Monday, January 30, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
The true power of a community (or "community", depending on how far you feel we have come) such as Jedchat is not in the ability to create one hour speed-dating-like conversations that focus around a given topic in education. Nor is it in its ability to bring together educators from across the country, and sometimes the world, on a regular basis whereas previously we could only meet at the occasional conference.
No, for me the true power of Jedchat is when it becomes the springboard to further and more substantive communication and collaboration. For all of the wonder of twitter chats, the fact is that we communicate in that forum in mere soundbites; and while many of us have become quite skilled in saying a lot in 140 characters or less, there is clearly so much more we can say when given fuller forums.
I have had the privilege of taking advantage of this aspect of Jedchat twice in the past few weeks. A recent Jedchat focused on the issue of Project-Based Learning (PBL), a topic that I have recently become very interested in in my own teaching, and thus a topic that I had much to comment about during theJedchat. I signed off of the chat feeling both exhausted from the usual breakneck pace of the chat and exhilarated from being able to have such a substantive dialogue with my colleagues about something that I was deeply involved with in my day-to-day teaching life. However, that was only the beginning.
A few days after the chat, Debby Jacoby, a wonderful educator in San Francisco and a super-avid tweep, contacted me wanting to speak in more detail about PBL. And so it was that Debby and I found time to Skype from one coast to the other to discuss the various benefits, challenges, and possibilities that are involved in PBL.
Around the same time, Dr. Moshe Krakowski of Yeshiva University got in touch. In addition to serving as a professor in YU's Azrieli graduate school of Jewish Education, Dr. Krakowski also moderates a CoP (community of practice) of educators who hold a monthly phone conference on the topic of PBL. Dr. Krakowski asked if I would join the CoP and if I would lead the next discussion, relating my experiences and future plans with this approach to teaching. I happily agreed and this past Thursday I had the privilege of speaking with roughly ten educators from across the country in a very spirited dialogue about PBL.
To my mind, this is the true power of the Jedchat community - when the once-weekly "meetings" become a time to lay the ground work for future conversations. I have already had encounters with colleagues from Jedchat where our live conversations have simply picked up from where the Jedchat discussion left off, and the chance to parlay Jedchat discussions into live meetings, conferences, and skype sessions is indicative of the fact that Jedchat is becoming a significant tool in the creation of a cohesive and coherent network of Jewish educators.
(cross-posted on jedchat.edublogs.org)
Monday, January 9, 2012
It is hard to formulate what should be the proper response to the events in Beit Shemesh (and Yerushalayim and New Square for that matter) from the perspective of a Centrist Orthodox American educator. Yes, it is important to consider that someone living in a different world than where the events are taking place is bound to have somewhat of a skewed perspective. And as someone who has fundamental disagreements with the Charedi approach to so many things, I am bound to either be too harsh or to overcompensate and excuse things that I find inexcusable.
But at the end of the day, I have a hard time justifying, even in my best moment of dan l'chaf zechut (loosely translated as walking a mile in someone else's moccasins), actions such as spitting on little girls, calling those girls prostitutes, Jews throwing dung at Jewish bookstores, and dressing up your children as Jews in Nazi Germany when your own recent ancestors might have been those Jews in Germany and you should understand the vast differences between the situations.
As such, we come to the only mussar schmooze I ever give my students. I tell my students that when all is said and done, there are two questions that they should ask themselves if they are unsure if their actions are appropriate:
1) Is this what Hashem wants me to do?
2) Will this help bring Moshiach?
Simple or simplistic as the questions sound, they require some deeper thinking. Asking whether or not Hashem wants you to do something has nothing to do with deciding that your understanding of the verses about Shabbat mean that God wants you to throw stones at Shabbat violators or sit outside in shorts in your hammock on Saturday afternoon. Rather, it means that one should consider whether or not he is acting in accordance with what he can honestly say is the direction that the classical sources are pointing, or if he is just following his own conscience or desires and hoping that there is a source or two out there that can back him up. This does not necessarily work for halacha, but I am pretty sure that I would decide that vandalism is not condoned by any of the sources that I have read.
The second question requires one to remember why our Sages tell us that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed - baseless hatred. There is no question that we are an argumentative people, and we seem to relish that reputation. However, we are also fairly firm on the point that disagree does not mean despise. A person who spits on an 8-year old girl is a person who does not ask himself what he is doing to restore a sense of brotherhood among the Jewish people. He is a person who is not looking to increase peace; only to increase the spread of what he views as "right".
A challenge of raising students to keep an open mind is the danger that they will get so good at nuance that they will be unable to take strong positions on issues and will be unable to fully recognize when someone or something is horribly wrong. It is imperative that we train our students to be sensitive to how to find the proper path so that they will be capable of recognizing when someone has undoubtedly stepped off of it.