Category Archives: Education

Parents: Are you sure that your teen will ‘do’ Jewish in college?

Hillel has built some stunning buildings. Will your teen walk in the door?

Hillel has built some stunning buildings. Will your teen walk in the door?

What is the college campus like today?

How does it differ from when you attended and what new challenges will your Jewish teen face once there?

We know from several research studies that affiliation rates are on the decline, particularly among young Jewish adults. In addition, Jewish teens and young adults are feeling less of a need in college to differentiate themselves from their peers.

For sure, some students gain even greater connections to Judaism and Jewish practice once in college, but that is not the norm, even with the kick-start of a Birthright trip.

The Jewish community is rightfully concerned.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Having a Hillel on campus is not a guarantee of  a Jewish connection.  Hillel has made great strides in the way they reach out to students, but making sure that your teen wants that connection is the concern. Through a strategy focused on relationship building, Hillel-sponsored interns reach out to their peers  and engage them in participating and taking ownership of their Jewish journey. It has greater potential than anything I’ve heard in a while, but of course holds no guarantees.

2. Chabad also reaches out to students through a variety of programming, mostly focused on Shabbat experiences and learning sessions. But often that connection needs to be student-initiated. 

3.  On campus, just because an activity is “Jewish” doesn’t mean that participation by your teen will be a given. Jewish college students I’ve interacted with sometimes labeled those who were highly involved with Hillel as people they wouldn’t ‘hang out with’. Others described students who aggressively pursued Jewish social activities as “superJews”. 

4. Many groups compete for your teen’s attention, and some of those groups represent other faiths.  Peer pressure is stronger on campus than you’d imagine, students tend to ‘go with the flow’, especially in the early years of college. If the activity is perceived as ‘cool’, students are more likely to attend functions sponsored by other faith groups. 

5. Colleges are becoming less ‘religion-friendly’, not more. It’s a challenge for Jewish students to take time off for holiday observances, and colleges that used to have days off to accommodate  are stopping that practice in favor of being more fair to all religions. This is especially difficult in the fall, when most Jewish holidays occur, and students are just beginning classes.  During other holidays, when students are less likely to travel home, finding a Jewish community experience may be just as hard. 

So, what is one message you might take from this?

Don’t wait until your teen gets on the college campus in order to ‘do’ Jewish.

From what we know, chances are not great that a Jewish connection will suddenly flower.

Instead, make sure that Jewish education continues after Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the typical drop-off point.

Make sure they’re involved in Jewish learning during the high school years, the precise time when questions about identity, God, and belief tend to occur, so they’re ready for some of the challenges ahead.


“There Is Only One Way to Change the World, and That Is By Education” Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks

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What would you say about how to change the world?

Why does Judaism value education so much?

How are educational values embedded in our tradition?

It’s not possible to improve on the eloquent words of a master writer and teacher, the Former Chief Rabbi of the U.K.

Rabbi Sacks writes a series of articles on the Torah portion of the week entitled “Covenant & Conversation”.

I encourage you to get acquainted with his writings; they will stir you. 

When I read something written so beautifully, that exquisitely states Judaism’s mission of perpetuation through education, all I can hope for is that others like you will read it too.

Education has been the key to our survival, and that notion is at risk.

We’ve often gone for the glitz and forgot the substance.

I’m not bemoaning the loss of old ideas, worn out ways of doing things, or suggesting that we return to unsuccessful models.

But I am saying that whatever we do, we must do it in the name of education.

In today’s world, ‘content is king’.

How fitting for us at this time. We have permission to offer our teens real substantive content.

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If we focus on this, we will guarantee a healthy future.

This must be our unified message.

“The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks continues: …..”that is why they alone, of all the civilizations of the ancient world are still alive and strong, still continuing their ancestors’ vocation, their heritage intact and undiminished.”

Click, Read, Learn….may your efforts continue our tradition.


Teens: Cheating on Standardized Tests?

No digital devices in sight

No digital devices in sight

The Los Angeles Times reported that California is coping, almost feverishly it seems, with new measures that require students to turn in digital devices before taking standardized tests.

