            One particularly intriguing aspect of the literacy conversation is the concept of “Radical Change Theory” (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009).  Radical Change Theory asserts that texts and readership are being transformed in the digital age because of the increased presence of “interactivity, connectivity, and access” as significant and defining features in literary contexts (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 94).   “Interactivity” points to the blurring of the lines between reading and writing.  Non-linear formats, dynamic interactions between graphics and text, and the use of hypertext and links demand a level of activity and engagement from the reader that approaches Barthe’s concept of the “writerly text” (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 97).  Building on the ideas of reader response theories, Radical Change Theory calls attention to the meaning-making activity of the reader and demonstrates that a wide array of texts invite and encourage this constructivist engagement.  “Interactivity” brings with it the intriguing possibility of “infinite readings” (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 98). 
Beyond “interactivity”, “connectivity” has to do with the “social interaction surrounding literature.” “Fan fiction,” which is the reader-generated extension of popular literature like the Harry Potter series, is considered a paradigmatic example of how literacy has changed (Dresang & Kotrla, 2009, 104; Black, 2009, 690).  Lastly, “access” reflects the unprecedented access to information enjoyed by all consumers.  “Access” also refers to the ability to engage with more diverse and difficult texts than ever before (Dresang and Kotrla, 2009). 
            21st century hokhmat lev and new Jewish literacy.
            That evolving definitions of literacy should be of interest to “the People of the Book” should be obvious.   Issues of readership, authorship, text, and authority are persistently relevant in Judaism and Jewish education.  21st century hokhmat lev should consider how Radical Change Theory’s notions of “interactivity, connectivity, and access” are relevant in Jewish educational milieus today.  The relationship between “fan fiction” and midrash, between hypertext and Talmudic citations, between connectivity and public Torah readings—these are fertile areas for exploration.  Literacy technologies have had deep sociological repercussions throughout Jewish history as the Jewish people have moved from scroll to book and beyond.  The ability to “access” Jewish text is a key question in every age because access impacts the overall shape of the Jewish conversation.  The time has come for Judaism to embrace the opportunity to reconsider Jewish literacy and what it means for 21st century hokhmat lev.  Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher’s criteria of empowerment, relationship, and life-centeredness should be a part of this conversation.  “Empowerment” and “access,” “relationship” and “connectivity,” “life-centeredness” and “interactivity”: these concepts play off of one another in a variety of dynamic ways. 
            Participatory culture.
            Jenkins et al.  (2006) offering the following definition of “participatory culture”:
A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.  A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (p.  3).
            Participatory cultures focus on empowerment and allow for multiple levels of engagement wherein, “some will only dabble, some will dig deeper, and still others will master the skills that are most valued within the community” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 10).  “Creative expression” and “active participation” are valued (Jenkins et al., 2006, 7). 
            Judaism as a participatory culture. 
            Traditional Judaism embodies several aspects of Jenkins’ “participatory culture” as it encourages participation in myriad ways.  This is even more the case for liberal Judaism, which consistently seeks to remove barriers to participation.  Judaism requires community.  One cannot live a full Jewish life in isolation nor can one be fully Jewish as a non-participant.  Jewish prayer, study, observance, indeed all of Jewish living can only take place within the context of a participatory culture.  Like other participatory cultures, when it comes to Judaism, “some will dabble, some will dig deeper, and still others will master the skills…” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 7). 
            One significant point of departure between traditional Judaism and Jenkins’ notion of “participatory culture” has to do with the role of innovation and creative expression.  A key feature of participatory culture as defined by Jenkins is “relatively low barriers to artistic expression” (Jenkins et al., 2006, 3).  Until recently, and even now in many cases, many Jews encounter barriers—real or perceived, when they approach Judaism.  They do not find in Judaism a summons to “artistic expression.” Similarly, mentorship is often lacking in Jewish religious life and many Jews feel that Judaism places little value on their individual contributions to the culture and participation in the community. 
            Jewish education can and should play a role in helping Judaism to become more of a participatory culture.  By mentoring and educating students of all ages, Jewish education can help lower the barriers to participation and creative engagement with Jewish tradition.  Existing Jewish educational milieus such as day schools are the venues where Jewish children are socialized for participation in Jewish life.  Decisions impacting the curriculum and culture of such institutions should weigh whether steps are being taken to make Judaism more or less accessible for students.  Are students being equipped with the skills and dispositions associated with 21st century hokhmat lev? Are they being invited to interact, connect, access, empower, make meaning, create, express, and produce? One of the great benefits of participatory culture is that it generates feelings of ownership and belonging.  In Judaism we speak of educating toward Jewish commitment.  Bringing the dynamism of participatory culture more fully into Jewish education can undoubtedly strengthen feelings of ownership and belonging.  Such feelings are necessary for Judaism to remain relevant in the marketplace of “participatory cultures.”
