Jewish Education's Ancient New Dilemma

Years ago, I fell intensely in love with Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Traditional education, he wrote, turned students into "containers," receptacles to be filled by a teacher whose narration couldn't generate true curiosity or creativity. Real learning, according to Freire, could emerge "only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." To be a good teacher, then, an educator had to be revolutionary, giving up his or her innate power in order to form a dialogue-based partnership with the students.

When I began working in education, I desperately wanted to think of myself as a dialogical revolutionary. But, in Jewish education, absolute freedom in learning is especially complex. What happens if students utterly eschew ancient and sacred texts, canonized rituals and storied historical narratives? Can a Jewish educator truly cede his or her power to the students, just praying that their reinvented Judaism remains recognizable?

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