Thursday, December 3, 2009

Call for papers: Teaching for Ethics

Jewish Educational Leadership invites articles for the Spring 2010 issue focusing on Teaching for Ethics.

Ethics can be inculcated in a variety of ways, conscious and unconscious, reactive and proactive. This issue looks to explore the question of teaching for ethical behavior, addressing topics including, but not limited to the following questions:

  • How do we translate ethical teaching into ethical behavior?
  • How does teacher behavior affect student ethics?
  • How do school policies and their implementation impact on the ethical environment?
  • How can teachers deal with plagiarism in the Internet-age?
  • Are there Jewish perspectives on moral development?
  • How should schools react to unethical student behavior outside of school?
  • How do we deal with conflicts between Jewish texts and contemporary Western ethics?

For more information on the types of articles and guidelines for writers go here.

Please send abstracts before February 28, 2010.

Please send your abstracts, final copies, or questions to the Editor, Zvi Grumet

zvi at lookstein dot org.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mock Trials on Shabbat

So your school gets into a national competition, but the finals takes place on Shabbat.
Here's a thorny issue for an Orthodox day school...

If memory serves, there was a story about a young Dr. Tova Lichtenstein having difficulties taking finals at Harvard on Shavu'ot, and the school turning down Rav Soloveitchik's request to allow her to do so (remember that the Rav was the Chief Rabbi of Boston).

The contemporary story appears here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Illiteracy Epidemic

I was asked to respond to an article by Dr. Shawn Zelig Aster that appeared in the recent issue of the Yeshiva College student newspaper,the Commentator. Entitled "The Illiteracy Epidemic -- Is there a Scandal of OrthodoxIndifference?" Dr. Aster questions the success of day school education in imparting basic text skills in its graduates.

My response appeared on the hirhurim blog, and I am cross-posting it here.

I invite responses from Lookjed readers.



The illiteracy epidemic

We all know the inspiring story of Rabbi Akiva who reached the age of 40 as an illiterate ignoramus, yet through dedicated effort succeeded in becoming a Torah scholar of renown and a leader of the Jewish people. A less well-known story about Rabbi Akiva is his personal testimony that before he began to study, he had a negative - indeed, a violent - attitude towards those who did learn Torah. When describing his youthful desire to meet a Torah scholar so that he would have the opportunity to injure him, he specifically said that he would bite him in a manner that would break his bones (see Pesahim 49b).

Thus, the shepherd Akiva had two strikes against him. Not only was he an ignoramus, he also had a profound hatred for the institution of Torah study.

What drove a person of this character to submit to the ignominy of studying the alphabet as an adult, sitting in the same classroom with small children? What made him change his attitude and his ways? According to numerous stories in the Talmud and Midrash it was his devotion to his beloved Rachel, the woman he married.

The success of Rabbi Akiva's personal story notwithstanding, I do not think that employing attractive women to encourage young men to study Torah is a viable long-term plan to encourage Jewish literacy. Nevertheless, there are important lessons for educators in these stories.

Jewish schools - in every generation, but especially in an era of openness and choices - have a crucial responsibility concurrent with their job of teaching Jewish literacy and texts. They have to also teach them to value, love and desire to participate in Jewish life (in educational jargon we say that we need to get students to develop in both the cognitive realm and the affective realm).

In his article, Shawn Zelig Aster laments the lack of preparedness that he finds in students entering his class after 12 years of day school education. Of course, many of his students have had another year (or two) of study before they embark descend on the Yeshiva University campus. What did they do during their year in Israel, which was, in theory, dedicated in its entirety to the study of Jewish texts? My friend and colleague Yoel Finkelman set out to study this very question, and in a research study that he tantalizingly titled"Virtual Volozhin" examined what goes on in those programs. What he found was that many of these institutions put more effort into socializing their students into the value system of the Jewish community than they do actually teaching them to study on their own. (Don't just take my word for it. You can see Finkelman's study at ). Perhaps I should mention that in my own study on one-year Israel programs (see ), most of the questions thatI asked related to issues of belief and practice - which showed marked"improvement" over the year - rather than accomplishments in text study. One question did ask how students graded themselves with regard to understanding a Hebrew Gemara shiur - 12% rated themselves as "excellent" at the beginning of the year; at the end of the year 16% gave themselves an "excellent" score. I would have hoped for better.