            Teacher training and professional development: towards TPCK.
            Transformation in education cannot happen without teacher training and professional development.  Mishra and Koehler (2006) build on Shulman’s concept of PCK by putting forth the concept of TPCK.  Whereas PCK stands for “pedagogical content knowledge” TPCK stands for “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, 1017, 1021).  Their aim in expanding Shulman’s PCK is to provide a theoretical framework for discussing how teachers’ technological knowledge is inextricably connected to teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy and content (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).  A 21st century teacher cannot be successful without demonstrating competency in the areas of TPCK.  Technology is a critical component for Mishra and Koehler because “the incorporation of a new technology or new medium for teaching suddenly forces us to confront basic educational issues because this new technology or medium reconstructs the dynamic equilibrium among [technology, pedagogy, and content]” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006, 1030).  In other words, teachers must be reflectively aware of the impact of technology on the art of teaching. 
            Mishra and Koehler are not the only voices suggesting that teachers need support in order to be successful agents for 21st century education (Eisner, 1995; Watson, 2006; Krumsvik, 2008; Lei, 2009; Hedberg, 2010; Archambault et al., 2010; and others).  While younger teachers may have positive beliefs about technology it has been demonstrated that this does not mean that they know how to meaningfully integrate new technologies into their pedagogy (Lei, 2009, 92).  Specifically, teachers need collaboration with experts, successful experiences implementing new technology, and a sense of being a part of a community of practice committed to technology integration (Hedberg, 2010, 2).  Empirical research on teacher professional development suggests that effective workshops and professional development opportunities can transform PCK into TPCK (Archambault et al., 2010). 
            Jewish education and J(ewish)TPCK. 
            Woocher, Rubin Ross, and Woocher (2008) remind us that Jewish education will not change unless a dedicated cadre of Jewish educators leads the way (p.  5).  These Jewish educators will need to articulate a J(ewish)TPCK that brings Jewish education closer to an understanding of 21st century hokhmat lev.  At the risk of descending into alphabet soup I think there’s tremendous value in considering the possibility of J(ewish)TPCK as it relates to 21st century hokhmat lev.  Articulating a theoretical framework for 21st century Jewish education reveals how complex 21st century Jewish education can be.  A 21st century Jewish educator will be able to cultivate a sense of 21st century hokhmat lev only if they consistently integrate their knowledge of content, pedagogy, technology, and Judaism.  It could be argued that “J” and “C” are actually the same thing—that Judaism is the content that a Jewish educator must know.  However, Judaism is not only content, but also process.  Judaism is not only the “what” but also the “how.” Chevruta learning, tefila services, and Torah readings are a few examples of the  “how” of Judaism.  It is not enough to be familiar with the content of Judaism.  For true 21st century hokhmat lev Jewish educators must be able to engage Judaism as a methodology for teaching various forms of content, not unlike what has hitherto been referred to as “integration.” Asserting the “J” means insisting that Judaism is unique.  It means that as Jewish educators we are meturgamim, because we are not satisfied with great ideas that are written in a foreign language and that do not reflect the nuances and particularities of Judaism. 
            While there is tremendous value in Jewish educators receiving professional development in non-Jewish contexts, the only way that Jewish education can fully actualize 21st century hokhmat lev is with particular support and training for Jewish educators.  At the present moment there is a disconnect between Jewish education and 21st century education.  This is because Jewish educators have not yet developed the necessary platforms to do the specific work of articulating a vision and practice of 21st century Jewish education.  It is incumbent upon teachers and other Jewish leaders to be pioneers in this field.
Ki Va Moed– “The Time has Come”
            The 21st century is no longer a distant and abstract concept.  We live in a world where 9/11 is increasingly associated more with history than memory.  Moreover, we live in complicated and often discouraging times.  As one author proclaims, “Ruptures and upheavals punctuate injustice and illuminate the breakdown of community: the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the genocide in Darfur, the No Child Left Behind Act, and corporate globalization…” (Renner, 2009, 59).   The 21st century is a time of instability, anxiety, and conflicting ideologies.  It is also a time of hope and opportunity. 
Before long, speaking of 21st century education will feel passé.  The conversation will have moved on to mid-21st century education or “post” 21st century education.  The window of opportunity for Judaism to meaningfully explore 21st century hokhmat lev is narrower than most of us can imagine.  Jewish educators are not merely lagging behind; we are actively closing doors and burying our heads in the sand by not engaging one another in a process of updating and reinvigorating Jewish education.  A conversation regarding 21st century hokhmat lev needs to happen now, otherwise any trace of vibrancy and “life-centeredness” in Jewish education will be the stuff of history and memory. 


