Given the fact that I was schooled in Jewish institutions through high school, attended Jewish camps, youth groups, experiential learning programs, etc….and then went straight into the field of Jewish education upon graduating college, I would happily admit this Jewish ed is something that is on my mind on a fairly regular basis.
Jewschool being a venue for alternative views and culture, I find that we do not discuss alternatives within Jewish education all that often. I know as a fact that our contributors represent a remarkably broad and diverse set of experiences and educational backgrounds, and our commentors as well, even if we are always arguing with one another (hopefully for a higher cause).
That being said, I am hoping to see a conversation happen here in some comments.
Where am I going with this?
If you were to take an education course at JTS, odds are that you would end up reading the work of one Eric Hirsch at some point. A mainstream educational thinker, Hirsch is well known for his writing on cultural literacy in his aptly titled work “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know”. Later on, a 65 page list was written, encompassing what Hirsch believed all ‘literate’ Americans should know.
While certainly well-intentioned, you could say that it’s just a little bit elitist, but that’s another story.
The question that I submit to you, Jewschool readers, is this……well, look up, it’s in the title of the post, I think you can figure it out for yourself. But when we are thinking about Jewish education, can we actually come up with a list of what all Jews should know and understand?
What are the most important things? Is is knowledge of sacred texts? Understanding of history and culture?
Do they need to speak Hebrew and/or Yiddish? What are the most important skills, values and customs? How to daven? How to lead davening? How to read Torah? How to lift a Torah?
Do we all agree on Shabbat? Tikkun Olam? How about Bundism? Is it important that we teach about Bundism?
The questions I just asked above are off the top of my head, but think about how many more could be asked.
Three thousand years of history, experience, thinking and writing has provided us with a near infinite set of options when considering what we want to pass on. Since each of us seemingly has a different orientation towards what Judaism is or should be, we will all have different ideas about “What a Literate Jew Knows”.
For example, here’s a piece of Judaic Trivial Pursuit that I randomly happen to know: anybody ever heard of Shuadit?.
But I digress.
I would love to hear from all of you, since I think this is a critical question, one for which the answers may need to continuously change. Perhaps we can use this thread to create a curriculum that reflects a truly diverse cross section of the Jewish community.
Let’s hear it!