Which of those two goals is more important? Which responsibility is primary? Given a choice, should schools emphasize the mind or the soul? For different schools in different communities, for different teachers working with different students, the answers will vary. It is possible that a school that chooses to define its vision and goals as developing a student's Jewish identity, producing graduates who are committed to Jewish values, to Israel, etc., may be successful in attaining its objectives, even if it does not produce students who can parse a Jewish text. (I may or may not choose to send my child to such a school.) It would be irresponsible to say that "real" knowledge is the abilityto study Jewish texts and that belief and a sense of connection with Judaism is merely window dressing. Current educational theory recognizes that "intelligence" comes in all shapes and sizes, and that the ability to interact with others or to reflect on oneself intelligently (interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences), for example, must be valued together with the traditional modalities of literacy (reading, riting, rithmetic) - see Howard Gardner's work formore information on this - .

Nevertheless, Aster's question is a good one. Given that we expect all of our students to learn basic concepts of literacy, after 12 years+ of day school education "Why can't Chani (or Moshe) read?" And more importantly, what should we do about it now?

There are many reasons why day school students don't learn to read,write and understand Hebrew.
* Americans don't learn foreign languages.
* Learning a language is difficult and time-consuming. It's a turn off (and, after all, we want to turn these kids on).
* Since it is hard to learn Hebrew, our community has made many basic Hebrew books available in English translation.
* Now that there are English translations, learning Hebrew is not all that essential.
* Since everyone learns from English translations, it is OK that my child's teacher can't read Hebrew in the original.

I am sure you can come up with more. Of course, as Aster argues, any short term advantages of this system will become disadvantages when the more mature student realizes that he or she is functionally illiterate.

In many day schools today there in no culture of speaking Hebrew or of seeing knowledge of Hebrew language as a value. Responsible educators should see that as a challenge - there is a need to change the culture in order to accomplish both the cognitive and long-term affective the goals of Jewish schools. Difficult as it is, changing the culture of education is something that can be done. If KIPP schools can take traditionally low-achieving inner city kids and turn them into successful learners by engaging parents and students and creating aculture of learning (see ), our schools can do this with Hebrew language. Learning to read Hebrew should begin early and be presented as something challenging, but attainable. Today there are a variety of available systems for teaching Hebrew in the classroom that make use of current pedagogic methods of language acquisition.

Effective knowledge of Hebrew (and I am aware of those who claim that modern Ivrit and the language of Tanakh cannot be compared, but that is not our discussion at the moment) is essential for enjoying learning. I recall having the privilege of attending a course in pedagogy given by Nehama Leibowitz. After a few classes, a woman who taught 5th grade in a day school in the mid-West asked Nehama why her students enjoyed their secular studies classes so much more than their limudei kodesh classes. In answer to Nehama's question of when they started learning Humash, the teacher proudly said that they started in kindergarten. Nehama's response was that such children would never love learning Torah, since they never had the opportunity to learn its language. Her recommendation was that they should not start learning Humash until 2nd grade, devoting their time prior to that in learning the relatively small number of shorashim that make up all the words in Sefer Bereshit. Only when they could independently read and understand would they enjoy their learning.

A while back, I received a post on Lookjed, the Jewish educators'discussion list that I moderate as part of my work at the Lookstein Center at Bar-Ilan University. In it, an 11th grade rebbe in a modern Orthodox school described what he did in his classroom, and turned to the list for reactions to how he dealt with the student who admitted that he was functionally illiterate (to see the discussion, go to,1310,1368 ). Most of thepeople who responded excoriated him for his willingness to test the student on themes and ideas, ignoring his deficiencies in simple reading and text recognition. While the author of the post took the criticism well, I felt that it was somewhat unfair, as he would have been hard-pressed to undo years of cultural messages and missed opportunities in the space of a twice weekly 45 minute Humash class.

Shawn Zelig Aster's call for a rededication of resources and attention to teaching Hebrew in elementary and high schools, however, is not being made from a high school classroom, but from Yeshiva University, whose abilities and resources far outstrip anything that a local yeshiva high school might have. Much as today's elementary school students deserve better training and preparation so that they will beable to feel comfortable studying traditional texts and participating in the mesorah, today's adult students deserve no less. Perhaps YU should offer serious ulpan classes while its freshman are students in Israel, or require that its associated one-year Israel programs do so. Maybe there should be a language prerequisite for attending Bible classes in YU, as well as remedial courses for those students whose abilities are not sufficient or for students who recognize that they have missed out on some of the basics. In the intensive Talmud programs it might be worthwhile to offer shiurim for students who need to work on their basic skills, even after years of day school study, and to make sure that the number of students in a given shiur remains small enough that individual attention can be paid to every student.

