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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category



Skin in The Game

May28

by: on May 28th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

I am slow to anger, but it really pisses me off when people prescribe for others some purportedly virtuous (or at least dutiful) behavior they’d never embrace in their own lives.In the financial sector, they call it “skin in the game.” Have you risked some of your own money on the advice you are doling out to others? If not, you have no skin in the game. This sound principle applies to many types of activity: the healthcare or housing programs that politicians approve for low-income families would not be substandard if their own ethics obliged them to accept the same provision for their own families. They would have skin in the game.

The current case in point:when Miya Tokumitsu published “In The Name of Love” in Jacobin early this year, she set off an avalanche of links, reprints, and citations. I was busy, so I ignored all the messages telling me to read and respond. But now, on vacation with time to think, someone sent me Gordon Marino’s exegesis of the same idea, “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love,’” recently published in The New York Times. My internal barometer hit the roof.

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Getting Serious About the Weather

May20

by: Jonathan Zimmerman on May 20th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

News Anchor (in a hopeful voice): So will you bring us some sunshine tomorrow?

Weathercaster (grinning): Well, I can’t promise anything. But I’m working on it.

Welcome to a standard news program in the United States, where weathercasters serve as our goofy national soothsayers. They’re screwballs, alright, donning ridiculous hats and delivering wacky one-liners. But they’re also trusted oracles, who employ the latest scientific wizardry to divine the mysteries of the skies.

So why won’t they discuss the science of climate change, too?

According to the American Metereological Society, we have “unequivocal evidence” that “human activities” – especially the burning of fossil fuels – have changed the earth’s climate since the 1950s. But you rarely hear a weathercaster acknowledge it on the air.

Now the White House is trying to change that. Last week, President Obama invited eight weathercasters to discuss a new national report on climate change. Citing floods and wildfires, Obama stressed that climate change is “a problem that is affecting Americans right now.” And he called on weathercasters to emphasize the same.

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Jews in America: Our Conflicted Heritage

May12

by: on May 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons

On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.

On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.

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Divest from Fossil Fuels

May9

by: Bill McKibben on May 9th, 2014 | Comments Off

Through the years we’ve published many articles in Tikkun from Bill McKibben, perhaps the most respected activist-environmentalist. McKibben founded 350.org to highlight the dangers we face now that we are far past the largest amount of carbon that can be sustained by the planet (350 ppm).The abbreviation”ppm” stands for “parts per million,” which is simply a way of measuring the ratio of carbon dioxide molecules to all other molecules in the atmosphere. Many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments agree with Dr. Hansen that 350 ppm is the highest “safe” level of carbon dioxide. We join McKibben in recognizing the current environmental crisis as an emergency.

Scroll down to read McKibben’s suggestion of one action that Tikkun readers, NSP members, and our allies can take in the face of this emergency: a massive demonstration challenging global warming.

Below McKibben’s note, I have also included my own response to his suggestions, along with an explanation of the NSP’s longer-term strategy on climate change. Please share this whole exchange on your website, on your Facebook page, and through other social media, and send it to everyone you know!

- Rabbi Michael Lerner


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Time for a National Diaper Policy

May8

by: on May 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

MSN has posted an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about poor families struggling to provide diapers for their babies. It’s a heartbreaking article packed with crucial information, and ultimately one that begs an overarching question: Do we need a national clean diaper policy?

‪As mentioned in the article, there are about 100 operational, locally-based “diaper banks” around the nation. Yet the need for clean diapers is far greater than the currently available supply and distribution systems, causing some parents to look to local food banks for assistance. This section from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article sums up the problem:

 Although formula purchases can be federally subsidized, diapers are not covered by food stamps through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

As a result, some food pantries are inundated with requests for disposable diapers. But the pantries don’t get steady donations of them and don’t always have them on the shelves. When they do, they fly out of the door, said Marcia Mermelstein, coordinator of the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry in St. Louis.

“We’re giving people four to six diapers when in reality when most people buy a box of diapers, they’re getting 24 or 48. It’s like giving one tiny bar of soap a month. It’s not enough, it’s a token gesture,” Mermelstein said.

Families will take what they can get, she said.

“They’re taking diapers that are clearly too small and taping them together and using whatever they can.”

Although charitable agencies see the diaper need, they can’t make collecting and distributing diapers their first priority because it takes away energy and donations from their main services.

“Yes, we need diapers,” Mermelstein said. “But in the great scheme of things, we are a food pantry and the highest priority is to give food for survival.”


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Utah Scoutmaster Attempts to Form Gay Pride Boy Scout Troop

Apr29

by: David Mason on April 29th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

A gay pride Boy Scout troop. That’s thinking. Take a troop of Boy Scouts – a symbol of recalcitrant tradition struggling in the new century to find a future – and attach it to an institution committed already to an unrealized future. Better still, find a place for the scheme where tradition is so entrenched, so fiercely intractable, that the only reality it knows is itself. It’s an idea of such audacious, convincing vision, it couldn’t fail, of course, to fail, but to light up our hypocrisy in its fall.

