Beyond Institution-Building: Seymour Fox as an Educational Thinker: Reflections on Visions in Action: Selected Writings

From Section:
Trends in Jewish Education
Feb. 02, 2020
February 2020

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 86:1, 35-41 


The dominant perception of Seymor Fox as a leader and institution builder, then, has overshadowed Fox’s intellectual work and it is here that Jonathan Cohen, one of Fox’s distinguished former doctoral students, has done a great service in putting together an anthology of Fox’s writings published by the Mandel Foundation in Israel and Keter Publishing. Cohen, a longtime faculty member at the Hebrew University, has served as Director of the Melton Center for Jewish Education, as well as head of the Hebrew University’s School of Education…..

The Visions of Jewish Education book and the work surrounding it, both before and after, serve as an example for what deep educational reflection throughout the “levels of the vision-to-practice process:” can mean for improving the quality of Jewish education. That kind of work was aimed at helping to redeem Jewish education from, as Fox famously wrote, its “blandness.” Fox himself states well the goal he sees for preparing educational professionals as he describes the concept behind the Mandel School for Educational Leadership in the draft of an unpublished paper with which this anthology closes: “A successful graduate is one whose entire professional stance, educational commitment and behavior are guided by vision, and whose practice demonstrates a keen ability to translate vision into implementation” (Fox, 2000, p. 345)….

Visions in Action is a kind of intellectual “reclamation” project undertaken with great care and mastery by its editor Jonathan Cohen. In collecting Fox’s writings, Cohen has presented the case for Fox as being not only a great institution-builder and academic entrepreneur, but as a profound educational thinker who influenced generations of his students and colleagues. Cohen’s “Introduction” to this volume is a deep and probing exploration of Fox’s entire intellectual career. Cohen sees in Fox’s writings “a basic dialectical tension between what could be called the ‘normative’ and the ‘deliberative’ strain in his educational thought and practice” (Cohen, 2016, p. 10). By “normative” Cohen means working with a priori philosophical positions “held to be ‘true’ or ‘good’ concerning the nature of the world … the possibility of knowledge … and the essence of the human …. It then proceeds to derive an image of the ideally educated person, or the ideally educated collective that flows from those philosophical principles” (p. 11).

On the other hand the “deliberative” approach “does not start from a conception of ‘what’s right,’ or what the ‘right’ is. It starts from a ‘sense’ (as yet undefined) of ‘what’s wrong’ … .What’s ‘wrong’ here is not defined by some pre-conceived, philosophically grounded conception of the ‘good,’ but rather by the ‘pain’ suffered by the ‘patients’” (Ibid.). In this “Introduction” Cohen analyzes Fox’s writings collected in the volume along these two poles and in doing so he unpacks the depth and complexity of Fox’s work, guiding the reader’s experience in encountering this volume. By collecting Fox’s writings and demonstrating in his Introduction the importance of Fox’s contribution to both the thought and activities of Jewish education, Cohen has honored his teacher’s memory and done all of us in the field a great service.

Read the entire article here.

Updated: Mar. 24, 2020
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