Posted on December 7th, 2015
The (Jewish Educational) Theory of Everything
A film about Stephen Hawking seems an unlikely idea for a blockbuster film. While the Theory of Everything made a decent amount of money it did even better at the Oscars. I can just imagine the pitch meeting with potential producers: “So this film is about a brilliant mathematician who is barely able to move. He uses a wheelchair to get around and a computer to speak. The key is that he believes he can come up with a mathematical equation that explains everything in the universe!”
It was actually a beautiful film about love and character and mathematics. And it got me to thinking about my work as a Jewish Educator. Yeah. I get that look a lot at home. I tend to ruin movies because I am always looking for the teachable moment to use in my high school class. This time the film became a tipping point for what I have been thinking about for the past year.
If you read the Jewish press and blogsphere (try eJewishPhilanthropy.com, tabletmag.com or mosaicmagazine.com) you would see a number of ideas about Jewish learning that have been trending for a while. Some of them we have talked about and adapted here at B’nai Israel: Experiential Learning; Israel Education; School as Camp; Independent Minyanim; the “death” of the synagogue; Using Skype and other Technologies; Project Based Learning and Understanding by Design are but a few. Each is the next new best thing – and any institution that doesn’t adapt it is bound to go the way of the dinosaurs.
I have been a student of Jewish education long enough to know that these trends are cyclical. Twenty years ago the debate was Day School vs. Synagogue School vs. Israel Trip vs. Summer Camp vs. Adult Learning vs. Early Childhood Education. It was presented in just that way – like some Jewish educational Ultimate Fighting cage match.
I have become convinced that we need to develop a Jewish Educational Theory of Everything – a simple and elegant way to describe how we incorporate all of the richness of Jewish life, language, text and history with all of the many and varied ways of teaching and learning. I believe it is not only possible but necessary. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I have seen managers and owners from Leo Durocher and P.K. Wrigley to the present day try to fix losing seasons by using quick fixes and dumping multiple players in the hope that someone – anyone – else can do the job. I think the whole world knows how that has worked since 1908. (Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts look like they may be the first to get this right in over a century.)
So I am going to be part of the team that creates that theory. Our school is the laboratory – as it has been for the last twenty years. We are not going to try things willy nilly. We will do what we have done – study the new ideas for ways that add value to our teaching and learning. And we will create some of our own. As always at this time of year, we are looking for a few new teachers to help us get there. So come be part of our learning lab.
Anyone want to go to the pitch meeting with me? I am pretty sure we can make a movie about this!