Sunday, October 21, 2012

Balance in a Judaic Studies Classroom

At the last RealSchool meeting, on Tuesday, October 16, two members of the Religious Identity team were discussing some of the challenges students face in a Judaic Studies classroom. The two students were aware that teachers had to cover a syllabus and make sure students came away from a school year with a basic knowledge of certain books of the Torah, let's say, or key topics in a Talmudic tractate. However, the students expressed frustration that sometimes the teacher would acknowledge that a good and important theological question might go unanswered because the class needed to finish course material. This led the two RealSchool members to ask what is most important in a Judaic Studies classroom: 1) answering key theological questions that a) only some students may have or b) all students in the class have or 2) covering course material so a school knows that by the time its students graduate, the students have knowledge of the central texts of our heritage.

The students felt that the discussion about whether to cover course material or troubling theological issues was one that was unique to a Judaic Studies classroom. The General Studies classroom may need to cover certain course material in order to fulfill state requirements and/or to prepare students for an AP or SAT II exam. However, a Judaic Studies class feels no such pressure. Further, the students felt that the goal of a Judaic Studies classroom is not only to create literacy for students in the texts of our heritage, but also to produce Jews who have clear theologies and ones that are meaningful to them. Therefore, the students wondered if knowledge of texts should take a back seat at times to ideas that trouble students theologically.

What is the balance a Judaic Studies teacher should strike between covering material and making sure students are well thought out theologically?