HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Editor

by Barbara Davis Issue: Formal-Informal Education
"Veshinantam levanechah, “And you shall teach your children.” The words of Devarim proclaim the overriding importance of Jewish education. Even more critical than one’s own learning is the education of Jewish youth. “Every community is required to appoint teachers; a city without a teacher should be put under a ban until the inhabitants thereof appoint one. If they persist in not appointing a teacher, the city should be destroyed, for the world exists only through the breath of school children” (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 245:7). But what constitutes education? These words resonate differently with us in the 21st century than they did for our ancestors.

Like fashion (though I shudder at the comparison), education has its trends. Outdoor education, service learning, cooperative learning, active learning, progressive education, critical pedagogy, youth empowerment, feminist-based education, and constructivism all have their adherents. Currently, Jewish educators are seeking to determine what aspects of the positive experiences of Jewish camp can be efficaciously applied in the more formal setting of the day school classroom.

The current issue of HaYidion examines the nature, impact, methods and importance of such experiential education—“informal education” in today’s parlance—which incorporates many different methodologies to provide context and frameworks for learning. Our authors address the many educational methods underway in schools (formal education) and in out-of-school (informal education) programs that constitute best practice.

At the Syracuse Hebrew Day School graduation, every 6th grader gives a speech. Most reflect on their teachers’ wonderful qualities and on what they have learned. And it has always struck me that the learning which is most memorable to them is principally experiential. They remember the electricity project, the visit from the Holocaust survivor, presenting “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?,” making synagogues from Legos, the Student Council tzedakah projects, the science fair and the drug quiz, and the visits to the senior citizen home. While learning cursive in 3rd grade is a surprisingly powerful experience (a bridge to maturity perhaps?), there is rarely any other mention of the curriculum or content to which they have been exposed for seven years.

This phenomenon informs the current exploration of informal education. As we seek to provide Jewish youth with the best possible education for their 21st century lives, be it secular or Judaic, we seek to incorporate those pedagogical techniques which are most meaningful and effective. Sometimes we learn these techniques from university scholars; sometimes we learn them from camp counselors, youth leaders, artists, technophiles, actors and inspired teachers. Good education takes many forms and occurs in many places, as the Torah tells us: “And ye shall teach them to your children, talking of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

We hope that this issue of RAVSAK’s HaYidion will provide you with inspiration and ideas to enhance the education—both formal and informal—in your own schools.♦

Dr. Barbara Davis is the Secretary of RAVSAK, Executive Editor of HaYidion and retired Head of School at the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, NY. Barbara can be reached at bdavis74@twcny.rr.com.

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Formal-Informal Education

If only school could be like camp… Many people’s fondest childhood memories are of camp with its unstructured days and enjoyable activities. Increasingly, under the rubric of informal or experiential education, schools are capturing some of the atmosphere of camp in the classroom and beyond. How can this model be adapted effectively to the educational rigor of a day school?

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