A Kaplanian Report Card

Mordecai Kaplan laid out his vision of what a successful Jewish education might look like in his chapter on Jewish education in Judaism as a Civilization. We think his broad vision of Jewish education can serve as a useful mirror to assess Jewish education in the 21st century.

Complete our Kaplanian Report Card at the bottom of this page or print and distribute this PDF version.

Our crowd-sourced Kaplanian Report Card points to the challenge of maintaining high standards in an age of customization and consumerism. In our Kaplanian Report Card, we have tried to simplify his language and capture the core of each Kaplan’s concerns. Of course we are using “Report Card” as a kind of hyperbole or metaphor. We are rather sure that the qualities that account for a fully realized dynamic vision of Jewish education cannot be “graded.” Ideas like Kedusha (holiness), Amiut (peoplehood), Tzionut (Zionism), and Tikkun Olam (world transformation) defy easy benchmarking.

Over the years, however, the Kaplanian Report Card has created much conversation for rabbis and educators. We encourage educators contemplating our 21st Century Kaplanian Vision for Jewish Education to use this tool to assess the goals and efficacy of Jewish educational programs.

Kaplan was highly conversant with the educational philosophies of John Dewey. This linkage suggests two different ways to use this resource. Dewey was very aware that educational evaluation was inevitably two processes, in creative, dialectical tension with one another. The Latin etymology of to “value” something hints at these two processes. Read one way evaluate means to “prize.” Read a second way, it can mean to “measure against some higher standard.”

Your education committee or synagogue board could benefit from either of these processes. To “prize” would mean to follow the lead of the folks at Case Western Reserve University who pioneered the various methodologies of “appreciative inquiry.” It is critically important to appreciate a community’s educational strengths, to value successes. Naming these achievements can help any governing body feel more positive about their educational work. It can also provide the building blocks for future growth.

“Evaluate” also means to hold to a higher standard. In regard to each of the five arenas noted in Kaplan’s chapter on education in Judaism as a Civilization, there is room for improvement and creative growth. Noting these arenas of challenge and positive growth can provide a road map for specific initiatives the community might launch during the coming year. The mantra of the Mandel Foundation over the last several decades is very helpful in relationship to these imagined possibilities: “Think Big and Act Small” in the initial stages of the work.

Below the Kaplanian Report Card are three postscripts that might help you adapt it for your purposes.

Three Postscripts about the Kaplanian Report Card

Over the last two years several very useful suggestions have emerged regarding the use of the Kaplanian Report Card.  They are:

1. The original grading options of A to F are very old-fashioned. Let’s be more progressive in our grading structure and utilize 1 to 5 instead. (1 being struggling; 5 being very significant achievement) 

2. Some groups with limited experience with the national Reconstructionist or general Jewish educational context have found the tool works well in an intergenerational context with three different column headings:  

     A. My own Jewish education

     B. The Jewish education of my children or grandchildren

     C. Our synagogue education community.

3.  Some groups have found it helpful to compare their results with the national survey conducted through the Kaplan center.  If you think your group might find that stimulating, we are happy to share those results with you as well. Please be in touch with Dr. Jeffrey Schein, Senior Educator.