These kind of efforts may make a real difference. After all, it is never too late to learn. With the proper impetus, even someone who without the proper background can become a Torah scholar. Just ask Rabbi Akiva.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Education Is All in Your Mind

Food for thought - here's an excerpt:
Just telling students that their intelligence is under their own control improves their effort on school work and performance. In two separate studies, Mr. Aronson and others taught black and Hispanic junior high school students how the brain works, explaining that the students possessed the ability, if they worked hard, to make themselves smarter. This erased up to half of the difference between minority and white achievement levels.

See the whole article at:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sports in Jewish schools

It is not very often that I am moved by a story in the newspaper that describes sport competitions, but as a Jewish educator, this one made me proud.

Here's an excerpt:
At SAR High School’s recent David Cooper Memorial Tournament, the Riverdale school hosted girls’ yeshivas from Toronto, Memphis, Houston, Kansas City and Philadelphia. The visitors, far from home, had almost no fans at the games.And then the stands were full and loud for the visitors. Several grades in SAR’s elementary school each adopted a visiting high school, dressing in their colors, waving signs and banners. One of the visiting coaches said, “Where did you get kids like these?”

Monday, February 2, 2009

"Classroom Teaching" podcast on professional development

This week, Classroom Teaching discusses tackling professional development. Rome wasn't built in a day, and we don't become masters of our trade in a year. A good approach to professional growth is to take baby steps for the short term while maintaining a long term perspective. This podcast includes some suggestions for choosing specific areas of focused growth.

To hear the episode or subscribe, go to

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Goings On

As the economy tanks, the media is reporting a lot of scrambling in Jewish educational organizations. Some Jewish day schools are already feeling the economic situation, while others are expecting to next academic year, in the form of decreased enrollment and increased tuition subsidization requests. Some top Jewish education stories being talked about these days: Hebrew charter schools, broad tuition cuts, mergers, and "GED"-ing out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Oznia: A Blog Of Israel Things

Written by high school students, for high school students, Oznia is a collective of young bloggers and activists, dedicated to gathering exciting, engaging and challenging nuggets about Israel and Zionism.

The name "Oznia" is Hebrew for "earbud" and expresses our goal of getting students "plugged in" to the amazing diversity and complexity of Israel.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Classroom Teaching looks at the relationship between Judaism and thinking skills.

This week, Classroom Teaching looks at the relationship between Judaism and thinking skills. Are we required to teach our students higher level thinking skills?

To hear or subscribe to the podcast, go to

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Israel in Gaza - educational resources

Both of these resources should be of interest to educators discussing Israel's "Cast Lead" campaign with students:

1. From Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz of the JEC in Cleveland

The JECC has posted to its website an Immediate Response Curriculum called, "Israel: Connecting with our Heads, Hands and Hearts (Gaza, 2009)." This is a guide that does not have easy or pat responses to share with our students, for as you know, the situation Israel finds itself in is complex. This Response Curriculum contains links to many resources so that teachers may find the ones that best help them educate themselves and then find ways to open the conversation with their students.

The curriculum may be found here: or can be accessed by link from the JECC home page: We have discovered from past experience with our Response Curriculum that those who have trouble accessing the document are probably not using Internet Explorer ... so IE is the way to go. We have also learned that some people who have been to our website before are linking to an older version. If the Israel curriculum is not in the box at the very top of the page, just hit refresh and you’ll get the Gaza version.

Finally, in honor of the Inauguration on the 20th, you may find some materials in our Election 2008 curriculum to be helpful (also linked from the same webpage).Please feel free to forward this email to any listservs or educators who may find it of use.Our hearts and prayers are with Israel, as well as with all innocent civilians caught in the conflict.

Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz
Senior Director
Director of Curriculum Resources
Jewish Education Center of Cleveland

2. From Hillel Zaremba of CAMERA

As Israel continues ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ CAMERA has developed curricular materials for teachers who wish to engage their students about the conflict and the events and issues surrounding it. “FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on Operation Cast Lead: A Teacher’s Guide” is filled with concise information as well as links to articles and videos, appropriate for students in grades 7-12.

The material addresses the following questions:
· Where and what is Gaza?
· What is Hamas?
· Is Hamas the legitimate government of Gaza?
· Where and what is Sderot?
· Who is responsible for starting the current round of fighting?
· What is Israel trying to achieve in Gaza?
· Is Israel reacting in a disproportionate manner?
· Who is responsible for civilian casualties among the Palestinians in Gaza?
· Is Israel allowing a humanitarian crisis to develop in Gaza?
· How is the fighting being covered by the media?

