On Data and Deep Learning

Published: 
November 9, 2018

Source: Times of Israel

 

In Jewish schools, where we’re concerned with students’ spiritual growth and want our children developing in emotionally and socially successfully ways, an emphasis on grades can run counter to these religious and psychological goals. After all, is there some tally for how a child has deepened religious practice or grown spiritually? Should there be? And what about the progress a child has made in becoming more organized, collaborating successfully on a project, or learning to manage time and emotions well? The latter skills translate into a productive adulthood, but we don’t often stop to teach them, much less measure them in some quantifiable way.

So, these are the limitations of grades: they measure some very precise things that some kids can do very well, but they leave us without information about important types of competencies that students may or may not be developing, because grades generally don’t address religious, social, and emotional growth.

Can you imagine what it would be like to drive around a bunch of kids who were talking about research they were conducting on poverty in Bergen County, the action plan they were creating to combat it, and how that relates to Jewish obligations to feed the poor? Or what if our children, instead of comparing grades, were setting the Constitution against biblical and Talmudic law and wondering what it would look like to see Congress next to the Sanhedrin? And what if students came home and instead of correcting tests for more points, were revising artworks that represented episodes in the Torah, or refining questions they were going to explore in a beit midrash?

And what if they were undertaking these projects and activities not because they had to get a particular grade, but because they understood that the purpose of learning was not only to make them ready for the world of work, but also to make them better citizens, people capable of managing deep emotion, and more spiritually aware and ethically responsible Jews?

Manette Mayberg of the Mayberg Foundation, which funds JEIC, the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge, an organization that seeds projects to reimagine Jewish education, puts it like this:
“I know in both my heart and my head that we are doing a huge disservice to our people by imitating a system of evaluation designed for subjects like math and history. Those subjects don’t cut to the core of a person’s identity. They aren’t subjects unique to a people who have a responsibility to distinguish themselves among nations. Those subjects don’t inform the values that build a home or a marriage. They aren’t the basis for morality or ethical behavior. They don’t build future Jewish leaders. Success is reflected in the happiness and well-being of these day school graduates, not on a job title or income level.”


We now live in a world that’s full of data. We can get analytics on anything we want and learning to manage and absorb data is a skill we all must master. But when it comes to our children, I think we need to be more mindful of the types of data we focus on. Yes, we need grades to put on a transcript, so students can get into college, but those grades shouldn’t be what we emphasize as important to a well-lived Jewish life.

What we need to do is elevate learning and demand something deeper and truer from it. We should demand that it not only create depth of knowledge and refinement of skills, but nourishment for the soul and a desire to be our best selves.

Read the entire post at the Times of Israel

Updated: Nov. 14, 2018
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