Vision at Work: The Theory and Practice of Beit Rabban
Reading Notes: Introduction and Letters 1-4

Introduction: Vision guided institutions versus schools with multiple agendas, sometimes at cross purposes.
Improvement in practices and outcomes can be achieved only by concepts--what kind of human beings do we want to cultivate?
  • "existential visions" -- addressing human growth and learning
  • "educational visions" -- broader questions of current and cultural circumstances (technological, economical)

  • institution lacks "what are we trying to achieve?"
  • even if they have vision guided ed, few have steps/plan to achieve it
  • some institutions have a plan that is unlikely/not defensible
  • Unfamiliar with vision guided institutions in literature and life
  • Skeptical of actually achieving vision guided education in real world conditions
  • Skeptical of effectiveness or potential
Importance of real-world functioning models as guidance:
  • What are they? Educational potential?
  • example/proof of achievability
  • what can they offer parents/educators in terms of aim of education?
  • give information on what is needed to push for vision-guided education

Beit Rabban, Upper West Side, New York, NY
Vision-guided Jewish day school education, a cross between U Chicago/Dewey School and a Yeshiva
  • Like Dewey in its commitment to progressive pedagogy, as exhibited by
    • problem based inquiry
    • intellectual openness
    • thoughtfulness
    • approach to moral education
  • Like U Chicago
    • intellectual seriousness
    • books and ideas
    • thinking is central activity
  • Like yeshiva:
    • allows students to explore Jewish texts
    • havruta study in unique learning groups
Underpinning understanding that there is a reason behind everything done/said
Thoughtful reflection behind decisions/set up, and genuine interest to remedy the things that aren't working
Portrait of Beit Rabban based on encounters between 1996 and 1998
Research falls into utopian portraits aimed to broaden our sense of the possible, existence proof of "whatever is, is possible"

7/4 Notes on the reading: Letters 11-17
Passage: “… the attempt to build a compelling guiding vision by achieving consensus among people with different values will give rise to something that is pretty vacuous and insufficiently exciting to inspire changes at the level of practice.” page 138, Devora's response to Alice's skepticism about instituting a guiding vision in an existing and diverse congregational school.
Again, I want to apply Beit Rabban's ideas about a guiding vision to public education. Alice's concern about finding a concrete and executable vision is intensified n the public sector; within the Jewish community there is already some level of agreement about what a vision might look like (Torah, avodah and gimilut chessed, as Alice described). How can a public school begin to construct a guiding vision? In my high school in Monterey, Calif., there were two programs (that I knew of) that were unique and pioneering. One was the oceanographic group—comprised of students strong in science and interested in marine studies, given resources to investigate their interests. Another was the Art Academy, which was a group of 30 students—of which I was one. These 30 students had all of our classes together, and they all were interconnected. The teachers worked together to form the curriculum, and there were regular seminars that were supplementary to the classes. History related to art; art related to science, and so on... When we made sculptures in Art and, we learned about metals and and their properties in Chemistry. I feel that this program incited a strong curiosity in me, and in my peers, and we felt really proud of our learning, both as individuals and as a group. I'm not sure if this experience proves Alice's skepticism that a functional vision depends on some level of homogeneity, or provides a good example of instituting a vision in public education. Is this model the answer for creating some level of a vision within public schools? What, then, happens to the students not interested in joining one of these groups? Would it be possible to create many focus groups in order to absorb all students?

7/6 Vision at Work

  • Questions that arise: Optimism versus Realism, when does an institution fall short of its visions? How many problems can exist before it's determined that it counters the vision?
  • Hiring "green" teachers: Is hiring fresh teachers feeding her authoritarianism? Is Devora begrudgingly training young educators, or is it part of her vision? Is the school missing out on the benefits of experienced educators?
  • Student rebellion: Is there room for rebellion at Beit Rabban? People who don't agree with her probably won't send their children there. Rebellion could be a tool of understanding the student and the students' way of thinking. Maybe if the students sense that they are part of something new and unconventional, they may use their creative energies to build the institution. Is rebellion a principled objection, or a need to be different and break away from what your parents/teachers are telling you to do.
  • Vision dictatorship versus vision democracy. Is a compelling guiding vision dependent on having a rallying, homogeneous supportive community? Can you scale vision-guided education to a larger, diverse population? Vision = what kinds of people do we want to cultivate? Whereas a democracy is more of an idealized process. Does it work to have autonomy without norms?
    • Failings of vision dictatorship: no followers, no change; Advantages: a strong vision allows for teaching, rallying point, something to strive for?
    • Failings of vision democracy: absolute choice and democracy within the students allows for lack of norms, no end result. funny-shoes-7.jpg
  • Evaluation: how does it play out inside and outside Beit Rabban? How does the goal of learning and lack of testing and grades interplay?
    • Do students truly succeed at learning for the sake of learning? Can these students function beyond outside Beit Rabban?
  • Vision: enactment versus fulfillment
    • Is fulfillment ever achievable? How important is the enactment and implementation of a vision versus fulfillment?
  • Devora ponders if there is a gap between the vision and the reality of the school.
    • Devora is not that great at articulating, because it seems like whenever Daniel tries to rephrase and clarify what Devora said, she says "not exactly."
    • Is a vision any good if it only exists inside her own head? Doesn't she need to be able to either articulate or enact it?