All the video material referenced in the FAQs is only accessible via the Internet so you must be connected to the Web to use it.
The material is accessible by clicking

You may also wish to access our main Web site at as well as our blog “Snapshots” for regular updates and analyses of the conflict and its coverage in the media.

Finally, for those wishing more historical background on the Arab-Israeli conflict, turn to Module 4 (“A Brief History of Modern Israel) on the “Eyes on Israel” curriculum CD which you should have already received.

Hillel Zaremba
Curriculum Coordinator

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A story from Gaza

I received this from a friend whose son is serving as an Israeli army chaplain with the troops in Gaza. I believe that it can be used in the classroom as a "current events" message, as a discussion of the laws of Shabbat or the laws of the kohen accompanying the troops to war (see Devarim 20:1-9) or as part of a Hebrew lesson.
The Hebrew story is followed by a slightly shorter English translation.
:הנה סיפור משבת האחרונה עם כניסת החיילים לעזה שסיפר לי הערב אחי שמשרת כרב צבאי בקבע
לאחר שבמשך יום השבת שהו קבוצת רבנים (כשלושה במספר), בבסיס מרוחק מה מהגבול, יחד עם מספר מאות חיילים שעמדו לקראת הכניסה הקרקעית, והעבירו את היום בשיעורים ושיחות חיזוק ועידוד, התלבטו הרבנים עם עליהם להצטרף לנסיעת החיילים מהבסיס אל החניון בו עמדו הכלים בשביל לעודד את רוחם עם היציאה

לאחר התדינות ביניהם הוחלט - בהססנות מה - להצטרף
הרבנים הביאו עמם ספר תורה מתוך כוונה לארגן תפילת מנחה, וכאשר רצו לרדת מהאוטובוס, אחי ביקש ממאן דהו להעביר אליו את הספר (כדי להקליש את בעיית ההעברה לתוך כרמלית), ואולם לאחר שירד מהאוטובוס וחכה למטה זמן מה והספר בושש לבוא, הסתכל חזרה פנימה וראה כי החיילים מעבירים את הספר מיד ליד מתחבקים עמו ואינם מרפים. לאחר מכן, עמדו יחד שניים מהרבנים, כאשר קבוצת חיילים ניגשת אליהם (הם בלטו בשטח כרבנים מזוקנים האחד אוחז ספר תורה בידו, והשני עטור בטלית) ובקשו לקבל מהם ברכה. היות וחלוקת ברכות אינה חלק רגיל משגרת יומו, סיפרו לחיילים כי יברך אותם בברכה אותה הוא מברך את בניו כל ליל שבת. לתדהמתו התחילו לגשת אליו כעוד ועוד חיילים, עד שהכמות היתה גדולה כל כך (לדבריו ברובם חבר'ה מסורתיים, הביינישים שבין החיילים פחות התענינו בברכתם), ולא יכלו יותר לתת ברכות אישיות. פרשו את הטלית, כבשמחת תורה, מעל ראש הנאספים ובירכו את הציבור בבת אחת

כמה מהלוחמים נגשו אליהם ואמרו להם בהתרגשות כי נוכחותם הרבנית במקום מחזקת אותם ונותנת להם כוח, ואחד אף הוסיף כי ברכתם חשובה ומשמעותית עבורו יותר מכל השיחות המקצועיות ששמעו לקראת ההכנה למבצע

עם השקיעה, כאשר התחילו טורי החיילים לצעוד בשיירה רגלית אל תוך הרצועה, נעמדו הרבנים ליד נקודת היציאה עם ספר התורה בידם, וזעקו לעבר החיילים העוברים לידם מילות עידוד וברכה (ה' עמכם, יברככם ה', ודברים נוספים בהשראת דברי הרמב"ם על הפחד במלחמה), החיילים מצדם חלפו על פניהם ונשקו לספר התורה שבידם
!אשריכם ישראל
אחי בקש לשמוע את דעתי על הסיפור מבחינת הלכות שבת, שכן היום הם קיבלו נזיפה מהרב החטיבתי על כך שהורו לעצמם
היתר להביא עמם ספר תורה לנסיעה שכל כולה בעייתית בעיניו מהחל ועד כלה (הוא לא קיבל, למשל, את טענתם כי יש להשוות את נסיעתם להצטרפותו של הבעל ליולדת הנוסעת בשבת לבית החולים).לאור דברי הרב הפיקודי אחי הרגיש נקיפות מצפון, שכן על אף שידע בבירור כי נהג בהתאם להשקפתו של הרב הצבאי הראשי הרב רונצקי,לא היה בטוח שנהג כשורה.חיזקתי את ידיו ואמרתי לו בלי לגמגם שלדעתי הסיפור כולו מרגש והינו בעיני קידוש ה' גדול
?האם מישהו סבור אחרת
השלמה קטנה לסיפור: כשדיברנו שוב אתמול, אחי סיפר כי אותו רב בכיר שהתנגד למעשה, דחה את הטענה כי בכך חיזקו את
ידי החיילים, באומרו ש"חיילי צה"ל חזקים מספיק והם לא צריכים שתחזקו אותם".בהמשך לכך סיפר אחי, כי פגש ביום ראשון בבסיס, את השליש החטיבתי במילואים, אותו הכיר מהסדיר, והתפתחה ביניהם שיחה

