To teach civics today, educators must contend with forces outside the classroom, forces that threaten the viability of American democracy. We all know the troubling statistics: Only 20% of Americans trust the government, 40% of Americans believe that the other party is a threat to the nation’s wellbeing, and a growing number of Americans believe that a “strong leader” who does not have to contend with elections might be better than our current democracy. We live in a country designed for self-governance, and yet less than half the population consistently votes.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
In These Times
This issue shows how Jewish day schools help students engage with serious social issues in ways that cast more light than heat. Whether the issues concern race or feminism, gun violence or identity, day schools of all kinds foster conversations and create programs that build understanding and give voice to opposing, often passionately held positions, while finding paths to achieve communal unity amidst divisiveness. They do so by adhering to the school's mission and to those values that unite us.
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Asking Race Questions
“Where are the Jews of color?” I asked myself as I sat in an auditorium full of Jewish educators. The daylong conference was focused on civics education in Jewish educational settings and drew hundreds of Jewish educators from throughout the New York area. And as I looked around, I noticed we were mostly, almost entirely, white.
Like many other Jewish schools, ours sometimes finds itself challenged by the conflict between the competing imperatives. On the one hand, we never want a family to have to consider our school’s perceived political positions when deciding whether or not to enroll their children. Nor would we want students to feel uncomfortable by the school imposing a particular view or activity on them that goes against their own values and beliefs. Those are considered red lines, yehareg ve‘al ya‘avor (let oneself be killed rather than violate) at our school.
The issue of female leadership, or lack of female leadership, in Jewish day schools is complex. Often the hurdles placed before women, or the doors closed to them, aren’t clearly visible. But empowering the women in our institutions is not only about fairness and equality; it’s about modeling for both male and female students, during their most formative years, that women are valued, have a place at the table, and can and should be leaders. Modeling this lesson through purposeful actions speaks volumes.
Adam is a peacock. He struts through the halls showing his feathers whenever he can. When I walk into a classroom where Adam is, his back is noticeably straight; he sits with seeming attentiveness and some designation of self-worth. He is not tall, but his solid frame gives him the appearance of height. He is capable of having different kinds of conversations than you might from boys his age. He has a biting sense of humor, sees irony all around him and is willing to share his insights.
2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference, a multiracial, multicultural gathering of upper school student leaders (grades 9-12) from across the US and abroad. SDLC focuses on self-reflecting, forming allies and building community. Led by a diverse team of trained adult and peer facilitators, participating students develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice through dialogue and the arts, and learn the foundations of allyship and networking principles.
Years ago, I heard two fifth graders speaking to each other, clearly parroting their parents’ views of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. One said in a dispassionate voice, “Don’t you know what the Palestinians are doing to the Israelis?” and the other responded, equally emotionless, “Don’t you know what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians?” Their conversation unfolded into a reasoned discussion. Would such a civil conversation be possible in today’s zeitgeist?
The most common abuse of power and influence on school boards is insidious because it is difficult to see and also likely happening right under your school board’s nose. You have likely seen it a thousand times, and although it may have irritated you, you would be in the minority if you saw it as pernicious. It often happens at a board or committee meeting, taking the board chair and head of school by surprise. The meeting agenda is derailed, along with productive and constructive conversation. The culprit usually sounds like some version of this: “I have heard many people say…”
Balancing the Seesaw: Striving for Accessibility and Financial Sustainability Within Our Day SchoolsFeb 07, 2019 Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Bryn Mawr, PA
When I was young, I loved playing outside on the seesaw. I’d scan the playground, searching for someone who might match my size so that we could get into a rhythm of play. As one of us went up, the other went down. My favorite thing was to try to balance the ends into a straight line. My partner and I would lock eyes, giggling as we tried to hold steady.
For many teachers, claims of fairness, particularly in middle grades, can be frustrating and challenging to manage. The phrase “That’s not fair!” haunted me when I first entered the classroom: How do I help students understand and navigate the emotions of their perceived injustices? For many teachers, claims of fairness, particularly in middle grades, can be frustrating and challenging to manage.
"This school is not a democracy." How many of us have heard that line from a teacher or school administrator during our time as a student? Whether they use an authoritative, tongue-in-cheek or exasperated tone, adults in school find themselves driven to assert their authority from time to time by disabusing students of the notion that “majority rules” in school.
Teachers and administrators at Jewish day schools want their students to be ethical and moral people who care about the world around them. They want them to be thoughtful, think deeply and take action. They want them to be motivated by their learning to make a difference. When cultivating these attributes, however, difficult conversations in the classroom are inevitable, and these difficult conversations can be challenging to manage and facilitate.
Yuval Noah Harari and other futurists have predicted that, in the not too distant future, a majority of professions will disappear as their human workforce becomes superfluous, replaced by algorithms and Artificial Intelligence. Teachers are included in the list of those to disappear. I am here to tell you why I don’t think he is right—at least not about the teachers.
In today’s world, teachers have to teach about race and racism in our country, delving into the complexities of race relations throughout American history, the progress that has been made, and the areas in which growth and change need to occur. As a classroom teacher in a Jewish day school, I have embraced the challenges that come with teaching about race in a predominantly homogeneous class. Prior to teaching any unit centered on race, I consider several key questions.
Jewish schools, as identity-based schools, and their leadership, can fall into the trap of assuming students share experiences based on a shared Jewish identity. This blind spot can compromise a climate of inclusion and interfere with student learning. Too much focus on unity can come at the expense of recognizing difference and acknowledging diversity within the community.
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