Thursday, January 29

Gray Matter 3

Rabbi Chaim Jachter is a teacher at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck, and a dayyan on the Elizabeth Beit Din. The third volume of his wonderful series, Gray Matter: Exploring Contemporary Halakhic Challenges, has just been released. If you're a halakhah teacher, or need to prepare occasional shiurim on a variety of contemporary issues, you'll find it to be a wonderful resource. The book can be ordered online here.

In addition, scores of his written shiurim are archived at Rav J's Halacha Files. Topics range from Hilkhot Shabbat to bullfighting(!), agunot after 9/11, tevilat kelim, yichud -- and many others (a number of the shiurim are on Tanakh and aggada as well). Each file puts forth and analyzes the central sources in the sugya, usually ending with the modern poskim (special affinity for R. Ovadiah Yosef, R. Moshe Feinstein, and Rabbi Soloveitchik -- with tidbits tossed in from when Rabbi Jachter was the Rav's shamash). In the spirit of "mi-talmidai yoter mi-kulam" Rav J often cites, by name, the insights and questions of his students, which arose in the original delivery of the shiurim.

Lookjed houses some of his other hiddushei Torah, also generated from the interaction of teaching and learning with his students. Download PDFs on Massekhet Sukkah and Massekhet Sanhedrin.

A Call for Jewish Media Literacy Education

I recently tried to find out what Orthodox schools in North America are doing to promote media literacy and critical consumption. In terms of formal education, I didn't find much. Sounds like a problem, since our students are very extensive consumers of popular culture and media. As part of ATID's series "Survey of Research in Jewish Education," I have posted a call for a systematic response.

Tuesday, January 27

What Works

The US Department of Education's "What Works Clearinghouse" tries to figure out what plans, interventions, and programs have positive effect that is supported by real data. The website has been criticized - some referring to it as the "Nothing Works Clearninghouse" since it has a lot of critical things to say and a lot of programs that have no data to support them - but of late they have tried to focus less on what does not work and more on what does. Worth a look.

Sunday, January 25

50% Education, 50% Entertainment

As any teacher knows, if you can't keep 'em entertained, you can't teach 'em. I don't know whether this classic experiment is encouraging or discouraging, but it does prove that you don't actually have to know very much to be considered a good teacher.

Thursday, January 22

Self-Promotion Dept.

A new article of mine, from the Orthodox Forum volume on Religious-Zionism after the disengagement, entitled "Can American Orthodoxy Aford to Have its Best and Brightest (Not) Make Aliya." It's a response to the claim that too many talented North American Torah educators have made aliya, and that that is damaging Jewish education. I don't buy it. You can download the article here, at (BTW, yutorah should be commended for putting the Orthodox Forum articles up on the website).

Tuesday, January 20

Teacher Accreditation

Recently, there have been calls to create some kind of accreditation for Judaic studies teachers in day schools (see, for example, here). I have my doubts. Even if accreditation was a proven tool for general education, what institutional body could provide a certification for teachers that would be acceptable and meaningful for a plurality of even Orthodox schools? Could there possibly be consensus on what is important?

Be that as it may, a recent study (short summary here), conducted by master teachers in conversation with other teachers, suggests that much of the research on teacher accreditation is beside the point. That research correlates teacher certification with standardized tests, and, as everybody knows (or ought to know), high standardized test scores are not the same thing as actual education. Instead, the study claims, we need much more robust categories to describe what makes a good teacher, and those categories would inevitably change the way certification programs are structured.
Recently, a post on Lookjed also cited this report in the Wall Street Journal, also questioning the value of teacher certification.

Saturday, January 17

New Biographies of Nechama Leibowitz

Two new biographies of Nechama Leibowitz have recently been published, and, according to reviewers, are must-reads for anybody interested in Tanach education, women's Torah education, and the inspirational story of one of the most remarkable Jewish women of the previous generation. Hayutah Deutsch writes in Hebrew, and Yael Unterman writes in English. (As an aside, all of Prof. Leibowitz's world famous gilyonot - weekly sheets for self-study - are available on the internet at

Thursday, January 15

Helping to Address the Tuition Crisis

There is a new initiative afoot in several US States. Its not vouchers for private school tuition, but it does give substantial tax breaks for donations to private organizations that provide tuition assistance to private school students. Might this help address some of the current tuition crisis? Education Week reports.

Tuesday, January 13

And the Award Goes To...

"The Newbery [award for children's literature] has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children's publishing." So says at least on researcher. The award winning books demand that kids stretch themselves too much, so the awards should be based more on accessibility and less on depth. Perhaps they should just give the Newberry to the latest "Captain Underpants" bestseller.

Monday, January 12

Constructivist Learning Taken One Step Too Far

We don't want to impose our visions on our students, but have them puzzle out their own vision at their own pace. The Onion "reports."

Sunday, January 11

Bli Ayin Hara

More kids are on the way, as they are in many religious families. Why is it that religious families have more children? Its a good question, but I'm not convined that this article gets at all of it.

Thursday, January 8

Oh yeah, well my students tease more than yours do!

Don't ban teasing in your school, just tease better and more effectively!

Tuesday, January 6

Football, Teaching.... Same Thing.

Finding out which players will succeed best in the big game (uh.... I mean classroom) is not always easy. According to The New Yorker the sollutions to educational challenges may involve making better draft picks rather than changing the strategy on game day.

Sunday, January 4

Costs, Costs, Costs

For unfortunately obvious reasons, many of the links recently have focused on the financial side of Jewish education. Will families be able to afford tuition and a year in Israel in the coming years? Most of this conversation on Yeshiva World News comes from those who value women's Torah education less than I do, but the Modern Orthodox world certainly will not be immune to these kinds of questions and problems.

Friday, January 2

Arent Parent-Teacher Conferences a Drag

I try to avoid going to parent-teacher conferences, even for my own kids (and I'm a teacher). They bore parents, scare students, and frustrate teachers. Well, here is a new model that might turn the whole thing into an actual learning experience.

Thursday, January 1

Comercialization Gone Mad!

How about changing the name from the Herbert Hoover school to the American Airlines school, from PS 162 to the Coca Cola Institute of Education. God save us from ourselves!