השליש שמשמש באזרחות כחשב כלכלי במסגרת מקצועית כלשהי, הרצה לאחי על המימד הכלכלי של הוצאות הצבא השונות, והזכיר דרך אגב כדוגמא, כי את מערכת הרבנות הצבאית קשה להצדיק מבחינה כלכלית. ואולם, מיד לאחר מכן, הפטיר שגם על נקודה זו יש מקום לד. השליש סיפר, שלקראת יציאת החיילים לתוך הרצועה, הוא הסתובב בין החיילים ושוחח עמם על תחושותיהם לקראת המבצע, וכמה מהחיילים סיפרו לו על כך שזמן קצר לפני כן, עבר במקום רב צבאי עם ספר תורה, שחיזק ועודד את רוחם. השליש סיים את הסיפור, אותו הביא בתור ראיה לאפשרות לתרגם את תרומתה של הרבנות הצבאית להצלחת
המבצעית של הפעולה מתוך נקודת מבט כלכלית חילונית, ושאל בתמימות עם אחי יודע במקרה על מי מדובר
Kiddush Hashem
This evening, my brother, who serves as a career military rabbi, told me the following story, which took place this past Shabbat, when the IDF entered Gaza.
He was one of three rabbis who spent Shabbat on a base not too far away from the border, together with a few hundred soldiers who were preparing for the ground incursion. After spending the day delivering shiurim and motivational speeches, the rabbis wondered if they should perhaps travel with the soldiers from the base to the staging location, in order to boost the soldiers' morale. They deliberated and finally decided – with some hesitation – to go along with the soldiers. Hoping to arrange a minchah prayer service, the rabbis took a Sefer Torah with them. When it was time to get off the bus, my brother asked someone to pass the Torah to him (in order to mitigate the halachic issue of bringing something into a karmelit). However, when he got off the bus, the Torah stayed behind. He looked back into the bus and saw that the soldiers were passing the Torah from hand to hand. Each soldier took the opportunity to embrace it tightly.
Afterwards, a group of soldiers approached two of the rabbis. (The bearded rabbis stood out; one was holding the Sefer Torah, and the other was wearing his talit.) The soldiers asked the rabbis for a blessing. Since giving blessings isn't included in a military rabbi's standard job description, my brother told the soldiers that he would recite the blessing he uses for his sons on Leil Shabbat. To his amazement, more and more soldiers began approaching him. (According to him, most of them were traditional – i.e. not outwardly observant. The bnei yeshivot seemed less interested in receiving a blessing from the rabbis). Soon, so many soldiers had amassed that the rabbis could no longer give personal blessings. Instead, they spread out a talit – as is customary on Simchat Torah – over the crowd's heads and blessed everyone in unison.
With great emotion, several soldiers exclaimed that the rabbis' presence gave them strength and boosted their spirits. One soldier even added that the rabbis' blessing was more significant and meaningful for him than all the training sessions he had heard in the period leading up to the operation.
As the sun began to set, the long infantry columns set out towards the Strip. Meanwhile, the rabbis stood near the crossing with the Sefer Torah in their hands and called out words of encouragement and blessing to the soldiers. ("May Hashem be with you," "may Hashem bless you," and other phrases inspired by the Rambam's writings on fear during a battle.) The soldiers, in turn, kissed the Sefer Torah as they marched along.
Ashreichem Yisrael! (How fortunate are you, O Israel!)
My brother wanted to hear what I thought about the story, in terms of the Shabbat laws. He and his colleagues had been reprimanded by the brigade rabbi for permitting themselves to take the Sefer Torah with them. In fact, he claimed that the entire trip was problematic. (For instance, he rejected their argument that they were in a similar position to a husband who travels with his wife to the hospital on Shabbat when she is about to give birth in order to give her emotional support.) The commanding rabbi's words caused my brother to second guess himself. Although he was confident that he had acted in accordance with the world view of IDF Chief Rabbi Rav Ronsky, he wasn't sure if he had acted properly. I immediately assured him that in my opinion, his behavior constitutes an incredible Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem's Name).
How could anyone disagree?
(Thanks to Ariella Gold of Nof Ayalon for providing the English translation)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bloom's Taxonomy in the Judaic studies classroom

Classroom Teaching is back after a short Chanukah break!

