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Letters week of Jan. 4, 2007
Key to Success: Keep Kids Learning, Make It Matter
Alan Luxenberg took the words right out of my mouth (Opinion: "Seek a Serious Future? Then Get Serious About Educating Jewish Children!" Dec. 21).
I was one of the few people from my Bat Mitzvah year to pursue Jewish education until age 18, mostly because my parents insisted that quitting was not an option.
At the time, I found Hebrew school time-consuming and felt I wasn't learning anything new. Looking back, I now realize that continuing my education was essential to my Jewish growth.
The key to success in Jewish education is making sure students continue after Bar and Bat Mitzvah. I don't have a miracle solution, but I do know that the best days at Hebrew school were the ones where we did interactive activities. I especially loved hearing about what was going on in other Jewish communities in America and Israel. Hebrew school is where I learned what it meant to be a Zionist -- and that is perhaps the most important thing I ever learned.
Though I think the standardized testing Luxenberg supports would do more harm then good, I agree that quizzes and homework are a logical step in the right direction. It's essential that Hebrew schools prove to students that their Jewish education matters as much as regular school -- and in some ways, even more.
Ditch the Tests and Learn to Motivate the Students
While I applaud Alan Luxenberg's article in support of serious synagogue school education (Opinion: "Seek a Serious Future? Then Get Serious About Educating Jewish Children!" Dec. 21), I take strong exception to his solution.
There is a growing mass of educational research which says that people learn best cooperatively -- when they are actively engaged in learning, and take personal meaning from it. Homework and testing are the least effective issues in promoting student-centered learning in our religious schools.
I have been involved for a number of years in Project Etgar, a new approach to teaching and learning in grades six to eight for Conservative synagogue schools.
Using core Jewish concepts based on Jewish texts, involving students actively and applying their learning to their own Jewish lives has been a transformational experience for all involved in the 23 Etgar schools piloting the program around the county.
The program involves parents in meaningful ways with their children and changes the teacher's role from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side."
Parents appreciate and support excellence. Less of bad is not better. But excellence is supported by families who in some cases have supported synagogue schools seeking to increase contact hours.
While ongoing assessment and homework are a part of the program, they only work when students are self-motivated enough to care.
Rabbi Steven M. Brown
Director, Melton Research Center for Jewish Education
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
New York, N.Y.
Iran? That's a Bigger Hornet's Nest Than Iraq
Jonathan Tobin misplaces his ire on the Iranian question (A Matter of Opinion: "The Real Case of Denial," Dec. 21). The problem is hardly James Baker or Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It's George W. Bush.
We may well need to use force against Iran, but the Bush administration has proven itself so inept in the execution of its foreign policy that it cannot be trusted to initiate an armed adventure in Iran.
The fact that its Iraq policy has become a total fiasco was predictable from the invasion's inception. The administration has even managed to make a mess of Afghanistan, where most of the population, as well as the majority of the world, supported U.S. action.
So why would anyone in his right mind encourage this administration to step into an even bigger hornet's nest in Iran?
Bush has squandered all his political capital at home and abroad, especially vis à vis the use of force in the Middle East.
The best anyone can reasonably hope for is a new administration that can restore our credibility and rebuild our understaffed military before Iran builds a nuclear bomb.
Let's Help Iranians Solve the Ahmadinejad Problem
Let us consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some say he can be indicted under international law. Others would demonize him. He's referred to as "irrepressible" in Jonathan Tobin's column (A Matter of Opinion: "The Real Case of Denial," Dec. 21).
One question that must be considered is why he's made Israel/Palestine such an overriding issue. Who is he seeking to impress? Is this a matter that has fundamental roots in the primarily Persian country he represents? Or is this the agenda of the mullahs whom we're told are the real controllers of Iran's destiny?
Ahmadinejad's accomplishments to date seem to have gone a long way in creating misery and poverty in Iran. Reports of recent elections there would lead one to believe that he has so mismanaged the country that the Iranian people rejected all -- or almost all -- of the candidates allied to the president. I am sure that the hungry and dissatisfied in Iran are wondering why their wealth goes to Hezbollah and Lebanon and Syria and to building nuclear reactors.
Perhaps the way to deal with Ahmadinejad is not to demonize or threaten him. Just possibly his people see him as irresponsible, not irrepressible. We should assist them in the process.