Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Editor’s Note: This week we welcome the first in what we know will be a wonderful series of chinuch articles, contributed by the heads of school at our community institutions.

I have often heard from teachers, students and parents that Jewish day school is a “bubble.” On the one hand, this term is used affectionately in that the bubble is a safe, warm space, with shared values and a shared outlook—a space where we gain strength as a school community.

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But the bubble is also seen by many as dangerous. It can be a place that perpetuates insularity and can lead to narrow and skewed views. So much so that students often talk about becoming free and leaving the bubble.

And certainly we need to move beyond our bubbles, or, as some have called them, our silos. We need to understand that “it’s important to resist the temptation to surround ourselves almost exclusively with like-minded people, those who reinforce our pre-existing views and biases” (Commentary, “Living in Ideological Silos”).

The place where we need to go is into more public spaces. Places where, as Parker Palmer points out, “our relations with each other have a chance to become more pleasant, more strong and more durable.”

Sadly, in this ever-growing world of digital commerce and conversation, we are spending less and less time in the public sphere. And, according to Palmer, the school and the classroom are fertile grounds where this dynamic of public discourse can take place. It is in school where, “every subject, rightly understood, has the potential to shed light on the question of ….How can I connect with something larger than my own ego?” True educational inquiry forces us to think beyond our private bubbles.

Even our private day school bubbles, if looked at differently, can also become sacred places for us to think beyond ourselves and our opinions.

Most typically, Jewish day schools channel this energy through interscholastic partnerships and programs. Whether they promote religious, racial, socioeconomic or any other type of conversation, incredibly powerful programs that leave the grounds of the school help broaden the lens of students and faculty alike. They allow cross pollination and provide different, unusual stories. They create a public space that is a “great good place that is vital to democracy.”

But we should not feel that engaging outside of our bubbles is the only place where we can expand our lenses. If we dig deeper, there is much work to be done even within our own walls. Our silo is not as insular as we may think. So often, we make false assumptions and believe that every day school parent and child, while having some differences, are really not that different. We do not think of our schoolmates as “diverse.” Yet, there is so much diversity work to be done even within the bubble of the day school.

To expose this diversity in our own halls, schools must spend time creating safe spaces to hear the stories that have brought people to their particular school communities. When we take a moment to hear these stories, we realize that we can expand horizons in our own backyard.

In 2017, when we feel that some part of our outlook is challenged or if an attitude does not sync with ours, we can close our minds like never before. We can unfriend, tune out and never see others and simply not engage. We can put others in far off categories whose opinions mean nothing to us. When we do that, according to Palmer, we have “killed them off” and committed what he calls the spiritual equivalent of murder by rendering them utterly irrelevant in our lives.

As parents, teachers and students, we need to find more ways to make every voice relevant. Even the private, Jewish, day school bubble is a space to listen, grow and empathize—beyond the walls and within them, now as much as ever.

By Rabbi Aaron Frank, Kinneret Day School

Rabbi Aaron Frank is Head of School at the Kinneret Day School in Riverdale, NY.

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