April 11, 2008
6 Nissan, 5768
This week I was reminded how special Gann Academy is, how blessed we are to be part of the Boston Jewish community, and how exciting a time it is for the field of Jewish day school education. From Sunday through Tuesday, PEJE (The Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) held its biennial conference, which brought together over 1,300 educators and lay leaders from every walk of Jewish life, from academia and non-Jewish independent schools, and from around the world, for three days of learning and collaboration focused on improving the quality of our schools and advancing our field. Presentations and workshops on a wide array of issues – school governance, leadership, affordability, teaching and learning, special education, Israel education, technology, and more – engaged participants with new ideas and practices, challenged us to reflect on our schools and our work, and stimulated a field-wide conversation about the tremendous challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We should be proud that Gann Academy was represented by at least twenty administrators, teachers, lay leaders and parents, many of whom led sessions and some of whom were integral to the planning and execution of the conference itself.
For me, one of the highlights of the conference was Sunday night’s keynote address by Patrick F. Basset, President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). While the conference offered sessions on nearly every aspect of day school leadership and management, Pat’s talk, entitled “The Right-Brained Future: Creating 21st Century Schools,” refocused a room of 1,300 people on what our schools are ultimately all about – our students. He challenged and inspired us with the obvious question that, sadly, too often gets lost in the day-to-day of running a school: “What curriculum – what skills and values – will prepare our students for the 21st Century?”
Based on the book A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink, Pat introduced Six Aptitudes for the 21st Century conceptual age: Design, Story, Empathy, Symphony, Play and Meaning. These right-brain aptitudes include students’ abilities to find conceptual connections between arguments and information; to identify and relate to others; to solve real world problems with teamwork and creativity; and, to find and make meaning in their lives. Pink’s vision should challenge and inspire us to reflect honestly and critically on what and how we teach our children. Our Jewish tradition, Jewish education in general, and our pluralistic Jewish high school in particular, offer unique opportunities to cultivate these aptitudes and to prepare our students for the 21st Century.
In one week, we will sit down at our seder tables for the quintessential Jewish educational experience, and Pat Basset’s address inspires me to reflect on what kind of learning experience my seder will be. What aptitudes will our storytelling cultivate for the broad range of participants – from 5-year olds to 85-year olds, from Orthodox Jews to non-Jews, from left-brained analytical types to more right-brained artists and musicians? Will we sit around for hours reading and discussing, and at best questioning, analyzing and sharing, or will we create opportunities for playful creativity, for teamwork and problem-solving, for deep identification with and connection to others (in our past and at our table), and for personal meaning-making? These are the questions our teachers must ask before they walk into their classrooms, and these are the questions I am asking myself as I prepare our family’s seder this year. To be honest, I find them inspiring, but also daunting.
As we enter a week of intense Passover preparation, may we remember that in addition to cooking and cleaning, this holiday is our people’s time to prepare ourselves and our children for successful and meaningful Jewish lives in the 21st Century; and, may we take seriously the challenge to create a right-brained seder, where learning experiences engage the minds and touch the hearts of our students, our children and ourselves.
Rabbi Marc Baker