Redesigning Jewish Education for the 21st Century

Redesigning Jewish Education for the 21st Century, the initial Working Paper of the Lippman Kanfer Institute, lays out the case for change in how we do and deliver Jewish education in order to keep it relevant and effective in the 21st century.  The Paper describes three core "design principles" for the Jewish education we need: that it be learner-centered, relationship-infused, and life-focused.  The Working Paper imagines what an educational system based on these principles might look like and discusses a variety of strategies for making the changes needed.
From the Executive Summary:
The process of preparing this Working Paper was  innovative. For many months, the paper lived on a wiki — a web-based tool for collaborative writing and editing. The material that has found its way into the paper comes from a variety of sources: a web survey conducted early in the process, several “mini-research studies” carried out by the Institute, and — above all — the contributions of a distinguished Advisory Council of educators, academics, religious leaders, communal activists, and experts in a number of different fields. The Advisory Council met twice as a group during the course of the paper’s preparation and strongly shaped both its direction and specific content. In addition, individual Advisory Council members made numerous contributions to the paper’s content and language, both via the wiki and through direct contacts with the Institute’s staff.
Part One of the paper, The Case for Change, describes the dramatic political,economic, social and cultural changes which have taken place over the last two and a half decades which affect virtually every dimension of North American Jewish life. It emphasizes the need for Jewish education to undertake a major redesign of Jewish education to keep it relevant and effective in the 21st century.
Part Two, Design Principles for the 21st Century, calls for a new set of
design principles for Jewish education itself built around three key concepts:
1. Empowering the learner as an active agent in fashioning his/her own learning experience.
2. The centrality of relationships and the social experience of learning as dynamic forces
that shape an evolving identity and build commitment and community in a fragmented world.
3. Jewish learning as “life-centered”, addressing the totality of our aspirations, concerns, and experiences.
Part Three, Envisioning the Future: Educational Journeys, cites examples of programs that already exist and models that have been imagined, but not yet implemented, while "following" three imagined Jewish families on their educational journeys. A larger listing of existing programs is presented in Appendix 2.
Part Four, From Design Principles to a Strategy for Change, outlines a list of principles needed to bring about a systematic change in the Jewish education scene and identifies a small number of potentially high-leverage strategic interventions aligned with these change principles that could help move the Jewish educational enterprise toward wide-scale adoption of the design principles:
1. Identify, Empower and Connect a Cadre of Change Agents
2. Create a “Literature of Success”
3. Establish “Hothouses” for Collaborative Innovation
4. Provide Incentives for Change
5. Introduce New Modalities for Change
The five action steps proposed here are all “scalable.” We can begin work on them tomorrow. To have their full impact, however, they will need to be implemented broadly and systematically. This will require that resources be committed not only to specific programs and initiatives, but to putting in place the infra-structure for ongoing large-scale change outlined here. This investment is not only worthwhile, it is essential. Jewish education can be even better than it is — and it must be if Jewish life is to thrive. The investment is also prudent, since it will leverage the billions of dollars already being spent on Jewish education that could yield far more than it does.
The combination of the design principles and the intervention strategies laid out in this paper can produce the change that is needed to increase this yield. The result will be a Jewish education that is truly redesigned for the 21st century — one that will engage a wider array of participants, inspire energetic learning, connect more organically to other dimensions of Jewish and human life, and evolve continuously to remain relevant and effective in a changing world.
Updated: Aug. 29, 2010