Postlude

Lee S. Shulman

It is both a delight and a privilege to write the afterword to this thoughtful and scholarly, as well as practical and realistic, collection of chapters on Israel education. It is an equally exciting and delightful privilege to be writing as a closing bookend to the “Prelude” written by my esteemed colleague Parker Palmer. Parker and I have known each other for many years. In a very friendly and mutually supportive manner, we represent complementary perspectives on education, in particular higher education. It is never a surprise when Parker Palmer writes about teaching in the language of love and passion, while I am likely to be describing the same phenomena with accounts of thought and judgment. If there is a core to the Jewish tradition, it certainly has the multiplicity of interpretations at its heart.

Parker Palmer has always been the most inspiring and eloquent of the scholarly champions of a humanistic and emotionally rich approach to the challenges of teaching. His perspective has lovely relevance and resonance to the world of Israel education. I have always taken a more cognitive approach with an emphasis that is much more embedded in the social sciences and the challenges of professional practice.

I think it is fair to assert (and I believe that Parker would agree) that each of these perspectives is both valid and incomplete. Taken together, they are much richer, yet even the sum of our parts will necessarily be insufficient for a truly comprehensive understanding of education. And if education in general is a challenge, Israel education is among the most daunting of those challenges.

Permit me to begin with a surprising claim. In this chapter, I examine Israel education as an exemplar of professional education, a field in which I have worked for nearly fifty years. This claim should elicit some shock, alarm and understandable skepticism among my readers. But be patient with me for just a moment.

I treat professional education as education for professing. I consider liberal education to be professional in this same sense. Paradoxically, religious education is professional as well (I do not confound Israel education with religious education, although in some contexts the two are closely connected). That is, they are professional in the sense that a goal of both liberal education and religious education (properly understood) is to prepare students to develop the kinds of understandings, skills, and values that are necessary for them to function fully, flexibly, and meaningfully as citizens, leaders, parents, teachers, and trusted friends. To profess is to combine knowledge with commitment, to combine practical skill with moral values, and to link understanding with action.

Learning to profess is a process of habit formation and identity development. There are three kinds of habit integral to professional learning—habits of mind, habits of practice, and habits of the heart. The lawyer, for example, must learn to think like a lawyer, must develop a large set of lawyerly skills and practices from drafting contracts to mediating disputes, and needs to develop an ethical and moral compass that can guide her efforts as she walks the line between serving as the zealous advocate for a client and also serving as an officer of the court, protecting the integrity of the justice system. All professions entail the need to negotiate the interactions and the tensions among these three habits.

The student of Israel education is asked to develop extensive cognitive understanding of Israel—its history, geography, religious and cultural significance, literature, poetry, music, and a host of other varieties of intellectual and aesthetic learning. She may also be expected to develop Israel-connected skills such as fluency with the Hebrew language, talent and experience for engaging in debates and disputations about Israel, competence in making one’s way within Israel, or participating in Israeli dancing. Perhaps most important, and calling for the most integration, we ask the learner to develop habits of the heart. These are values, commitments, feelings, and a sense of belonging. The integrative function is captured in the process of identity formation, the development of a sense of self and of group membership where Israel plays a central role.

To profess also entails living and working in contexts that are replete with unavoidable uncertainty and unpredictability, thus requiring the profess-or to exercise judgment, reasoning, faith, and hope in the face of ambiguities. Indeed, the successful students of professional education must frequently inhabit multiple identities, plural senses of self, to accommodate the varied circumstances under which their professional judgment and action are tested. I find this conception of learning deeply Jewish as well as profoundly relevant to Israel education.

When we speak about education for professing, we are not describing processes of learning and identity formation that lead to unquestioned faith or belief in one set of principles, institutions, or leaders. What I have found in my studies of education across many professions is that learning to profess involves the development of a concordance of opposites. That is, someone who has developed an understanding of profession is someone who can combine the deepest commitment with the necessary levels of questioning, skepticism, and doubt needed to keep those commitments sharp and useful as events unfold and as unforeseen circumstances arise.

To learn medicine is both to develop deep understanding of the research findings, technical skills, and medical ethics that one learns during training whilst being in a position to question and challenge them as the need to adapt, refine, and even replace them emerges. It was no accident that the sociologist Rose Coser named her book on the psychiatric residency Training in Ambiguity.[1] Moreover, even as the physician or nurse undertakes the most complex intellectual and technical analyses, she must enter into a trusting, caring, and even loving relationship with the patient under her care. Analysis and empathy must work together for the sake of the patient.

In that regard, I remember a conversation I had with a young man who had just graduated from a Mennonite Christian college that is, in denominational terms, in the same extended family of Christian Learning denominations as the Quaker tradition akin to those which Parker Palmer identifies himself in the first sentence of his prologue. The young man that I met informed me that he had majored in theology in college and had been accepted to the Yale Divinity School as a graduate student. When my facial expression communicated a certain modicum of surprise at the juxtaposition of an undergraduate Christian college that I correctly assumed was committed to traditional liturgical and devotional practices and Yale Divinity School, which I saw as a liberal home to critical studies of holy texts, I saw a smile cross his face. He smiled and said to me:

You seem surprised by my choice. I guess you don’t understand that the kind of education I have received has taught me that there is more than one way to read the Holy Scriptures. In my youth, I could only read them one way; I read them devotionally. I have now learned that I can read the Scriptures, both analytically or critically as well as devotionally, without losing the capacity todo either.

