Every Jewish school – be it a day school, yeshivah, congregational school, confirmation class, or post bar/Bat Mitzvah class – has the same quandary: what to teach in the time allotted for instruction. A future column will discuss how to prioritize and how to determine what a student should know upon graduating. Given all the possibilities, however, what should be taught, for how long, and how often?
Each school must define its own priorities. For some, learning how to read Hebrew is important. For others, it is mastery of text. Still others may opt for social action activities. Each school will define what is important to it. Regardless of the definition, however, everyone agrees that there is not enough time to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
In years gone by, everyone studied geography and current events. I clearly remember homework assignments where I had to bring in a newspaper article for discussion. I also remember a class where the front page of The New York Times was dissected to teach us the relative merits of stories above and below the fold, and in the right or left column (Inwood Jr. HS ’52). I also remember studying maps of the Middle East, and being given blank maps and asked to fill in the countries. We also studied world maps to learn Jewish migration patterns (Talmud Torah of Inwood Jewish Center).
Today’s world is different; I acknowledge that. Technology may have rendered newspapers obsolete for our youth, but I question whether they are keeping up with the news on their iPhones and iPads. What happens in the United States and the world is important, and our children should know about it. They should be aware of what is going on because the ramifications will affect them when they grow older.
In Jewish schools, obviously, focusing on items of Jewish concern is especially important. The geopolitics affecting Israel locally, globally, and in various world forums is information that our youth need to know. Being prepared for anti-Israel sentiment on the college campus and knowing how to counter it is crucial. Understanding the internal issues affecting Israel also is important.
Needless to say, not only must time be found to teach geography and discuss current events, but teachers need to be properly trained to teach these subjects without overt bias. Teaching materials are available as are multi-media resources. The U.N. debates from the June 1967 war can be viewed as a backdrop to the current proposal for Palestinian statehood. The Lookstein Center has collected educational resources on the topic of the Palestinian statehood vote at the UN. They can be accessed at http://bit.ly/lc-ps. These resources may be useful when discussing the recent United Nations General Assembly speeches by Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu http://bit.ly/yt-bb and Palestinian Administration President Mahmoud Abbas http://bit.ly/yt-pa . A number of other Israel resources that were suggested by Dr. Shmuel Katz are available at http://bit.ly/lc-sk.
We can utilize technology today that was not available in the past. Smartboards not only can save time, they can be an effective tool in the hands of a trained teacher. I am certain many schools are doing this. More importantly, parents need to discuss these issues with their children. If they have no clue what you are talking about, maybe it is time for a conversation with their principal.