HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Threefold Pluralism: Response by Stuart Zweiter

by Stuart Zweiter Issue: Pluralism
TOPICS : Pluralism

Michael Kay outlines the challenges facing the growing pluralistic school community in its desire to provide an effective educational program that addresses the complex, multiple needs of a parent and student body deliberately composed of diverse elements.

Several thoughts to further the discussion: What distinguishes, and I believe, positively energizes pluralistic schools is the dialectical tension created by the desire to establish and maintain identity while addressing the needs of the diverse population. What is needed is the sharing of ideas regarding how the issues resulting from this tension can be addressed philosophically and programmatically. Defining the seemingly indefinable term “pluralism” or for that matter “postmodernism” seems to contribute nothing toward addressing the inherent tension.

As Kay suggests, each school must work out its own way of dealing with these issues in determining its own particular vision, mission, school culture and policy. But this is really what any school must do; this is not a process particular to ideologically pluralistic schools. Interestingly, in the case of pluralistic schools, a broad resolution of this tension would be counterproductive. The dialectical tension actually defines and enriches the school culture and program.

The description of atmospheric and informational pluralism illustrates a situation that is not radically different than similar issues that exist in select modern Orthodox schools. Kay’s anecdote about the bookshelf with siddurim from four different denominations reminded me of a class in Job that I taught almost 25 years ago in a modern Orthodox high school where students were encouraged to bring commentaries ranging from Mikra’ot Gedolot to the Anchor Bible. The students appreciated the fact that this enriched the discussion significantly, and they also walked away with the clear understanding that there is no such thing as a text that belongs to any particular denomination and that they should be prepared to engage in any and all types of text study and analysis. Is this not, according to Kay’s definition, actually a form of interactional pluralism?

What is referred to as atmospheric pluralism describes a healthy environment that should be encouraged in any school that welcomes and encourages an ideologically diverse student body. There may be a difference in degree between a modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and community school, but not in the underlying goal in this area.

Interactional pluralism reads like a description of educationally sound active learning and student engagement. Should this not be going on in any fine school? The difference may be in the degree and in the emphases, but again, each school, pluralistic or otherwise, would be conducting its own active engagement and in the process refining its own particular culture.

Kay refers to the difficulty faced by these schools in understanding and celebrating diverse viewpoints. I believe that students nurtured in educational environments characterized by encouragement and respect for diversity will learn to exemplify that in their own lives. That alone will be an incredibly important contribution that these schools will make to the quality of Jewish life and community.

I maintain that one of the most effective ways to achieve this is by spending substantial amounts of time (probably significantly more than theses schools do now) on in-depth study of Jewish texts. While text study naturally and commonly promotes disagreement, at the same time it blurs differences, and is one tangible way to bring students together to focus on what they share in common. ♦

Stuart Zweiter is Director of The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, The School of Education, Bar Ilan University. He can be reached at stuart@lookstein.org.

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Pluralism

Pluralism is central to the mission and self-understanding of many community day schools. The questions of what that term means, and how it is implemented in the policies and educational practices of the school, are difficult to answer and require reflection and discussion among all stakeholders. Explore larger perspectives on, and disagreements over, pluralism and ways to approach Jewish study with pluralistic methodology.

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