I am sorry to say that I came away from Hannah Dreyfus’ article, “Forget Continuity, Keep Teens Happy” (Jan. 13) reeling from its flawed logic and with the desolate feeling that American Jewish education has completely lost its way.
The description David Bryfman, chief innovative officer at the Jewish Education Project, offers of contemporary Jewish education as a process of shoving knowledge at students, telling them what they should believe, etc. — is a false and insulting one. What does he think Jewish educators have been doing for the past half century? Teachers, school directors, rabbis and lay leaders have been working unceasingly to make Jewish education more meaningful, creative, exciting, and engaging for students. If these efforts have not succeeded, that is because the challenge is a profound one, not because the challenge has not been recognized or because attempts are not being made to address it.
Bryfman proposes that we identify the goal of Jewish education as “keeping teens happy” but that is the means toward the goal, not the goal itself. The goal is, in fact, Jewish continuity. Bryfman’s claim to the contrary is belied by his own statement that the purpose of keeping teens happy is “so that they will stay engaged in Jewish life.” If that is not a call for Jewish continuity, I don’t know what would be.
Finally, a word about the notion that Jewish education should provide “a psychologically safe space” for students, who are under pressure to be achievers. No, this is the responsibility of parents. Over the many years of my tenure as a Jewish educator, I have witnessed Jewish educators becoming more student-centered while parents have become more success-centered (as in, having their children getting into a top college).
As long as parents accept this narrow definition of success, and pass it along to their children, our students will continue to be overwhelmed by unreasonable academic requirements and exhausted by the demands of too many extracurricular pursuits.