I have a dilemma. I believe that all schools need to move more towards 21st Century skills and creating an environment that is neither based on standardized tests or tests that see how much you can remember but rather on instilling skills to be lifelong learners. I have written that we need to make a connection to our students, have our students engaged and participate in the learning process and make the learning real. (There are other important factors which I haven’t mentioned) However this brings me to my dilemma. I am an educational leader for a small Jewish day school where half of our day is spent learning the Bible, Talmud and Jewish law. These are foundations of our faith and they must be included in our curriculum and taught. However how do we incorporate the above ideals in a text that is over 2,000 years old and how do we engage our students? Perhaps you might say well you can’t that is religious studies and we can’t put ancient studies into 21st Century learning. I will not and cannot accept that. First of all if we don’t engage our students and make them feel like they want to learn more about their religion they may forsake their religion all together, something as a Rabbi that troubles me greatly. Secondly I believe good teaching is good teaching and we must find ways to incorporate these skills into religious learning as well.
Here is the balance that I have tried to reach.
Students must be able to read and translate the text of the bible ( for our school in Hebrew) they must be aware of the commentaries and the views that certain Rabbi’s had in explaining the bible. They must also know the basic facts about the holidays etc. However there is much more that we could add as teachers. The Talmud itself is filled with analysis and critical thinking, therefore through teaching these texts we need to teach and show our students how to think critically and how to ask questions and be analytical.
We could also make learning real and come with real questions of Jewish law and ask our students how they would rule.
Truth of the matter is the sky’s the limit. So you might ask why am I posting a blog about religious education. I have two main reasons.
First of all I use this blog for me to express my ideas and thoughts and this is something that I deal with on a daily basis making Judaic studies engaging and interesting. However my second reason perhaps could apply to educators at large. As much as I think we talk about change and 21st century skills I think we need sometimes to take a deep breath and put things in perspective. While I think students should learn what they interested in and are passionate about and perhaps not everyone needs to read Shakespeare, nor do I think we should continue to test student’s memory over skills and judge student success by standardized tests. At the same time there are some basic skills that must be taught and for certain things there can’t be a choice or an opt out option. These basics may be different for different schools but even if you must teach these subjects I still believe we can and must teach it using 21st Century skills.
Those are my two cents