Peter Brownstein fell into this fool’s errand. With zero experience with scouting, he agreed a couple years ago to be the scoutmaster for the troop his son had joined, which was sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Utah.

A gay pride center is confrontational enough. A pride center scout troop in a conservative fortress like Utah is rather like a McDonald’s opening in Pyongyang (or, perhaps, Twitter in Cuba). But where it would be hard to make the argument that North Korea – as needy as it is – needs the deep-fried icon of western capitalism, Utah does need radical diversity. In Utah, as this native Utahn sees it, difference is sinister – suppressed as much as is possible in a putatively free society, as is evident in the disturbing fact that a measly four percent of scouting groups in the greater Salt Lake City area are not run as extensions of the LDS church.

Not one to accept responsibility casually, Brownstein committed himself to scouting, and found the executives of the Great Salt Lake Council – the biggest and most powerful Boy Scouts of America council in the known universe, incidentally – looking for ways in late 2012 to expand and diversify their membership.

Well, that’s easy, Brownstein thought. Just remove the barriers to entry that scouting policy has put up.

This is where things get weird. When Brownstein voiced his opposition to the Boy Scouts of America’s organizational exclusion of, for instance, gay scouts, he met with the expected resistance on the part of the Mormon Boy Scouts of America leaders, but also found himself struggling with the United Jewish Federation of Utah. Citing an “excellent” relationship with the LDS Church – at which he was “not willing to point fingers” – the Federation’s executive director insisted that Brownstein sign a statement divorcing his advocacy of non-traditional Boy Scouts of America membership from the Federation.

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The Crisis in Israel’s Holocaust Education

Apr23

by: Ayana Nir on April 23rd, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, and Israeli government ministers participate in March of the Living. Credit: Creative Commons/JAFI Israel

On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.

The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.

That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.

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The Challenges of Seder Night

Apr13

by: Rabbi Howard Cooper on April 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we sit down to our Seders – with family, with friends, or in community – we in the so-called ‘First World’, in 2014, intuit that as Jews we are living, historically speaking, lives of immense privilege. While we speak of oppression in Egypt and celebrate the journey our people made from slavery to freedom, we acknowledge the freedoms we now enjoy, unprecedented in Jewish history: freedom to assemble as we want, free to celebrate without persecution, free to speak our minds without fear of a knock on the door, free to express our Jewish selves in whatever style we may choose. The NSA may be monitoring every move we make – but would we want to alive in any other era of our millennia-old history?

Yet the challenge of Seder night is not just to remember the past, not just to recall the extraordinary longevity of our story with its roots in servitude and its mythos of the Jews as a people liberated into a different kind of servitude – servitude to a vision of how things could be, how freedoms of many kinds could be the inheritance of all peoples;  as UK Rabbi John Rayner z”l expressed it: ‘freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from hatred, freedom from fear; freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to learn, freedom to love, freedom to hope, freedom to rejoice – soon, in our days’. The Seder night is, of course, all of that. But it is more than that.

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An Invite to Join NSP’s Book Group: Doing Justice in an Unjust World

Mar12

by: Amy Broyles on March 12th, 2014 | Comments Off

You are invited to join a brand new NSP Book group. We’ll be reading the same book and then communicating through email with each other about our reactions. At some point we might want to make it live on a conference call or on a Skype or G chat. And we are starting with a fabulous book,Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological and Economic Vocationby Cynthia Moe Lobeda (a professor at Seattle University ). What is so powerful about this book is that it is grounded in spiritual and religious principles yet is an amazingly powerful critique of capitalism. Let me explain.

The everyday workings of global capitalism are endangering the survival of the planet and perpetrating structural economic violence on many people in the developing world.

How can flawed people like ourselves who are hopelessly entangled in practices and institutions that perpetuate injustice and violence against the earth (and ultimately our own children and grandchildren) possibly live an ethically responsible, justice-promoting life?

(excerpted from Thad Williamson’s review of Cynthia Moe Lobeda’s book–read the review to get a taste of what the book is about and why it’s worth reading:
http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/doing-justice-in-an-unjust-world)

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Teaching English, Physics and Love

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2014 | Comments Off

Here are two beautiful, moving and challenging movies about teachers who understand that kids can’t learn in school if everything’s going wrong at home and in the neighborhood. The first is about Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s work in Oakland, CA. All the videos on his site are worth checking out, but here’s one to get you intrigued:

This second one, Wright’s Law, seems very different, as it starts with some fun pyrotechnics, but its theme turns out to be the same: engage with the students’ own lives, and they will engage with what you are trying to teach. Its tagline is “A Physics teacher so extraordinary he can explain combustion and love.” The last part profiles Wright’s relationship with his very disabled son, and is a beautiful example of love in action.

And finally, don’t miss Yes! magazine’s current education issue, but especially Fania Davis’s profile of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, which combines the kinds of insights that teachers like Duncan-Andrade and Wright practice with a complete remake of schools’ approaches to discipline, suspensions, so we break the school-to-prison pipeline.

These approaches in schools are the things that give me more hope than anything for our collective future.