By Dr. Sarah Levy
Sitting next to Jon Levisohn, a co-chair of the conference and the director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, we commented after the first roundtable, a session called “Embracing Diversity, Teaching Equity: Race and Ethnicity in Jewish Day School,” that it seemed as if we were left with lots of questions and no answers. And that was the theme of the afternoon as a session about gender and sexuality was followed by a session about privilege and class, and a session the emotional climates in Jewish day schools ended the day. During each session, the conversation focused on challenges that are prevalent in Jewish day schools, but not the kinds of challenges that are usually the focus of day school conferences. We didn’t focus on the questions that tend to occupy our daily thoughts in the world of practice such as meeting our fundraising goals, lowering attrition, raising the bar for academic excellence and supporting our teachers in 21st century methodologies.
Rather these sessions focused on some of the biggest challenges in American education today and highlighted that day schools, while unique in the educational landscape, are not unique in other ways, and these are all topics that need to be addressed in our schools. Equity in education is something to discuss, even amongst our population, as race and ethnicity impact our students both inside and outside of our buildings. Questions about gender and sexulaity concern our students, not in spite of the fact that they are Jewish, but sometimes even more so because they attend Jewish day school. Economic and class distinctions impact the nature of our schools and who attends our schools. Sure, we’re not driven by standardized testing in the same way as public schools, but the pressure to succeed is just as high, if not higher.
Instead of going to bed depressed, however, at the thought of these never-ending questions without an answer in sight, I ended the day inspired. I had spent all day in different rooms with incredibly thoughtful, committed and passionate people who all happened to be thoughtful, committed and passionate about Jewish day school education. We’d spent the day considering my favorite question: “How can we do what’s best for kids?” Except we’d taken this question to the next level, considering how we can what’s best for all of our kids in all of our schools, not just tomorrow, but into the future.