Advancing the Learning Agenda in Jewish Education (2018), coedited by Jon Levisohn and Jeffrey Kress, is an exhortation to our field and a strong step forward toward creating the agenda they wish to see. From the very title, Levisohn and Kress make their aim explicit: they want their audience, the scholars, policymakers, and stakeholders in Jewish education, to take the next step in improving our field by putting learning higher on our agenda. They contend that for all the efforts in the past 30 years to reinvigorate Jewish education through new organizations, materials, and pedagogical approaches, stakeholders (including researchers) have paid insufficient attention to what they call “the learning agenda.”
What do they mean? Scholarship and attention in our field, they argue, focuses on what educational leaders, teachers, and program designers do, or the materials and technologies they use, or the structure of the organizations in which they do them. Instead, Levisohn and Kress would have us pay much more attention to the learners, how they process these inputs and what comes out of the educating experience. When desired outcomes are unclear, underassessed, and unconnected to the experience of real learners, they argue, our field cannot succeed in its efforts to strengthen Jewish education. In short, they urge us to shift our gaze (and our research, discussion, and funding priorities) from teachers and teaching to learners and learning.
To move us in that direction, Levisohn and Kress bring together a roster of some of the leading researchers in Jewish education and the learning sciences, spanning fields including science education, Holocaust education, cultural studies, cognitive science, developmental psychology, history education, and philosophy. Bookended by an introduction and concluding chapter by the coeditors, the heart of the book is a compilation of 10 stand-alone chapters, each of which deserves much more discussion than a book review can provide.
This book grew out of a 2015 conference at Brandeis University’s Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education on the same topic: advancing the learning agenda in Jewish education, where each of the contributing authors presented drafts of these chapters
In their introduction, Levisohn and Kress cite Sharon Feiman-Nemser’s early work on first-year teachers and make an intriguing analogy. Feiman-Nemser found that, as they grow in confidence and experience, novice teachers learn to shift their attention from themselves to their students. So, too, Levisohn and Kress urge, should scholarship in Jewish education expand its focus from being primarily about pedagogy or organizational structures to being primarily (or at least equally) about learning. With this book, Levisohn and Kress take the first step for us, creating a fact on the ground where Jewish education scholarship and practice and the learning sciences do have much to contribute to one another.
Read the entire review at the Journal of Jewish Education.