“The proliferation of cellphones and their potential use for cheating has prompted heightened security measures on this year’s administration of standardized tests in California schools.”

In the previous year, students posted 36 questions from standardized exams on social media platforms.  The consequences were serious for those schools where the posts were from. The 12 schools are not eligible to receive academic awards the next year.

I’m sure that other states will soon need to create their own guidelines to prevent just such a thing.

So, what is the news here?

This is almost too obvious–taking away cell phones and digital devices during a test?

Teens would say “no kidding.”

What I found remarkable about the article, was that although very specific details were given of the egregious acts, the article did not mention that there was a concerns over so many teens engaging in cheating behaviors:

“In all, 249 individuals posted 442 images of test materials that were linked to 147 schools in 94 California school districts.”   (To be fair, “Most images were not of actual test questions.”)

There were no consequences mentioned in the article for the teens who posted the images or content.

However, we do know clearly the measures being taken to prevent such a thing in the future:

  1. Signage in the testing room warning students not to use digital devices
  2. Better proctoring of exams
  3. Strong suggestions to teachers to move around the room to monitor students

But we’re still left wondering if anyone is asking the big questions tied to these occurrences.

Specifically, was there any follow-up with the teens themselves?

What was the intention for these posts?

What are the ethical implications of these behaviors?

Did the students involved do this as a joke?

Was this an act of rebellion?

Or even the most primary question: Did the teens even think this was cheating?

I wrote some time ago about our role in guiding students toward moral clarity. At a later point, I wrote about how teens view cheating, and how shocking their experiences were to me.  This is an issue that won’t simply go away. It will get worse.

I remember not being surprised when corporations, in the realization that so many ethical issues were on the line, and after so many improprieties and illegal allegations, began hiring Chief Ethical Officers.

“The position of ethics officer is of relatively recent vintage, first appearing in the early 1990s, according to Forbes.com.

The job descriptions for Ethics Officers insures accountability between a code of ethics and actual operational procedures.

It’s not a bad idea to institute this position in some school districts. An even better idea is starting to think that way now.


Teens: Watch Your Social Media Presence

twitter logo map 09

twitter logo map 09 (Photo credit: The Next Web)

“Treat every conversation you have on Twitter or Facebook as if it were a nationally televised press conference.”

This advice is not a recommendation from a public relations firm, or from a head hunter, or from a corporate policy book on social media. Nor was it taken from a how-to book on political life.

None of those sources would be surprising.

The quote above is from a sign posted in a Minnesota high school locker room in response to the rampant posting of students taking part in illegal activities online.

Some students, turning against friends, are giving coaches and teachers pictures of them in ‘compromising’ situations at drinking parties and participating in other illegal activities.

Sports scholarships have been pulled based on information coaches glean on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

In a previous post, I wrote that teens’ should make sure their online profiles are clean and scrubbed when applying to college.  As with other things, everything moves down a bit, and what teens do in high school is not exempt from a close look by interested parties.

Opportunities may be in jeopardy based on discoveries online.  Scholarships, nominations, recommendations…..all come into play mostly in the junior year of high school, but since online identities don’t disappear, it’s never too early to start thinking about this issue.

We know that checking someone out online is very tempting and all too easy.

So, for all the teens out there: think about who you are online. Does it match who you want to be? What will you need to do to make the image you want equal to the one you have?  Would you feel comfortable if a scholarship committee saw your posts? Think about the quote at the beginning of this post.

To Parents: The advice above is worth sharing with your teen as part of  a frank conversation about public and private identity, social media privacy settings, limit setting, trust and more.


“But I’ve already been to the museum!”

Negotiating with teens when they say "been there, done that!"

Negotiating with teens when they say “been there, done that!”

The entire school was taking a trip to the relatively new National Museum of American Jewish History, located in Philadelphia. The museum, with thousands of historic treasures, interactive exhibits, and multi-media presentations, has caused many people to say that they could spend days there and not see everything.

Yet, we heard that one student, when he learned about the trip, went home and confidently told his mother: “I don’t want to go. I’ve already been to the museum once.” 

