Judging Jewish Education by Fun
Jewish communal organizations have been in consumer mode for some time. As individuals progressively decrease their involvement in traditional Jewish organizations (synagogues, Jewish Federation, volunteer groups) programmatic initiatives proportionately increase in an attempt to figure out just the right mix to draw people in. Sometimes those programs flaunt the ‘fun’.
Figuring out what consumers want and providing them with a great service at a great price is what business–both profit and non-profit–is about.
My problem with the fun model is when the goals of the enterprise become compromised in the process.
An op-ed article in the New York Times referred to lower enrollment and the subsequent desire to attract students. There is a lesson there for those of us in Jewish education:
“And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk. Distributing resources and rewards based on student learning instead of student satisfaction would help stop this race to the bottom.”
I don’t know what definition of student satisfaction was used but unlike the quote, I would disagree and say that students need to be satisfied with their learning experience.
My point is that we should not confuse satisfaction with fun. When we reinvent our programs based solely on that criteria, we sell our goals short and shortchange our mission.
An amusement park is fun. Learning can be life changing and occurs over time. When a parent asks: “Will my child have fun, because otherwise it just isn’t worth it….” we need to take parent education more seriously. If this is how parents frame Jewish education, it’s wrong.
In 2004 a national survey of entering college freshmen found that most came to college with a goal to grow spiritually. The study authors write: “It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.
As Jewish educators, we are in a unique position to change lives and attend to teens’ deeper needs for spiritual connection. That sounds important, relevant, and purposeful. Fun? Save it for the roller coaster ride.
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