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The Dirty-Handed et Roll-Back Model of Jewish Education

December 12, 2011

by Jordan Hill

Think about the classical portrayal of aliens — the extraterrestrial sort — in American culture: massive heads, eyes, and finger tips held together by a spindly, almost shriveled, body. A friend of mine pointed out that this is a pretty good representation of what we as modern humans tend to develop in ourselves: our heads for thinking (almost non-stop!), our eyes for gazing at computers/books/TV/movies/phones/etc., and our fingertips for using the tools to help us navigate that which we spend so much of our time staring at. I think many would agree that we Jews go this route as much as, if not more than, our fellow society members. I mentioned this to the headmaster of the Jewish day school where I teach, and he concurred that Jewish educators put a disproportionate amount of our emphasis on teaching students’ heads, often leaving their hearts, bodies, hands, feet, imaginations, and (dare I say) spirits behind. I do my fair share of “head” (a.k.a. conceptual) teaching. It’s hard to avoid as a modern teacher, and anyways the point isn’t to avoid it. Rather, my goal as a Jewish educator is to strike a balance.

Thus I strive to implement the dirty-handed ET roll-back model of Jewish education. Why dirty-handed? Instead of just feeding information to students, the dirty-handed approach is to give them opportunities to engage in the material in as many hands-on, experiential ways as possible — i.e., to facilitate their “getting their hands dirty” as they embark on their own direct explorations. And ET roll-back? Rolling back our tendency of turning Jewish youth into “aliens” with huge heads and eyes!

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