On the CST Bookshelf we feature a recent Wipf and Stock Publishers book, Portraits of Jewish Learning: Viewing Contemporary Jewish Education Close-In, edited by CST Board Member, Dr. Diane Tickton Schuster.

Portraits of Jewish Learning looks at the ways Jewish students today are learning in day school classrooms, Hebrew programs, synagogue-based schools, and high school and college courses.

Dr. Schuster has been conducting research and teaching about Jewish education — especially adult Jewish learning — for the past 25 years, always interested in what educators (including rabbis) can do to help learners learn. When she joined the CST Board and became involved in the Academic Affairs Committee (which she now chairs), she discovered that these kinds of issues were at the heart of how the CST faculty members think about their teaching and how CST students and alumni/ae are helped to carry their learning forward in their efforts to teach others.

In 2016 Dr. Schuster was invited by the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University to develop the Portraits of Jewish Learning project. She says, “My first task was to recruit Jewish education researchers who might have qualitative data about learners that could be shared with a broad readership. I think I was tapped for this work because my 2003 book, Jewish Lives, Jewish Learning, was crafted for a wide audience — rabbis, teachers, program planners and funders, and learners themselves — rather than just academics. My commitment has always been to gather stories of real people in real learning situations and to use those stories as the basis for a deeper understanding of phenomena. I care about theory and research, but primarily when they authentically inform what we are trying to understand about human behavior and meaning making. I was sure there were researchers and practitioners in the field who had learners’ stories to share, as well as theoretical frames that could help explain the why’s and how’s of these students’ learning experiences.”

When Dr. Schuster solicited papers across the Jewish education landscape, she discovered many people who wanted to become part of the Portraits endeavor. She chose papers about Jewish learning in diverse settings involving a variety of age groups, then spent a year challenging the portrait authors to think about such questions as “what do we mean by learning?”; “what is the purpose of learning for Jews?”; and “how do we assess Jewish learning in relevant and meaningful ways?” She says, “I also charged them with the task of ‘writing for the folk,’ that is, of sharing their findings using colorful and accessible language.”

When the portraits were completed, Dr. Schuster realized she had “the makings of a book that could spark conversation about learning, teaching, content, and educational environments, not only for Jewish audiences but for anyone across religious traditions who cares about creating quality education.”

The book includes ten essays with titles such as “The Mistaken Assumption,” by Ziva Hassenfeld; “Movement, Motivation, and Fun,” by Nicole Greninger; “Not the Israel of My Elementary School,” by Matt Reingold; and “Learning About Jewish Learning,” by Sharon Feiman-Nemser. David M. Bryfman writes in the Foreword, “Each chapter depicts in vivid detail that which is frequently left unexplained: the beauty and majesty of the learning process.”

Other contributors to the book include Jordana Battis, David Bryfman, Stefani Carlson, Rafael Cashman, Allison Cook, Rachel Happel, Orit Kent, Jon Levisohn, and Nachama Moskowitz.

Dr. Schuster has served on the CST Board of Trustees for seven years. She says, “In the past couple of years, the CST Board has been so busy with planning the future of the institution that it has not had time to ‘go deep’ about the learning that is part of the school’s core mission. However, for me, my work on Portraits of Jewish Learning has kept fresh my understanding of what we all need to think about when helping learners (and their teachers, too!) to grow. In thinking about the fit between CST and Willamette, I am encouraged by how much the two institutions share a commitment to what is sometimes called ‘learner-centered education.’ Once the move to Oregon is behind us, it would be wonderful if someone at CST could systematically document our students’ learning experiences. I know such a portrait would be inspirational!”