Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Meditation and learning

A new stress reducing program, "mindfulness training", is being tested in classroom across the US:

"Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr. Saltzman said.

A recent study of teenagers by Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, Calif., found that meditation techniques helped improve mood disorders, depression, and self-harming behaviors like anorexia and bulimia."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

What do students remember?

After all is said and done, how much of what students learn in school do they remember?

In the classes I took with Nechama Leibowitz, she often said that students do not remember anything (if memory serves, her point was that teachers should spend more time teaching methods of study, rather than content).

In any case, for those of us who wonder about this, I thought that the "Five minute University" might be something to consider. See it at

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

who runs the show

One of the perennial questions I struggle with is who should be running the show in Jewish day schools. On the one hand, schools are started by and designed to serve the community. As such, the community should determine what is appropriate for it - policies, educational agenda, pedagogical approach, etc. On the other hand, community people and lay leaders are neither religious authorities nor are they educational professionals (I assume the principals and heads of school are educational professionals). Then again, are the parents the ultimate consumers, since they pay the bills, or is it our students?

Another way of viewing this is the question of the nature of schools. Are schools communal organs, part of the religious establishment, or professional environments in which the professionals direct the show?

In the ideal there would be convergence between the groups - communities would hire leaders and educators who are completely in sync with the community. But we don't live in an ideal world.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Gay Parade and Orthodox Judaism

The Jerusalem Post reports that rabbis have enacted a curse against any involved in any way with the planned Gay parade that is due to take place in Jerusalem on June 21st (see

While the paper puts the onus on extreme anti-Zionist Hareidi rabbis, Jews from many streams of Orthodox Judaism were involved in threatening last year's attempted parade with violence. The parade was eventually changed to a rally at the Hebrew University, as the police could not otherwise guarantee the safety of the participants; they feared there would be loss of life.

Many orthodox Jews saw the cancellation as a victory. Essentially however, it was a black day for Judaism. Orthodox Jews proved that they had lost the debate, that their arguments were unpersuasive and that they lacked a common language with the general public.

If we want Orthodox Judaism to be taken seriously we must remove the stain of barbarity and threat. Let us use logical persuasion rather than violent threats – and if our logic loses, then let us wear sackcloth and mourn; but let us not dishonour Judaism with threats of violence against our fellow Jews.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Anti-Semitism: Good for the Jews

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, wrote a provocative piece in today's Wall Street Journal, arguing that moderate anti-Semitism is good for the Jews and for Israel. He writes:
Publicly visible anti-Semitic advocacy is, at least in America today, an important informational tool: It informs American Jews of the value of Jewish institutions, and it presents this information in an especially emotionally effective way.

I would like to think that people should identify with the Jewish community for positive reasons – that is the way I think that children should be educated – and his claim that it is negative statements that carry the most weight in creating group identification among Jews is profoundly disturbing to me, especially since I fear that it might be true.