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What Kind of Digital RU?

I’ve got to give it up for Marc Prensky. “Digital Native/Digital Immigrant”: it’s hard to imagine discussing 21C without this digital coding. Like so much in the digital world it’s a binary distinction—a bunch of 1s and 0s strung together constituting “information.” I’ve got to give it up for Marc Prensky because, since 2001, everyone and their Digital Immigrant Mother has been responding to him.

The dia-blog has “evolved” from Prensky’s inchoate bifurcation. Toledo (2007) discusses the thickness of the Immigrant’s accent and cites Feeney (n.d.) who suggested adding “Digital Recluse”, “Digital Refugee”, “Digital Explorer”, “Digital Innovator”, and “Digital Addict” to the fray. Unable to resist, Toledo offered up “Digital Tourist” and we have Stoerger (2009) to thank for “Digital Melting Pot.” Cyber-fondue anyone?

It seems to me that the disclaimer “Digital” is on the verge of becoming meaningless. The proliferation of “Digital Fill In The Blanks” reminds me the scene in The Social Network where Justin Timberlake tells Jessie Eisenberg, ‘Drop the “The”. Call it “Facebook”, it’s much cooler.’ Honestly, how long will it be before we look back, chuckle at Prensky and think, ‘Digital? That’s SO Analog!’

But for now the whole “Digital #$%#” seems to be sticking. Thing is, I don’t like my choices. So here are a few new ones off the top of my head (sticking with the Bible as inspiration for the time being):

“Digital Yahweh”: Created the whole interweb in 6 days. Status says “resting” on Shabbat.
“Digital Elohim”: Offers judgmental comments on peoples’ Facebook pages all day.
“Digital Abraham”: Posts “first” on every new YouTube video.
“Digital Sarah”: Often heard laughing obnoxiously in the computer lab.
“Digital Isaac”: Blinded from too much staring at the screen.
“Digital Rebecca”: Hours spent online increased dramatically after falling off camel.
“Digital Jacob”: Hacked into his brother’s birthright account.
“Digital Rachel”: Has a beautiful profile pic.
“Digital Leah”: Keeps her profile “veiled” from public view.
Obviously I could go on. The whole “Digital Native/Digital Immigrant” phenomenon reminds me of the power of language in constructing meaning. Here’s a quote from Richard Rorty that captures the way I feel:
The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot propose a language for us to speak. Only other human beings can do that.
         So let’s talk about me. How do I see myself? Native, immigrant, deity, patriarch? I think for now the monicker that feels most apt is “Digital Dude” (or perhaps “Digital Lebowski”). Although I think Dude Digitalis is much more beast. Why? Because at this point I’m willing to sit back and see how the whole thing plays out. Technology is cool. It’s fun. It’s hip. Aside from the whole nuclear/biological/chemical warfare thing technology is relatively harmless. So for now Dude Digitalis abides. So it goes. 

Judaism is Ready for 21C

Judaism is ready for 21C.  Revolutionary times? Unstable social order? Rapid technological innovation? New forms of communication and cultural exchange? Challenges to the status quo? Uncertain and unimaginable future? Judaism has seen it all before. If there’s a faith tradition, culture, way of life, or civilization that knows how to embrace 21C it is Judaism.
While all systems crave homeostasis or stability, Judaism has never had the luxury of a prolonged period of equilibrium. The upside of galut (exile) is that we’ve learned how to be a resilient and vibrant people capable of great transformation. Anyone who knows anything about Jewish history knows that Jews have lived virtually everywhere and under every possible social condition. We’ve experienced sovereignty and subjugation, exile and dispersion. We’ve lived in the East and the West, spoken every language, mastered every craft and trade, and contributed to virtually every society in which we’ve lived. We’ve been protected, abused, driven, expelled, beholden, scorned, and scrutinized. We’ve seen kings rise and fall, nations come and go, plagues devastate continents, and World Wars ravage humanity. We’ve lost sons and daughters, welcomed strangers, and both shaped and been shaped by the worlds in which we’ve lived. In light of the wild and unpredictable narrative of the Jewish people I’m confident in declaring that there’s nothing about 21C that Judaism isn’t prepared to handle.
Judaism is ready for 21C and Jewish Education needs to lead the way. Jewish Education needs to lead the way by demonstrating that the 21C technological revolution and its accompanying social revolution present opportunities for Judaism more than they do threats. When Jews encountered Romanian music we created Klezmer. When we encountered American Democracy we created Joe Lieberman. The synthesis of Judaism and 21C can similarly be an authentic expression of two systems integrating with one another in a mutually informative way. Jewish Education, broadly understood, can facilitate the interaction by embracing a wide variety of technological tools and by experimenting with changes in the social order. While much that emerges will be of questionable value and even beyond the pale of what Judaism deems tolerable, the vast majority will fall comfortably within the longstanding tradition of Jewish innovation. The question isn’t whether Jewish Education should change, but rather how we deliberately, creatively, and proactively interact with new opportunities. As always, dedicated individuals who see themselves as the inheritors and builders of Judaism will lead the way.  

