Jewish Journal


February 6, 2003

Educator Sees Needfor Teaching Morals


Something vital is missing from public and day school curriculums, says Dr. Hanan Alexander, a rabbi, educator and author of "Reclaiming Goodness: Education and the Spiritual Quest" (University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), which received the 2002 National Jewish Book Award in Education.

"Schools are just about making doctors and lawyers, and that troubles me," Alexander told The Journal. "Schools should be about teaching [children] about being good people."

Alexander will speak to the Jewish community about teaching students morals during a special lecture series and discussion at Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay on Feb. 7, 8, 9 and 11.

Through his book and lectures, the author proposes that Jewish and non-Jewish communities should turn education into "an emissary of goodness," where it is expected that students will learn ethics in school.

Currently a professor of education at the University of Haifa, Alexander attributes his interest in spirituality to the time he spent working at the University of Judaism. From 1983 to 1999, he was an education and philosophy professor and eventually became the school's chief academic officer.

During a conversation between rabbincal students there, Alexander noticed that people tended to think of Jewish spirituality in an extreme way -- either their ideas were too fundamentalist or too open-ended. Worried that these perceptions were dangerous, he wrote a book proposing a different conception of spirituality -- especially within the realm of education.

Dr. Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant, believes there is a great need for spirituality and ethics in education.

"What's happened is that there is an incredible amount of stress and competition in schools," the Los Angeles therapist said. "The incidents of cheating are very high in high schools, because what is worshiped are grades and SAT scores."

A national survey taken by the Rutgers University Management Education Center in 2002 showed that in a sampling of 4,500 high school students, 75 percent admitted to some form of cheating.

To counter these behaviors, Alexander believes that the community has to make a commitment to change. "If we want our kids to be different in the way they look at Judaism, for example, we have to behave differently," Alexander said.

For example, if the community places a high value on wealth, he said, that mindset will carry over into our schools, because the adults set the standards.

God -- or a sense of something holy or sacred -- should be taught in all schools, Alexander said. "We may differ in how we express God, but we have to believe somehow we are all trying to aspire to some common higher good."

He believes that neglecting to acknowledge this commonality encourages animosity and competition. "We have to believe we're together in this, even though we may disagree what being together means," Alexander said.

The lecture series is geared toward the Jewish community, educators and parents. In the lecture "I'm Right and You're Stupid!" he will prepare students to talk intelligently about taboo topics, such as religion and politics. In "Modernity: Political Success -- Moral Failure," he will speak about Americans creating inclusive communities, while maintaining their individual beliefs.

 For a more in-depth lecture and discussion of his theories, Alexander will teach a two-part master class in moral philosophy based on his book. He believes that if we are able to achieve teaching morality and goodness in education, our community will flourish.

"The message speaks to a deep need people are feeling," he said. "And that is to find a way of being spiritual that reinforces our core commitment to community, to free will, democratic values and liberal education."

Hanan Alexander's lectures and classes will be held this weekend and early next week at Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. Friday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m.: "Modernity: Political Success -- Moral Failure"; Saturday, Feb. 8, at 1 p.m.: "I'm Right and You're Stupid!" The two-part master class is scheduled Sunday, Feb. 9, at 12:30 p.m., and Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

To attend a Shabbat dinner on Feb. 7 ($18) or lunch on Feb. 8 ($12) before the lectures or register for the talks, call (310) 377-6986; or e-mail info@nertamid.com . p>

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