The comment above is not specific to the museum. It is a catch phrase for all things that kids think they’ve already done, if they’ve done it once.

I remember working with a student on his course selections for the coming year. I suggested a class that I thought he’d find really interesting, based on his background. He didn’t ask me any clarifying questions, and without missing a quarter-note, told me assertively: “I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken Talmud!”

Put in whatever word works for you here, so that the comment would be equally humorous:

“I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken engineering.” (architecture, medicine, fine arts, or any area of study that could be endlessly interesting if someone had the interest).

So, how as parents and educators do we get past the “been there, done that” syndrome?

With patience, explanations, and the confidence that we know better. 

We should never assume because someone is in school, that there is a deep understanding of the process of learning.

We need the confidence to communicate that when it comes to learning anything, revisits are important and necessary. Gaining depth of a subject matter, seeing things again from a new perspective, is a good thing.

Let’s think about that, and let that very thought bring sweet smiles to our faces when we meet at our Seder tables and hear “But we did this last year!”


Israeli teens use cell phones in class: What we can learn

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.

Cell phones: not an opt-out tool for most teeens

According to a recent University of Haifa poll, over 94% of Israeli High School students use social networks in class (via cell phones). Mostly, they’re not checking facts, but Facebook profiles.

This came to my inbox today, a day after I wrote a blog from a cell phone’s point of view.

In that blog, I mentioned that Jewish teens may not be aware of the rich Jewish resources available for the taking from such a small device.  I also referred to the fact that teachers sometimes take away cell phones all together.

I was once a proponent of this.

I thought that (much like the practice at summer camps of instituting a ‘cell phone fast’ for campers to increase the ‘here and now’ opportunities) keeping phones out of the class increased class connections between students and teacher.

I don’t think in those black and white terms any more.

What I believe now, is that like any good educational tool, media needs to be mediated.

In this light, it’s particularly interesting to examine the findings of the poll, which states that the more permissive a teacher is, the less that cell phones will be used in class.

Interesting, no?

Conversely, the study results also showed that the more authoritarian the teacher–those with a more rigid approach, the more students will use cell phones in class.

So, what are the boundaries that teachers should put in place? What are the school’s policies that should not be broken, but bent to advance the curriculum? These are things that need to be thought through before the school year. From a student’s point of view.

So, this what I learned, none of which strikes me as so illuminating, but for me, the benefits were a game changer:

1. It is very difficult to separate teens from their phones, as some teens see it as their lifeline.

2. Teachers need to figure out ways of using the phones as tools, to expand teen’s horizons about the subject area.

3. The way in which this is handled, can be crucial when building community in the class, and respect from students.

Photo credit: wikipedia

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When You Say “Jewish Community,” Who are You Talking About?

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The largest collection of open-ocean animals found in an aquarium

Who is in your Jewish community? Really, start to define who you consider a part of your community.

Do you get a static or lively impression? Are there people of all ages and religious movements in your community? Or is it limited to who belongs where you belong?

What I’ve written about here, is that often “membership” dictates who is in your community. Whether it’s synagogue or JCC, ‘belonging’ seems to define who is in your immediate Jewish community.  Gone from that definition of community are those individuals who have not signed up right along with you, those who tend to be on the fringe.

Not a great way to teach teens that the Jewish community is a fluid, open-networked concept.

With today’s networked world, we really can move beyond the boundaries of walls to begin to define who we are.

I am not saying that belonging is bad, it’s a very good thing to be part of something greater than yourself.

But if your only connection to the Jewish community is where you hold a formal ‘memberships’, you might be missing out on meeting others who haven’t ‘joined’. What are ways that you might connect to the larger Jewish community?

What if every city had a portal to Jewish life, with links to all things Jewish in the area—one that was interactive, and came with a live chat option with a ‘Concierge’? How great would that be? That helpful person would help you navigate through the many options available to you, no matter what your age.

From a pluralistic point of view, that means that everyone gets represented in the community stew.

And your Jewish community just expanded into an open, fluid, and networked concept, just right for the web 3.0 world.

 


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