Balancing Educational Practice with Psychological Theory: Lukinsky’s Study of a Bold Camp Ramah Curriculum

May. 26, 2016

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 82:2, pp. 159-177


Missing from the growing literature on Jewish camps is Lukinsky’s (1968) pioneering study of the curriculum to teach responsibility that he designed for the 1966 Ramah American Seminar. Reviewing this work I discovered that Lukinsky—under Schwab’s (1971) influence—creates a rare balance between his own perspectives as an educational practitioner turned researcher with those of Erik Erikson, the famed developmental psychologist. I suggest that we read his work as an example to all who call upon theories of psychological development on how to use those theories to illuminate our thinking while not allowing them to dominate our educational discourse.


I have tried to highlight what I find of enduring interest in Lukinsky’s work without holding it up as an exemplar of excellent educational research. Lukinsky’s maintaining the balance between educational discourse and psychological theory is not the same as his making the most convincing case for his educational intervention. Lukinsky could have made his case more convincingly had he devised measures internal to his study that attempted to document more closely what it would have meant for these campers to take more responsibility for their actions. The weakness of Lukinsky’s case study is that he never took that step and hence we are left with only a vague sense of to what extent these campers learned “to take responsibility” as Lukinsky defines that term.

But what Lukinsky does offer us are his final reflections on the essential uncertainty of working as an educator trying to realize in practice a bold educational idea. Educators need to articulate and strive for their ultimate educational goals. But they also need to keep testing those goals on the hard realties of their settings. This is a humbling experience. Here is Lukinsky’s closing statement about the humble role of the educator:

"He has no body of knowledge to convey, though he uses different kinds of knowledge in many different ways. There isn’t much more that he can do except require from himself the very exposure to experiences that he requires of others, the very ongoing reflection and action deriving from it. Responsibility cannot be conveyed to others. It can be worked on with them. Education for responsibility cannot be a matter of helping ‘others’ become responsible, a research experiment, a professional function alone. It demands participation from within." (Lukinsky, 1968, p. 221)

“It demands participation from within.” In this striking phrase I hear the balancing act that he learned from Schwab. Educators can learn much from theories like those offered by Erikson. But when working with all their powers to make something worthwhile happen, those forms of knowledge recede a bit, and what educators ultimately offer youth is their own participation in the struggle to become a more responsible human being. Lukinsky exemplified that struggle in Prell’s (2006) narrative when sitting in that Shabbat minyan he realized that this was his moment to act as a responsible educator. His response to that moment may represent his whole Torah of teaching responsibility on one foot.

Updated: May. 22, 2016