Text, Context, and Knowledge Building: Creating, Crisscrossing, and Rising above Jewish Identity

From Section:
Formal Education
Jan. 03, 2021

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 86:4, 416-445 


Jewish education in Israel’s non-religious state (Mamlakhti) schools is intended to support an open-ended, pluralistic dialogue surrounding the question of Jewish identity. The distinct features of Knowledge Building Communities (KBCs) set them apart as a pedagogical approach that is particularly suitable for achieving this educational goal. In this article, we report on a year-long study that redesigned a tenth-grade Jewish philosophy class in Israel as a KBC.

Ever since the publication of the Shenhar Report (Ministry of Education, 1994), Jewish education in Israel’s Mamlakhti schools has posed a unique educational challenge, for two main reasons. First, it was grounded in the notion that education ought to serve as a site for generating new forms of Jewish identity, which is incompatible with the design of traditional learning environments. Second, because of the obvious connections to the ongoing tensions between secular and religious Jews in Israel and the issue of hadata.

In this article, we described our efforts to work towards a solution of this educational challenge. To do so, we first formulated the problem as a pedagogical one—the question being not what to teach, how much to teach, or even whether to teach at all, but rather how to teach? We then identified KBCs as a promising idea, because of the correlation between the epistemology that they embody and the goals of Jewish education in Israel’s Mamlakhti schools, the advancement of knowledge, and the pluralistic approach that it scaffolds. We conjectured that exploring Jewish identity in a KBC would accomplish the goals outlined by the Shenhar Report and the subsequent curricula it inspired, spurring an open-ended and pluralistic negotiation of what it means to be Jewish. We also conjectured that our learning environment would not be suspect of hadata, because it would empower students to define the goals of their own inquiry and offer their own interpretations.

Indeed, as indicated by our findings and elaborated on in the discussion section, the KBC provided an apt setting for the study of Jewish-Israeli Culture Studies. Due to the limited scope of our intervention, this study cannot in and of itself be taken as evidence that the KBC approach would achieve similar results in other contexts. Therefore, we intend to increase the scope of our intervention and extend it to additional contexts to articulate the potential and the limitations of the KBC approach in greater detail, a process which might guide others who wish to implement it as well.

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021
High schools | Jewish identity | Learning communities