By Dr. Gil Graff
As a graduate student in the field of educational administration in the 1980s, I was introduced to Public Law 94-142. This (at that time) relatively new legislation called for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for qualifying students. An IEP was designed to help educators and related service providers best meet the needs of each eligible student. Though PL 94-142 applied to students with a disability meeting government-defined requirements for special education services, it seemed to me then – as it does now – that the notion of an Individualized Education Program represents good practice with respect to addressing the educational needs of every learner.
I think of this each time I read posts touting one or another experience or Jewish educational setting as “the” answer to achieving significant Jewish learning outcomes for all participants. Day schools, camps, synagogue-sponsored programs, early childhood centers, “freestanding” after-school programs, Israel trips, youth groups and a host of short term and longer term Jewish educational opportunities annually engage hundreds of thousands of Jewish children and teens. All too often, claims are made that this or that framework or experience is the exclusive path to “ensuring the Jewish future.”
Several years ago, a philanthropist deeply dedicated to a particular framework of Jewish education told me – when I suggested that there is no single educational setting that is, per se, ”the” answer to the Jewish educational needs of all students – that, as a person working at a BJE, I no doubt express this view for “political” reasons; surely, I must recognize that the setting he supports is best. My reply was to cite Deuteronomy 6:7: “you shall teach them diligently to your children.” The Torah does not presume to identify a particular modality as “the” key to effectively educating successive generations (that parents are a vital part of the educational process is, however, clear). Famously, Proverbs reminds us to teach each child in accordance with the way appropriate to the individual learner.
The great historian of American education, Lawrence Cremin, aptly defined “education” as “the deliberate, systematic and sustained effort to transmit, evoke or acquire knowledge, attitudes, values, skills or sensibilities as well as any outcomes of that effort.” Over the course of more than two centuries in the United States – and at an accelerated pace, in recent decades – there has been a proliferation of mechanisms for engaging participants in Jewish education of a “deliberate, systematic” sort. How fortunate we are to live during a time of ever-expanding opportunities for the Jewish educational engagement of children, families and adults.
Parents are, increasingly, creating a Jewish educational IEP for their child(ren), rather than simply “buying into” a single provider “package.” To help parents navigate the complex field of possibilities, a number of groups have created robust websites of locally available Jewish educational opportunities, with associated “Concierge services” for Jewish education (see, for example, www.JKidLA.com, a BJE Los Angeles-operated site). The best path of Jewish education for each learner will vary from person to person and will look different at various times in the life of the individual. As with any IEP, parent involvement is essential to nurturing each student’s unique journey. Helping parents navigate options and chart meaningful journeys with sensitivity to their child(ren’s) needs is an opportunity to be embraced. It facilitates the exercise of an important parental role, giving contemporary expression to “you shall teach them diligently to your children.”
Dr. Gil Graff is Executive Director of BJE: Builders of Jewish Education.