Positive Psychology, Trickling Down from Universities to Day Schools, Seen as New Key to Engaging Jewish Teens

January 11, 2017

Source: Jewish Week 


At a recent conference, “Happiness Hacks: Feel Good, Do Good and Stop Obsessing about Jewish Identity”, the Jewish Education Project partnered with the Lippman Kanfer Foundation to teach more than 400 educators and lay leaders how to integrate positive psychology into their curricula. The conference included a lecture by renowned Israeli positive psychologist Dan Ariely and group exercises in “laughter yoga,” a series of exercises that induce laughter to promote healing. “In the past, the purpose of Jewish education was to [allow students to] fully participate in American life without giving up their Jewish identity — now, that’s not enough,” said Aryeh Ben David, founder of Ayeka, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that focuses on “soulful” Jewish education — teaching Jewish subjects with more “personal meaning and impact.” “Teens today don’t need a classroom to access information — they can get anything they want to know online,” said Ben David in a phone interview. This changes the need for school “in a profound way.” “Jewish education needs to become a vehicle to enhance students’ lives, rather than just transmit content.” Ayeka is currently working with four schools in the U.S. to train Jewish educators in “soulful education.”

Though the model is very new, Ari Schwarzberg, a high school Judaic studies teacher in Los Angeles, is making happiness a class goal using Ayeka’s approach. In the classroom, that takes the form of Schwarzberg encouraging his students to bring their own thoughts and experiences to the table. He described the new student-centric approach to education as a “significant paradigm shift.”

“Rather than assigning students to work on a project, we want to train teachers to create an educational experience,” he said. “How does learning this subject affect my own life?”

Schwarzberg, who teaches at a Modern Orthodox mixed-sex high school, said that the change is particularly challenging for Orthodox educators, many of whom place particular emphasis on mastering Jewish texts. “It’s difficult for educators to figure out a balance between skill-building/content literacy and meaningful education. … Ideally, you can integrate both into a unit. Just going through X many pages of Talmud is not working for many students.”

Schwarzberg said that so far, his students are “loving” the new approach. “Among our faculty, it’s a struggle to not let reflective conversations take up the entire period,” he said. The new model, which speaks to the “needs of this generation,” follows the larger educational trend towards project-based learning and differentiated instruction, a framework for teaching that provides each student with a unique educational path. “What we’re seeing in Jewish education is part of a bigger picture,” said Schwarzberg.

Read the entire article at the Jewish Week.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017