Philosophy and Empirical Evidence: Achieving Vision Through Research

Jan. 26, 2005

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 71, Issue 1, pages 67 – 94 

Ben-Avie and Comer describe how Jewish day schools and the Yale Child Study Center's School Development Program (SDP) share a common agenda regarding the aim of education. The foundational science of education is child development, advocates James P. Comer in such seminal works as School Power (1980) and Waiting For A Miracle (1998). SDP, the educational change initiative founded by Comer, informed the design of the current study, which is an empirical exploration of how the climate of relationships in Jewish day schools impede or promote the process through which children forge a relationship to the Jewish people.


Among the schools that participated in the study, the following patterns were discerned:


  • The parents perceived that the students are motivated to achieve. The students perceived that they are motivated to achieve.
  • The staff perceived that they are dedicated to student learning and have high expectations for their students. The students perceived quality relationships between the teachers and the students.
  • The parents perceived that their involvement in the schools is at a low level. The students shared their perceptions.
  • The staff members perceived that they do not collaborate well together.
  • The students perceived that they do not get along well together.


These consistent patterns indicate that while the schools may be fine centers of academic learning, relationships within the school communities may be tension-laden. Within schools, there are fault-lines in the web of relationships that support students' learning and development. For example, tension in the relationship between home and school may prevent the emergence of a seamless web of authority. For Jewish schools in particular, strong continuity between school and home messages is important. Other fault-lines include staff interpersonal relations, student-teacher relations, and student interpersonal relations.


The authors conclude that the methods used in this study should be adopted in forwarding Jewish education:


 "Schools weigh alternative philosophical “visions” of Jewish education. Child development knowledge is used as a filter for determining the likely outcomes of these visions. And the science of child development, as an empirical discipline, is used to help create evaluation methods linked to targeted outcomes (one example is the school climate method). Together, the visionaries and the researchers interpret the results. This process has actually been practiced by the Yale School Development Program for over 35 years with outstanding results. We recommend this process to Jewish day schools as they confront the challenges ahead, whenever they find that their climate is not what they want it to be and/or not conducive to long-term learning and retention by students."

Updated: Jul. 28, 2008