In my language, this young man was learning to profess in a very deep sense. He was also developing a sense of epistemic empathy—the ability to hold on to one’s values while appreciatively comprehending the views of others whose values and perceptions are not aligned with one’s own. Indeed, at this same small Christian college, much of the first-year freshman curriculum was designed, as described by both the students and the faculty, to test their faith. Only by engaging that faith within a crucible of skepticism, doubt, and critical questioning could that commitment be appropriately examined.

And that is the fundamental paradox of learning to profess and the inherent challenge of Israel education. It is both learning to understand deeply, to practice in often routine and predictable ways and to absorb and exemplify a religious, national, familial, or cultural identity quite deeply without losing the capacity to be analytic and even critical. That juxtaposition is far easier to write about than to accomplish in practice. And yet, I would contend, what we learned from the chapters included in this anthology as well as from the continuing experiences with Israel education and other forms of professional learning, is this: development of the capacity for informed, mindful, and responsible uncertainty leads to intelligent and responsible action and not to paralysis. That is the essential character of Israel education.

When so many kinds of learning and developing wind about one another in a kind of pedagogical triple helix, the processes of teaching are not simple. The wise and varied chapters in this anthology exemplify that pedagogical diversity. While the chapters are all directed at the teaching of Israel education, they appropriately traverse the landscape of teaching and learning in which most fields of study must engage.

Conceptualizing Israel education as a form of education for professing also has the advantage of removing the question of whether we are talking about an education that is primarily cognitive and intellectual or emotional and spiritual, a form of deep learning or of identity formation. Learning to profess integrates and connects all of these. More accurately, learning to profess is an experience in which emotions, thoughts, identity, and technical skills are developed concurrently and seamlessly. They can be unpacked for analytic purposes, but in practice they are facets of a common experience of identity formation.

Learning does not occur in a vacuum. Israel education makes substantial demands on teachers and their pedagogical skill. Because the goals of Israel education are so multi-dimensional, teachers must be competent to teach for the understanding of subtle and challenging ideas. They must also be engaging role models and masters of narrative if the emotional and personal aspects of Israel education are to be addressed successfully. The pedagogies of Israel education cannot be didactic and frontal. The teachers must be skilled at group discussion, engaging reluctant learners, and guiding students into exciting debates and discussions. Increasingly, they will need to be adept at the uses of technology for long distance communication, simulations and games, and the development of learning and experiential portfolios. The preparation and continued professional development of the teachers in this field must be a critical priority.

Equally important, excellent teaching requires constant redesign and reformulation of formal and informal experiences based on more than personal taste or pedagogical intuitions. The field of Israel education needs to continue to develop bodies of evidence regarding what kinds of experience have what kinds of influence on which kinds of learners and in what sorts of contexts. The chapters in this anthology draw upon many kinds of evidence. But Israel education is not a field where a single study, a powerful experiment, or a well-crafted evaluation will answer questions of educational quality once and for all. Those of us in the field of Israel education and indeed in the world of Jewish education more broadly are continuously called upon to make practical judgments. These judgments will be better grounded if we continue to gather evidence of learning and its challenges in an ongoing manner.

What is needed is not research that will provide clear answers to the how-to, when, and where questions of Israel education. Those kinds of answers do not emerge from the kinds of research, however applied and practical, that I advocate. What does evidence-based practice mean? The word evidence derives from the Latin root (shoresh in the language of Israel education) vid that refers to acts of seeing. Thus visual, vision, and similar words share etymological patrimony with evidence. Caesar intoned “Veni, Vidi, Vici”—I came, I saw, I conquered—and the vid of evidence is the same allusion to seeing. The more evidence that has been collected, organized, and displayed, the better the guidance for those who teach and learn in this field.

We need to create a field informed by good research; we need to plant landscapes of evidence about the world of Israel education. They will entail large-scale evaluations like those deployed to study the impact of Birthright Israel. They will call for well-designed experiments that examine the teaching and learning of Hebrew language under different conditions. They will include many careful case studies of classrooms, field experiences, Shabbatons, and study trips. They will invite studies by teachers themselves who record and analyze variations in their own practices. When we can draw upon richer landscapes of evidence, we can do a better job of crafting more powerful educational experiences.

There is something inherently Jewish about the title of this anthology. Even though it presents a comprehensive, rich, and extensive overview of the field of Israel education, the editors resist the temptation to call it the alpha to omega or aleph-tav guide to Israel education. In all fields of Jewish studies, we treat our current state of understanding as preliminary, evolving, and subject to revision. Every text demands an interpretation. Every source cries out for a midrash. So it must be with Israel education. This anthology, however comprehensive, is only the aleph bet of the field. It is a great beginning. Of this we can be certain. There will be gimel and daled and many additional letters yet to come.

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Endnote

 

[1] Coser, Rose Laub. Training in Ambiguity: Learning Through Doing in a Mental Hospital. New York: Free Press, 1979. Print.

 

Lee S. Shulman is President Emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University. He was previously Professor of Educational Psychology and Medical Education at Michigan State University. Shulman is a past president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and also of the U.S. National Academy of Education. Shulman’s book The Wisdom of Practice was honored with the Grawmeyer Award in Education. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) in 2008. Shulman’s work examines the study of teaching and teacher education; pedagogical content knowledge; the assessment of teachers; medical education; the psychology of instruction in science, mathematics, and medicine; the logic of educational research; and the quality of teaching in higher education. Shulman’s most recent work has been the conceptualizing and description of signature pedagogies in the preparation of professionals.