Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ethical Issue: When Teens Cheat

St Paul Talmud Torah Nursery School graduation

 What are the obligations of a Jewish supplementary high school in raising the ethical level of its students? How do we hold our students to a higher standard while trying to explain all the cheating going on by education professionals? How do we prepare the next generation to succeed in college and beyond? 

With these questions in mind, what happens when a teacher notices that a student may have plagiarized material, or copied from a friend?

The first time a teacher came to me with this I struggled with the questions above, adding a few more: can we confirm evidence of cheating? How can this transform into a learning experience? How can I make sure the parent(s) is(are) on board? In what ways can I work to ensure that this student really changes? How can I create an accepting environment for the student but not the behavior?

I am actually grateful that these issues arise in a Jewish context, because it gives me a unique opportunity.  Working with teens on ethical conduct is exactly what we should be doing.  For me, it is part of the ‘value added‘ of the supplementary school experience.  Our response to cheating is a test for us, and students will remember what we do. We can reference Jewish texts to support advice when we help students navigate through this.  Those texts should also inform our behavior. We can give them skills to self-adjust and offer moral support along the way.  Plagiarism is a serious offense, especially in college, and we can give them a foundation of Jewish ethics to lean on.

This is tough stuff, but doing any less in today’s times creates more moral murkiness.  I believe we are preparing the next generation to become leaders which requires us to respond quickly and appropriately especially when the road ahead will be even more challenging.


When Teens Say “I’m not that Jewish”

Jewish Star; Star of David

Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr

I met with several teens yesterday, and when I asked them to tell me about their Jewish identity, their answers surprised me.  At one point or another, more than half of them responded in the negative with: “I’m not that Jewish” or “I’m not really so Jewish” and sometimes they completed  those statements with: “because I don’t go to synagogue”, “because I don’t really practice”, “because I’m not that religious”, or because I don’t really believe in God….”

Does this strike anyone else as strange? Why the emphasis on ‘not being Jewish’ and why the focus on what they don’t do?

Somehow, they are defining themselves by what they’re not.  Yet, I don’t think that holds true for other aspects of their lives.  If I would ask them to describe themselves, I doubt they’d begin by telling me what they’re not: “I’m not athletic, I’m not friendly, I’m not really into music” –would sound ridiculous.

I wanted to explore these comments with them, and decided to challenge them instead of playing it safe. I responded with something like: “saying you’re really not that Jewish is like saying ‘I’m really not that human’, isn’t it?  “A human is what you are through and through….and so is being Jewish. It’s your identity, it’s who you are and what you are.”

They just looked at me, surprised by my strong opinion.

I proceeded: “Why the continuum? Why do you rate yourself on your Jewishness? Why do an evaluation? By the way, do any of your non-Jewish friends define themselves that way—-on a scale?” (This sounds much harsher in print than the actual tone of the conversation, but you get the point).

I also encourage them to stop defining “Jewish” .  Those other qualifiers of belief, practice, attendance….tend to create distance and separation–the opposite of what we should be after.

I think we need to be aware of the language our teens use and help them flip it towards the positive.  As a start, “I am Jewish” sounds great to me.


Today I am a Brand

credit to uglydoggy.com

We live in a visual world. I get it. I’m the first to admit that I love looking at logos and the idea that the essence of a company, drink, food, car —almost anything— can be captured in a visual.  Come on, aren’t you tempted to name the brands pictured here?

Hashtags? Great. If only our program could attract thousands of Jewish teens by using  #Jteens. 

The idea of “branding” has been in my airspace for a few weeks.  It started when I read a blog about the viral video “Friday” and how it catapulted Rebecca Black and her now ex-friend into instant stardom (not familiar with the story? see wikipedia ).  

Then, I read a study about the rise of fame and its implications , some of which I’ll quote very briefly:

“Greenfield’s Theory of Social Change and Human Development posits that, as learning environments move towards high technology, as living environments become increasingly urbanized, as education levels increase, and as people become wealthier, psychological development moves in the direction of increasing individualism, while traditional, familistic, and communitarian values decline….” (italics mine). 

So, the desire to individuate comes with the territory. Is it any wonder that this study found that fame grows in prominence as a goal among tweens? If the teen years were tough before, it’s more complicated now. How do we as teachers and parents begin to work through this?

I attended a workshop a few days ago sponsored by Moving Traditions and we discussed the fact that teenage girls see themselves as ‘brands’ when posting on their Facebook pages.  They think about themselves in the third person and how their presenting image will be perceived by others.  They think about how to ‘enhance’ their brand by who they ‘friend’ and the clothes, music, and tech toys they buy, presenting an additional teaching and parenting opportunity. This issue goes across gender and is not limited to teenage girls.

Another tongue-in-cheek blog asked whether Rabbis would be more effective if they were ‘pitchmen’ and might be more successful if incorporating brand names into their sermons.  I have not worked this all out yet.  On one level, I definitely buy into the branding idea and think that we, who work in the world of Jewish teens, could certainly learn a thing or two about ‘branding’ with an image overhaul.   If we just had more marketing dollars, or could find a sponsor, or a brand to partner with….oops, there I go again.

In this world of visual overload, I am fine with working on communicating a clearer message as long as it’s an authentic one.  I guess that’s the advice I would give to a Jewish teen approaching bar/bat mitzvah age as well. Go ahead, think about who you really are. Make sure it reflects your true self, incorporates core Jewish values and ethics, then go ahead, brand yourself as the most special person you are.


%d bloggers like this: