PaJeS Blog

Talking informally.... Picking up on the big ideas in Informal Education

Posted by Michael Pollak, PaJeS - 28 Jan 2014

One of the great unexpected pleasures of attending L****D ( you never know who is reading this blog) was discovering  David Bryfman His CV states that he is currently the Chief Learning Officer at The Jewish Education Project in New York. But that is only a cover because David is born and bred Australian and as befits a product of the home of Ned Kelly, Shane Warne and Dame Edna Everidge he is trouble. David is an Agent provocateur. He is an iconoclast and a truly original thinker who has focused on Jewish education and more recently on Informal experiential education. He may not change your mind but he will rattle your cage and force you to review the assumptions which seemed so secure before you had so foolishly wandered into his classroom.

His latest victim is the Mapping Goals in Experiential Jewish Education”, a study commissioned by the Department of Experiential Jewish Education at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future.  You can find it here

Bryfman challenges this important report across four separate short essays the last of which asks a crucial question. Reflecting on the tight organisation of the YU report with its clear aims and outcomes derived from the interest of the Jewish community.

.........if the outcomes are so clearly predetermined in advance of an event, then I am not sure that it qualifies as experiential education. And here is where this understanding of experiential Jewish education might be problematic in some communities, who stress an outcome-based education. If the objective is to take kids, young adults, and to make them more something, more religious, or more observant, or there is a specific agenda, then, at least according to John Dewey, it is unclear whether you’re actually letting the kid go down their own path, or whether there is authentic self-discovery.

Bryman’s appeal to the our romantic soul  seeking the truth for each individual has a surprising parallel in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s reticence i n framing a definitive method for learning Torah. Rav Aaron invokes that reliable Rabbinic source, John Keats.

Do not all charms fly,

At the mere touch of cold philosophy?

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:

We know her woof, her texture; she is given

In the dull catalogue of common things.

Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings,

Conquer all mysteries by rule and line

Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine

Unweave a rainbow

(Lamia, ii, 229–237)

Ultimately though do we need to recognise the naiveté of both  Keats and Bryfman and get “clipping the wings” and “unweave the rainbow” and get some education down their bleedin’ throats. Meanwhile here is the whole of David Brymans 4th essaylet. Prepare to feel troubled...



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