A Response to David Bryfman
By Rabbi Joshua Fenton
Last week an article hit my inbox with a provocative title, “Why Jewish Education Doesn’t Suck.” I was excited to read what I imagined would be an explanation of how great Jewish education is and how the real challenge is not Jewish education but the Jewish education narrative. And while the article did express some of the thoughts and sentiments I’d hoped to read, I think it missed the mark.
Jewish education doesn’t just not suck. It’s actually pretty darn amazing, and more so every day. As was expressed in the article, not only are there more people engaged in Jewish learning today than at any other time in history, we’re also doing it a lot better. We’ve come to understand the responsibility and opportunity in teaching for meaning making and personal growth. We’ve developed a much deeper understand of what it means to be student centric and how to let the needs, interests, and individual passions of learners drive content and approach. And we’re also teaching skills and knowledge in much more effective ways.
But the reason Jewish education doesn’t suck isn’t any of those reasons above, at least they’re not the primary reasons. It doesn’t suck because along with more learners than ever before, there are more teachers than ever before.
Never in the history of the Jews have there been more passionate, lovers of Torah and yiddishkeit engaged in the practice of Jewish learning. Schools of education mint new Jewish educators every year. Yeshivot, Batei Midrash, and other post denominational institutions are launching certificate programs and teacher training programs. Fellowships and intensives abound, and they all speak to the growing number of people interested in the work of Jewish learning and education.
The reason Jewish education doesn’t suck is because over the last 30-50 years, thousands of learners have emerged from our schools to become educators themselves. They bring with them the knowledge of what it means to be a student coupled with the skills they’ve learned in one of the many programs listed above. And the result undoubtedly the largest community of Jewish educators in history. There are over 10,000 members of the Facebook group ‘Jedlab,’ just to name one community.
So while I appreciate David explaining a bit about why Jewish education “doesn’t suck,” and in particular why it’s such an exciting time to be a Jewish educator, I fear he missed the point. Jewish education doesn’t suck because Jewish educators are doing a great job.
Rabbi Joshua Fenton is Executive Director of Studio 70: A Jewish Learning Laboratory.