Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Knowing in the 21st Century


To "know" can mean many things, including:
1.     To grasp with clarity
2.     To regard as true
3.     To have fixed in the mind *
4.     To have experienced of
5.     To Become aware
6.     To possess knowledge*
7.     To have sexual intercourse with (Biblical)

Educationally, knowing has long been a goal for the learning process. However, within the process of schooling, whether for general or Jewish education, what “knowing” was privileged and for what purpose has varied over time.

Andrew S. Molnar, in his article “Computers in Education: A Brief History”, cites Nobel prize winner, Herbert Simon, that developments in science and information process have changed the nature of knowing. While in the past knowing meant having information stored in one’s memory (definition #6 above, and perhaps #3), knowing has evolved to become the process of having access to information and knowing how to use it (close to definitions #1, #4 and #5 above). With the act of knowing changing due the changing nature of how we access and store information in the digital age, we must consider how we educate Jews different to “know” what is necessary to engage as Jews. 

Currently, much of our schooling frameworks, curricula and pedagogies promote the learning of information that can be stored and later utilized, such as the acquisition of information from primary Jewish sources, whether Rabbinic or Biblical, the rituals and holidays engaged in throughout the calendar and lifecycle events and even Jewish narratives.  Perhaps, the question now needs to be how to we construct educational efforts and design schooling that will prepare students with great access to information to use the information properly, to discern what information is appropriate for their chosen path and how to design self-directed engagement with information, so that they will “know” how to use the abundant information recently made open and available, like never before in our history.

In valuing a new form of “knowing” as vital to living and doing Jewish in the 21st century, we redefine our notion of Jewish literacy.  Jackie Marsh, in her article “New Literacies and Old Pedagogies: Recontextualizing Rules and Practices” designed research that determined that the changing nature of what it means to be literate in the outside world dictates that schools must generate new methods, content, learning process and mediums to better reflect these changes. How too must Jewish literacy models reflect the outside world? We must consider new texts, rituals and technology used to engage in Judaism in the 21st century, and not depend on pedagogies and notions of literacy that reflect a Jewish way of life and engagement that has been passed by as we turned the century and entered into a digital reality. Why do we need construct our student Jewish learning around teaching how to utilize tools, content and mediums such as Facebook, blogs and popular culture? Why don’t we teach practices that reflect the breadth of engagement in Jewish world, and ask our students to struggle with the tension for changing rituals and practices? Why not have students explore online articles such as this one on Tattoos by Dvora Meyers on Tablet as a way of engaging in thoughtful textual analysis as a 21st century model for engaging in Jewish practice and behavior?

As Marsh argues, changing literacy models demands a change in pedagogy and the role of the teacher. Patt Herr demonstrates in her expiremental research documents in the “The Changing Role of the Teacher (Industry Trend or Event)” that the primary goals of schooling have been to transmit culture, from the past generations to the current generation, and to prepare youth for the world we live in.  Jewish Education, having been heavily influenced by universalist tendencies inherent in public schools, function to serve these dual purposes. However, more focus has been paid to the transmission of culture than to effectively preparing youth to live Jewishly in the world we live in. The digital world will make it much more complicated and much more necessary to develop students ability to learn how to live as Jews in the digital world.

This demands models of teaching that deviate from the “Sage on the Stage” model of a teacher Jewish education remains much more comfortable with in formal environments.  This model, established as far back as Maimonides, fits comfortably with the model centralized Rabbinic figure of authority. This was not always the case; for even in Talmudic times, teachers served as facilitator of learning in the “guide on the side model”, a model we need to reclaim and enable Jewish education to be at the forefront of changing the teaching paradigm.

A teacher as guide will be better enabled to move our youth beyond being smart, to being wise, for Judaism as far back as Pirkei Avot has valued Chochma (wisdom). Marc Prensky pushes us beyond the bifurcation of digital immigrant and digital natives to recognize those who have digital wisdom as most capable within the digital world. In “H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Widsom”, Prensky recognize that in the digital age, widsom means to access the power of digital enhancements and the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities. For Prensky, like Simon, sees wisdom as the highmost realization of knowing how to discern the difference between right and wrong in engaging with the tools and information made possible in our digital age. Prensky makes the case that the ultimate knowing we can enable our students with is moral rather than technological.

We need to consider the fourth son from the Passover seder, the one who does not “know” how to ask.  The worst we can do as educators is not prepare our students to “know” how to access the information and knowledge in order to ask the right questions, moral and otherwise.  We need to utilize our Jewish wisdom to teach how to be digitally wise, in discerning right from wrong

In  “Redesigning Jewish Education for the 21st Century: A Lipmann Kanfer Institute Working Paper” by Jonathan Woocher, Renee Rubin Ross & Merideth Woocher, a case was made for a Jewish educational paradigm designed for a changing digital world. The authors designated three design principles: 1)Learner as active agent;
2) Power of relationships and the social experience of learning; 3)Life Centered Jewish Education.

It has been three and half years since this work was first introduced to the Jewish education conversation. How far have we come? These design principles laid the groundwork for better understanding how to cultivate a generation of Jews who will truly know what it means to be and do Jewish. Will they be wise? Will they know how to utilize and discern the Judaism they can now encounter on their own? Have we truly built or transformed the model what it means to cultivate a literate Jew, in terms of content, process and medium?

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