What is Jewish Education 21C?

Creating rather than possessing.

Collaborating instead of isolating.
Interpreting information and identifying ideology. 
Harnessing technologies to generate meaning and share stories. 
Navigating increasing ethical complexity with a moral compass. 
Listening through the white noise; distinguishing essence from appearance.

Affirming the increasing relevance of spiritual growth and inquiry in promoting balance, health, and wholeness.

Cultivating identity through self-reflection, self-definition, and self-articulation both on and off line. 

Introducing The Davis Academy Beit Midrash

This morning the Judaic Studies team at Davis studied the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa as it appears in Lamentations Rabbah 4:3. For those who aren’t familiar the story is about… well that’s the thing. It’s a story that is connected in the “rabbinic imagination” to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE by the Romans. The story serves as a kind of proof text or explanation for why the Temple was destroyed: baseless hatred and excessive piety.
There’s enduring wisdom in the recognition that the fusion of baseless hatred ande excessive piety is a truly toxic combination. While Tisha b’Av mourns the physical destruction of the Jewish community in Ancient Palestine (and a host of other historical maladies) it also calls upon each of us to participate in the positive destruction of unchecked emotions that detract from rather than contribute to the social good.
This morning’s conversation quickly diverged from a discussion of the moral dimensions of the story into a meta-conversation (I can just see you losing interest). The story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa is, like many rabbinic texts, an elliptical story. It leaves out plenty of details, raises issues pertaining to narrative plausability, and requires a certain amount of familiarity with Jewish history. Because these are ancient/ classical texts and we are modern/ postmodern readers there are translation issues. These issues range from making sense of the Aramaic to trying to develop an appreciation of whatever genre restraints may be dictating both the content and form of any given story. In the case of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa one’s sense of the text is determined as much by what you bring to the text as what you find there. Is this making sense?
Ultimately our conversation became about the act of reading itself. By the time we wrapped things up the five of us had spent about an hour engrossed in a dialogue that was brought into being by a Jewish text. Our activity connected us to countless people throughout history who had previously studied and discussed the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa. Our conversation also connected us with all those who study it today in relation to Tisha b’Av, and to some extent to those who study it in the future as well. In other words through engaged reading we became part of a community and a conversation that transcends time, geography, and ideology.
But at the same time as our conversation connected us with a kind of virtual community, it also forged a much more intimate community– the five of us. The conversation that we had about Kamsa and Bar Kamsa was unique. While probably not unprecedented, it was our own conversation. In addition to mining a variety of messages from the text we also learned about one another– what we see in the text, what we notice, how we analyze, how we think, how we question, what gets us intellectually excited, what Tisha b’Av means to each of us. All of this emerged through the act of reading and is a reflection of the powerful impact that reading can have.
I love reading. I especially love reading Jewish texts because they demand that I be an active, creative, and engaged reader. Jewish texts teach me how to read and enrich the many other readings I am engaged in.
While meta-conversations generally tend to resist pragmatic applications there is a very practical dimension to what I’m describing. At The Davis Academy we are going to be implementing a new initiative– The Davis Academy Beit Midrash. At various times in the year the entire middle school will be coming together to study certain Jewish texts. One goal of the Beit Midrash is to expose students to classical Jewish texts that they might otherwise not encounter in the course of the regular Judaic curriculum and to teach them how to read these texts in the way I describe above. While reading Jewish texts to life we will simultaneously be fostering the kind of community that can only emerge through the kind of reading that Jewish texts invite– a community that is based on shared conversations, dialogues, and ideas. A community of listening and speaking, of debating and relating. A community where teachers are learners and students are teachers. A community dedicated to the exploration of self and tradition, and critical reflection. I’ll let you know how it goes…