“Making Jewish Education Relevant For The 21st Century Student” by Scott Mandel

Reference: The Jewish Educator

The biggest problem facing Jewish education today is the issue of relevancy. More than ever
before, we are facing an entire generation of American Jewish students who see little relevance
in their Jewish education. Long past are the days where children were sent to Hebrew School
because of grandparent pressure. Today, more than any other time in our history, children who
have no desire to attend supplemental school can easily convince their parents to drop the idea.
As a result, if Jewish education is not relevant to their lives, supplemental school enrollment falls
by the wayside.
One basic answer to this problem is making a paradigm shift in our conception of Jewish school
curricula. Currently, the feeling, more often than not, is to cover the entire scope of Jewish
curricula before Bar/Bat Mitzvah age, since the students are expected to drop out at that point.
The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Students find little relevancy in the curricula, and there is
little to no motivation to continue their Jewish education past the Bar/Bat Mitzvah year — if they
even stay enrolled until then.
As radical as this may sound, I have for years promoted that we should be aligning our Jewish
curricula to the general education curricula that students experience every day. This will create a
cultural awareness within our students of the Jewish presence throughout world, and American,
history. This type of cultural pride is found in numerous other ethnic groups as their cultural
heritage is studied within all Social Studies/History textbooks of the past few decades. By
paralleling Jewish curricula to the ideas and concepts that the students experience daily in their
general education, they can more readily see the relevance of Jewish culture in their American
heritage. As a result, this integration of cultural experiences can become a positive motivational
tool in their identification as American Jews.

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Scott Mandel holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Southern California, as well as an MA.Ed. and MAT from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He has worked in both Jewish and secular education for almost 40 years. The author of eleven books in teacher education (Jewish and secular), Scott has been a teacher, administrator, consultant, and teacher trainer.