Adapted from the original French article by Faustine Goldberg-Sigal –
A few years ago, back in the days when planes, travelling, and eating out with friends were still part of our lives, I took advantage of a business trip with friends to visit a friend in San Francisco. It was also at the start of the Uber pooling, at least in Paris. If you are not familiar with this (I’m unsure if it still exists), this allowed people to use Uber to share rides. Thanks to an undoubtedly sophisticated algorithm, the application was able to pinpoint users with similar compatible journeys. In their initial marketing, Uber presented the concept as a way of creating links between users. Nice words, except, within the first few months I used it in Paris, I noticed that it did not work at all. People always preferred to pay double and not have to travel with a complete stranger. So, when I tried to book through Uber Pool, I usually ended up there on my own anyway. Those rare times when I did have others with me, people barely said hello, choosing to scroll on their phones as soon they were in the car.
When I took my trip to San Francisco, I was shocked to see that all of the Uber Pools I took not only arrived with other passengers, but, be warned, the passengers were actually speaking to each other and the driver! I shared my astonishment with my friend living there. She told me, “Of course! Here, people only take Pools and everyone talks to each other. It is said that there are even start-ups being created in the Uber Pools!” It’s so San Francisco! It was such a cheerful (and a bit cliché) image, but I had to question if this does in fact happen.
I re-experienced that same feeling of doubt again a few weeks ago during an exchange with colleagues. One of them is currently a school principal while the other is a retired principal active in various consulting missions for Jewish education. We were discussing the added value – if not the indispensable nature – of interdisciplinary activities for children. Decompartmentalization of disciplines has countless attractions. It sharpens curiosity, anchors content in reality, and prepares them for the adult world (where we are not spending 45 minutes focused strictly on strictly geography questions, followed by strict mathematics.)
Additionally, in the particular case of Diaspora Jewish education, it seems to me that it is essential to not only equip children to be, and become, confident and autonomous Jews, but also French (or Spanish, Bulgarian, wherever you are) Jews. This implies not only sharpening their skills in, for example, Chumash, but also in teaching them how the Ten Commandments influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. It implies not only knowing what the gemarra says regarding capital punishment, but also knowing that it was abolished in France in the 80’s by Minister of Justice Robert Badinter, who hid from Nazi deportations while his father was deported to Sobibor.
Therefore, interdisciplinary activities, and interdisciplinary education in general, within the framework of Jewish education in France is particularly important and valuable. It not only allows children to discover and understand, but also enables them to construct their own identity in a fertile way. I cannot say how much the feeling, conscious or not, of a tight separation between general and Jewish education, between everyday life and synagogue space, weighed on me, and indeed still weighs on me. It’s impossible to build oneself with variable values, shifting truths and partitioned identities. Of course, the nuance, variety, and diversity when they are placed in dialogue (even, let’s be crazy, in harmony) allows for conversations of unparalleled complexity and richness. Yet, when children are encouraged to leave what they are taught, what they believe in and dream of, at the gates of the Jewish studies classroom or synagogue, you feed into a dangerous cognitive dissonance. This dissonance, if not harmonized, is a ticking time bomb. Sooner or later, children will have to choose between one of the two worlds, to live with the persistent idea that it is necessary to make a binary choice between one or the other, but to renounce their Jewish culture would be as terrible as to renounce their French culture.
Let’s move beyond the theoretical to the concrete. How can we implement this fertile dialogue in our schools and curriculums? During our conversation, one of my two colleagues said, “Everyone knows very well that the best projects are born during unforeseen conversations between two teacher in the elevator between the staffroom and the class, or on the way between school and the metro!” Admittedly, I have no experience or knowledge when it comes to creating a start-up, and could not put aside my doubts when my friend told me about the Uber Pools of San Francisco. Yet, I have taught in schools, created curriculums for different informal contexts, and coordinated projects between teams. The instant I heard my colleague, I cringed. This idea of educational projects hatching within two minutes and turning into educational successes is, for me, at best wishful thinking or marketing (which is already not so great) and at worst an unrealistic expectation upon teachers.
Developing a solid and promising educational project, as you no doubt already know, involves hours of reflection, preparation, consultation, implementation, and more. We cannot expect our students to have a deep and long-term involvement in their learning without giving our all. As teachers, we understand this, but it is necessary that the external eyes of our supervisors, parents, and society see it as well. We know that a good educational project (interdisciplinary or not) takes time. It is time that we cannot devote to correcting copies, or to our personal lives. It is therefore important that our hierarchical superiors recognize this invested time, in their remarks (preparing an arts or literature class for an outing to the Louvre to look at old paintings as midrash takes time, not just an elevator conversation) and in our remuneration. Of course, all the hours of preparation and follow-up take time, time that is not always visible within our schedule or pay. We have all been caught between the dilemma of wanting to improve and renew our courses, and our time-management both for personal and professional considerations. However, within the framework of collaboration between two or more colleagues, where constraints must be harmonized, it is frankly impossible. This will generate disappointment, tension, and guilt, not educational gains.
As it is taught in Pirkei Avot, “ein kemach, ein Torah,” (without flour, there is no Torah.) You can’t replace a conversation about material support with smiles or slogans. If we want teachers to be able to expand their projects, these hours must be incorporated into their schedule, and compensated. These hours are crucial to the quality of education our students receive, and they are also crucial to our professional development. We know that we benefit enormously from sharing ideas, knowledge, and collaboration with colleagues, both in terms of concrete results and a feeling of belonging and renewal, now we need our peers and supervisors to also get real about what it takes to get there!