BJPA Reader's Guide: Israel Education

Jun. 04, 2014

Source: BJPA


From Professor Barry Chazan's Introduction: "This BJPA Readers Guide on Israel Education is a valuable resource for students, scholars, researchers, and educators. Moreover, it is a document that may well constitute a significant barometer of an important change concerning the place of Israel in American Jewish education. This Guide is so timely and refreshing. It is an accurate scan of the issues, topics, discussions, and trends in the field and reflects what I believe is a new blossoming, a new maturity, and new hope for a subject held so dearly.


Several core issues are both reflected in this Guide and constitute the agenda for the field in the coming years:

  • What is "Israel education"? This question, already the subject of several of the recent books, is closely related to the field of analytic educational philosophy, in that it seeks to clarify words, phrases, concepts and their diverse meanings. Is it ...'political education' ... 'religious education' ... 'education in critical thinking' ... 'character education' ... or 'education for knowledge or skills or attitudes'? Is it some of these, none of these, or all of these? The discussion of Israel education cannot proceed without addressing these questions.
  • What is the relationship between Israel education and Jewish education? This question ultimately is about the connection between Israel and Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism. Is Israel education related to, distinct from, and/or equivalent to Jewish education? Is Israel education religious in its essence, or is it about the Jewish people, or is it about personal Jewishness and meaning making? These questions have great importance for curriculum, professional development, and the general practice of Israel education.
  • Can Israel education develop a commitment and love of Israel while also developing a critical and reflective approach (sometimes called the "complexity" issue)? Sometimes the Israel education discussion has fallen into the precarious "either-or" syndrome: (either) should one teach the "idealized" Israel or should one teach the "real" Israel? The actual question is whether one can teach for commitment (what Paul Tillich called "ultimate faith) and also for critical questioning and critique (what Tillich called 'ultimate doubt')? Are these two qualities - love and criticality - mutually inclusive or exclusive? How do we deal with the various options in practice in a developmentally sound way?
  • What is the 'subject-matter' of Israel education? Educators have been trained to think about the role of subject-matter (contents) in their work. One knows what texts and topics are the "subject-matter" of Bible education, teaching Jewish history, teaching Hebrew, or teaching about holidays. It has been less clear to Israel educators what are the "texts", topics, and subject matter of their work. Is it history, politics, culture, theology, current events, or maybe none of these or all of these? Maybe even the real subject is the child!
  • How do new developments in the neurosciences, epistemology, and education affect the practice of Israel education? The study of thinking, feeling, knowing, and educating is in the midst of a great revolution. Scholars in laboratories and writers like Daniel Kahaneman, Dan Ariely, David Brooks, Nissim Nicholas Taleb, and Martin Seligsman are revamping our notions of mind. Prior paradigms (Charles Dickens' satire of education as "filling an empty tank; Bloom's taxonomy of The Cognitive, the Affective, the Psycho-Motor; SAT categories of mathematical and linguistic skillsets) are being challenged by more integrative, holistic, and systemic paradigms which imply new and potentially much more sophisticated outcome measurements.
  • What is the role of the Israel experience (the trip) in Israel education? From 1948-1999 the trip to Israel (re-branded in the 1980's as the Israel experience) played a powerful but peripheral role in non-Orthodox Israel education (in contrast, it became an important component of Orthodox Jewish education). Indeed, these were generally two separate domains with the trip usually linked to youth organizations and movements, or to creative independent educators. Today an increasing number of day schools have made the trip part of their school curriculum. What does the unprecedented fact of a live dynamic country mean for any conception of Israel education? Can the notion of Israel (or Jewish) education in any way be conceptualized without the Israel trip integrated as an inherent dimension of that education? Or might the reality be, as Birthright might claim, that the Israel experience (particularly between ages 18-26) is a new alternative Jewish educational system?
  • Is there a connection between Hebrew and Israel education? The emergence of a new seriousness toward Israel education might re-open the question of a new approach to Hebrew in Jewish education. The long-trodden path of Hebrew language instruction, like Israel education, is paved with good intentions -- but it has so many potholes. Can what we know about language, culture, and peoplehood lead to a dramatic reformation and re-orientation in our theory and practice of teaching Hebrew? Can we take heed of Solomon Schechter's 1904 reflection that the existence of a Diaspora that is not bi-lingual, encompassing the lingua franca of Hebrew, is precarious?
  • How do we evaluate? The era of doing Jewish education without evaluating is hopefully over. The task in this instance has to do with methodologies, desired outcomes, validity, and reliability when measuring in the realm of Israel education. Is our outcome goal Israel Knowledge? Israel Advocacy? Financial Support? Can one measure Israel outcomes without a sophisticated developmental pedagogic Israel schemata? Can Israel education be measured with the same tools that we do (or don't) use to measure general education or other aspects of Jewish education? "
Updated: Jun. 25, 2014