By Michael Feuer
A dedicated community of scholars, education leaders, and funders is working to build new bridges and roads to connect good research to the problems and challenges of Jewish education. This vision forms the basic rationale for CASJE – the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education. At the risk of overdoing the transportation metaphor, CASJE aims to repave – and in some cases lay down – pathways connecting rigorous scholarship to the improvement of practice. It is a complex undertaking, motivated by the increasing awareness that researchers, practitioners, and funders from the private and public sectors can benefit from intensified efforts to leverage each other’s work for their collective benefit.
Let me expand this notion a bit. Educators toiling in the real world of Jewish education, whether as school leaders, teachers, camp directors, community center directors, early childhood providers, or museum managers, have a healthy appetite for research-informed advice. Jewish education research, though, is not always satisfying, in terms of its relevance, timeliness, or reliability. Hence, there is a growing interest in applying the best methods of education and social science research, and to do so in a way that is systematically responsive to the needs of its ultimate users. This is about connecting the wisdom of practice (a concept made famous in the literature of education research by my co-chair and friend, Lee Shulman) to the practice of wisdom.
If this sounds more complicated than designing and implementing, say, a new highway system connecting center city Washington, DC to its multicultural suburban circles, that’s because in fundamental ways it is. But as co-chairs of the CASJE Board, Lee and I see evidence that the experiment is starting to bear fruit in several areas: Hebrew language education, leadership in Jewish day schools, improvement of Jewish early childhood education, enrichment of Jewish camp experience, advancement in the understanding of what “Jewish peoplehood” means and its implications for educational settings, experiential learning with emphasis on the Jewish cultural arts, and even the economics of Jewish education. To borrow an aphorism that will be familiar to readers of this blog, we are a small organization with a big agenda. Fortunately, we have extraordinarily generous support from The AVI CHAI Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, without whom this sort of venture would be left on the scrap heap of imagined projects never implemented