This week Mark Smilowitz discusses higher level thinking skills. For students to be fully engaged in learning, they need to be challenged with tasks that go beyond remembering and explaining. This episode reviews the six thinking skills of Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy and suggests ways of using them in the Judaic studies classroom in order to nurture higher level thinking.

Visit to listen or subscribe.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More prayers for Israeli soldiers and civilians

In a recent blog post I suggested that prayer for the wellbeing of Israeli soldiers should be included in Jewish schools and classrooms at this time. As the missile attacks on Israel's southern cities continue and with the Israeli army now engaged in a ground operation in Gaza, there is all the more reason for prayer.

Yediot Aharonot reports that the call for prayer crosses all politicaland ideological boundaries in Israel, ranging from the Eidah Haredit (the "ultra-Orthodox") whose leaders have issued a statement calling for reciting tehillim to the Masorati rabbinate who have penned a Mi-she-berakh prayer specific to this occasion.

The announcement from the Eidah Haredit calls on the community to recite tehillim and to include va-aneinu in Shemonah Esreh since aside from the specific request for rain (which Israel needs right now), va-aneinu includes a request for general issues. If va-aneinu is not readily available in your siddur, you can find it at or

The Yediot Aharonot article also has a tefillah that they say was put together by Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Teachers make a difference II

In this NY Times article, "Troublesome Student Makes Good, and Honors Disciplinarian" we see, yet again, that the right teacher can save a student.

Teachers make a difference I

In this New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how to figure out who is going to be a good teacher. But first he shares some information on how important good teachers are:

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.

A worthwhile read.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lookjed's Tenth anniversary

This past year I have posted a number of Lookjed "classic" conversations as part of a celebration of ten years of Lookjed discussions. Lookjed is now officially celebrating its tenth anniversary - the first invitation to join Lookjed was sent out at the end of 1998, and the inaugural mailing appeared at the beginning of January 1999 (for a variety of reasons, the volume numbers now change at the beginning of the academic year). For those of you who wax nostalgic about this kind of thing, you can access the first month of mailings in the listserv archives at

Over the years I have received quite a bit of feedback and constructive comments (you are always welcome to share your thoughts by writing to me or by posting at ). One response that sticks in my mind was the individual who responded angrily to my postings about Israel, in response to the intifada that began on Rosh haShanah 2000. My correspondent wrote that he had signed up to the list to receive information and participate in conversations about Jewish education, not politics. In response I told him that I believed that Israel should be part of the curriculum in every Jewish school today, and that during a time of war it was the responsibility of every Jewish educator to be knowledgeable about what was taking place there. Every classroom, every school and every community are different from one another, but when Jewish soldiers are taking up arms to defend the Jewish state, it is something that should be discussed in Jewish schools around the world.

I am sure that you are all aware of the ongoing rockets and missiles that have been directed at Israeli cities and villages, and the Israeli army's response to those attacks. Aside from reading the online Israeli newspapers, here are some other resources that may be of interest/assistance to the Jewish educator -
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs puts out a daily newsletter that links to Israel related news stories in online publications around the world. You can subscribe to it at
The Jewish Agency has a "current issues" page that has updated information and materials on Israel related topics
The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz have both reported that the Israeli army has opened a front in the online battle for public opinion by launching a YouTube channel with reports about the current military operation in Gaza

According to this Jerusalem Post article, the battle for public opinion is going on in the United States
James Taranto, writing in the online Wall Street Journal, contrasts between what goes on in hospitals in Gaza and in Israel during these tense times, and argues that the press makes more of the opposition to Israel's Gaza operation than is really there (the first two pieces in the column).

Whether or not a teacher feels it appropriate to introduce a classroom discussion of Israel's political aims in this battle, showing concern for the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line in defense of the Jewish State is certainly appropriate.
If you do not have ready access to the tefillah le-shlom hayyelei tzahal, it appears at or