The 800-Pound Gorilla in the Supplementary School Discourse

July 9, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


When considering the state of complementary Jewish education, I am struck by the absence of conversation about the 800-pound gorilla sitting in front of us: the fact that our Jewish educators are largely untrained as teachers. There is a lot of lip service given to innovation, experiential education, differentiated learning and engagement. I read about the ecosystems of complementary education, the need (or not) to emulate the summer camp experience, the introduction of technology, and the role of families in their children’s learning. What I don’t read about is improving the quality of instruction.


We are known as “the people of the book,” yet we populate our largest gathering spaces for Jewish education with avocational teachers. This is not meant to disrespect these highly dedicated individuals who serve with great care and concern for the future of our people, but they are not an adequate substitute for well-trained professionals.


I am not suggesting that we abandon any semblance of a uniform curriculum. What I am suggesting is that we need masterful teachers who know how to take facts and data and help students make meaning from them. Hebrew, for instance, is just another language unless a teacher can bring to life the nuances of our magical mamaloshen. The same applies to the study of Torah. Can we expect just anyone to identify with students a code of morals and ethics, of rituals and traditions, in a five-volume tome that defies science and is filled with incest, rape, war and deceit?


We will never have great complementary schools without great teachers, and teaching is a vocation. It takes training and it takes learning. It is not something we can bypass with a scripted curriculum. Before we look outside of ourselves and try to find external solutions to the failure of complementary schools, let’s be more self-reflective and ask “would we go to court with an avocational lawyer?” “Would we submit to surgery with an avocational doctor?” Of course not, so why do we continue to do so with the central pillars of our complementary Jewish educational systems? This is the 800-pound gorilla in our educational ecosystem, and he’s waiting to be fed.


Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: May. 07, 2014