By Robert Sherman
Open conflict abounds now in the political environment around issues we might have thought long settled or at least far down the road toward general consensus. Race relations, feminism, abortion rights, inclusion/gender, religious freedom, immigration, free press, health care, voter rights, foreign policy, separation of powers, even the nature and limits of our unique brand of democracy itself. We read and talk obsessively about these things with friends, spouses and partners. We interact on-line, at meal times, on street corners, in transit and anyplace where people gather in small or large groups. And we engage with and around our kids and other people’s kids.
What, however, is the role of the Jewish educator in all this? And what is the role of Jewish education?
What is our role when it comes to engaging students in discourse, inquiry and action? If we ignore or avoid tackling this challenge, we risk total irrelevance in the life of our community and the lives of our students. Is it possible or desirable to engage students with this content without taking a position? Can or should education be separated from action in the social and political spheres?
Should educators take the lead in the organizations where they work or should they follow other leadership? Is education a means to creating a more compassionate and just society; a more compassionate and just Jew? Few would argue against that proposition. Is it the role of education to teach children the wisdom of our tradition and how to apply it to their lives? Of course it is. Is it to help students build a moral compass? And is it to take a clear position on what is the true north on that compass? Is it to identify exactly where the compass should help you to go: the destination point? This is where it may get a bit stickier.
Is it right for educators to design learning experiences that lead students to prioritize one legitimate value above another legitimate one? In our long evolving Jewish tradition, one surely can find a basis for taking any number of competing positions.