thoughts on sunday school

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(NB. This is the intro for a cobbled-together but still pretty snazzy journal for Prozdor, a Sunday school I’ve had the privilege of teaching at. You can preview and purchase it here.)

Here’s the existential question behind Sunday school: how do you squeeze a vast, unwieldy, and complex culture/tradition/religion/language into a handful of groggy hours? You can’t, of course. Not even close. But the attempt must be made nonetheless, and so the morning becomes a sort of pedagogical triage: which subject deserves to be taught, what can be taught, how best to teach with limited resources. How to make the boring but necessary more palatable? What’s preferable, narrow expertise or a wider familiarity? Ethics or history? Holy books or wholesome living?

It’s like viewing a galaxy through a peephole.

Because the uncomfortable truth is that Jewish education was never meant to be supplemental. Actually, it wasn’t even designed for the classroom, even as a non-extracurricular; tests, lesson plans, projects are far too limited a tool. Sure, the gifted teacher can relay information and hope (pray) that it’s retained, maybe – if she’s exceptional –provoke curiosity, or even occasionally inspire. But whatever Judaism is simply can’t be reduced to a series of questions/answers, fill-in-the-blanks, or a monologue of bulleted points, even with handy visual aids and charts.

That’s not to say that the classroom experience isn’t important. It is, in fact, vital: Specifics have to be taught, memorized, practiced. But rarely will plain ol’ schooling successfully transmit the messy intangibles of ‘tradition’: the ambience, modes of thought, the appreciation, the curiosity, the pride. The feelings, the attitudes and associations, have to be cultivated and nurtured. And that’s a constant and never-ending assignment.

Most importantly, the educational conversation can’t be one-way. There has to be dialogue, provocation and reaction and re-reaction, where experience and involvement – on whatever level – is at least on par with hard information. Prozdor has, through continuous reflection and innovation, long excelled at maintaining their end of the conversation. A forum for the students to respond is really the final, logical piece.

And so I’m proud to present the inaugural edition of pröz, a journal by Prozdor students, for, well, everyone… [Note: the remainder has been excised, cuz it’s none of yo bizness.]

Thank you.

Written by menachemkaiser

12 May at 12:43

Posted in rants

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