Monday, November 26, 2007

Can Computer Games bring Peace to the Middle East?

The Associated Press reports today that the Peres Center will distribute 100,000 copies of the game "Peacemaker" to Palestinians and Israelis on Tuesday, in tandem with the Annapolis summit.

According to the ImpactGames Peacemaker blog:

Approximately 75,000 copies will be sent to subscribers of the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz on November 27, with 10,000 copies of the game distributed through the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds. An additional 15,000 copies of PeaceMaker will be distributed to Palestinian and Israeli high school classrooms and taught by specially trained teachers in the coming months.

I've been meaning to write about this game for some time. The game allows you to play the role of either the Israeli Prime Minister or the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. To win the game, you have to lead your people to a two-state solution, while coping with "Palestinian suicide bombers, Israeli attacks in the West Bank and Gaza, hawkish Israeli groups, Palestinian militants and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Palestinian refugee camps."

You can download a free demo that lets you play for ten turns -- and let me say, having played the demo several months ago, staying in power for even this long is a challenge! The full game is $19.95 for Mac and PC, and can be played in Arabic, English, and Hebrew.

Although it would seem like a no-brainer to use this one with our junior high or high school programs, I admit that I still haven't brought this one to Emanu-El (the interface is just slightly complex, and it requires quite a bit of time to play). If you've had any experiences using this with your students, please share them here!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pluralism, Diversity, and Jewish Education

I am pleased to report that my article "A New Kind of Diversity: Jewish Education in a Pluralistic Society" appears in the Fall 2007 issue of Jewish Education News.

The issue, on "The 21st Century Jewish Learner and the 21st Century Jewish Educator," features several excellent articles on the impact of technology on Jewish education and community, as well as pieces on Jewish professional networks, teacher training, early childhood and older adult learners, and so on. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Jewish Education?

Let me say right off the bat that I have busy indeed these past few months, and the backlog of things I would have liked to write about in this space has grown longer than I ever imagined it could. If you are curious about some of the things keeping me occupied on a professional basis, I would direct your attention to the website of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York. If you'd like to know what's been happening on the home front, well, Liz has been doing a far superior job keeping that blog updated than I have here.

Nevertheless, the long pause since the last update to this blog shouldn't be seen as indication that nothing of note is happening in the world of Jewish education. Quite the contrary: these are interesting times indeed!

First, I suspect that 5768 will be remembered as the year that interest in Supplementary Jewish Education reached critical mass and hit the mainstream.

  • Following on the heels of Jack Wertheimer's Recent Trends in Supplementary Jewish Education last Spring, CAJE has announced that the Summer 2008 conference will largely focus on questions of synagogue education. An online discussion has already begun at the CAJE 33 wiki.

  • Mindy Schiller, writing for the not-exactly-alternative World Jewish Digest, authored a front-page article entitled "What's Wrong with Hebrew School?" for the October 2007 issue. Nothing is really said that wasn't written about in Sh'ma (and other places) as far back as March 2002, but hey, this article does quote me.

  • The Steinhardt Foundation's posting for a Program Officer included as a job responsibility "Developing a plan for rethinking supplementary Jewish education," and this will be the subject of the Fall 2007 issue of their journal, Contact. I expect that in the coming year we will increasingly see postings for congregational positions featuring phrases like "educational innovation" and "visionary leadership."

This past Fall also saw mainstream Internet sites becoming part of the general Jewish educational experience. We've got:

  • Rosh Hashanah videos on YouTube, like this one (which appears to be some kind of low-key birthrightisrael viral marketing campaign.

  • It certainly seems to be the case that every Jewish educator I've ever known is now on Facebook. Teens, run in terror!

  • And of course, 2Life magazine, celebrated the one year anniversary of Jewish life in Second Life, with its sixth issue featuring articles on the first virtual brit milah.

And of course, this Fall has seen the controversial opening of the first Hebrew-language public school, Ben Gamla Charter School, in Hollywood, Florida. Opinion is split as to whether this is a "genius" or "disingenuous" means to use public money to provide children with a Jewish, er, I mean "Hebrew" education. Nevertheless, expect to see others trying to replicate this model if Ben Gamla is deemed a success (and it survives any legal challenges that arise as it navigates the line between church and state).

All of this, and still so much more to say. Ladies and gentlemen, it is hard to believe it, but Jewish education is a growth industry. Who would've thought?