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Journal of Jewish Education, 74:16–28, 2008
Copyright © Network for Research in Jewish Education
ISSN: 1524-4113 print / 1554-611X online
DOI: 10.1080/15244110802493461

Catching the Wave: Next Steps in Advancing

Journal of Jewish Education
Education, Vol. 74, No. s1, October 2008: pp. 1–22

the Vision-in-Practice Agenda

Next Steps
Journal in Advancing
of Jewish the Vision-in-Practice Agenda

Building on insights of Seymour Fox, I explore the often-decisive

role of “good timing” in the introduction of potentially powerful
innovations (ideas, practices, etc.) into practical domains like
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education. After examining key readiness conditions that make

for good timing, I argue that the field of Jewish education is in
many ways now ready to take on an important reform agenda
associated with becoming more vision guided, but that the leader-
ship of educating institutions will need significant help if they are
to succeed in this effort and not grow either cynical or demoral-
ized. Within the article, I emphasize the critical need to make
available to them in a timely way the human and other resources
that can provide this help at a high level of quality.

In this article, I make a case for embarking—embarking now—on a specific

initiative to improve Jewish (and indirectly general) education that is both
important and time sensitive. In fact, its time-sensitive character is doubly
germane to the writing of this article: First, it is because it is time-sensitive
that I am urging attention to this matter at this time; and second, as will
soon be seen, the theme of time sensitivity is integral to the content of the
article. In addition to its substantive content, this article, which is appearing
in this special issue of the Journal in memory of Professor Seymour Fox, of
blessed memory, will pay homage to him by drawing on two important and
interrelated themes in his own work.
Although not a surfer, my understanding is that part of the challenge of
surfing is catching the wave at just the right time. A second too late or too
early, and you are unlikely to be very successful. Analogously for imaginative
ideas that have the potential to transform the way we live or do business:
oftentimes, good timing makes all the difference.

Professor Daniel Pekarsky is a philosopher of education, member of the faculty of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison and a long-time consultant on education to the Mandel Foundation. E-mail: pekarsky@

Next Steps in Advancing the Vision-in-Practice Agenda 17

Alhough an idea whose time has come is one for which the world is
really ready, it is important to note that “readiness” covers a range of different
kinds of cases, two of which I want to call attention to in this context. One
kind of readiness involves intellectual and emotional receptivity on the part of
the community to which the new idea is addressed:1 Consider, for example,
the initially infelicitous fate of the heliocentric hypothesis and its proponents
in a civilization with an intellectual/religious outlook that insistently required
that the earth be at the center of the universe; or, to take a more recent exam-
ple, the predictably contemptuous response to the idea that medications
should be used to handle clinical depression in communities dominated by
the outlook and practices of classical psychoanalytic theory. The second kind
of readiness, one that is particularly relevant in situations where improving
some domain of life by translating a new idea into practice is at issue,
involves the availability of technologies, ways of thinking, belief systems, atti-
tudes, and resources (both human and material) that make it possible for the
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idea to be meaningfully implemented in real-world settings.

Focusing specifically now on ideas that may have the potential to revolu-
tionize and improve some domain of practical endeavor, we may add that that
the attempt to introduce such an idea into practice if it is not in both of these
senses ready for implementation in the here-and-now may not only be unpro-
ductive but counterproductive. The reason for this is that those who have
unsuccessfully made the attempt to implement it, as well as those who have
witnessed such efforts, may draw the erroneous (or at least premature) conclu-
sion that it’s a bad idea or one that, in principle, is incapable of implementation.
Initial enthusiasm is then likely to give way to skepticism, and the idea may
quickly come to be viewed as a mere pipedream. This is unfortunate because it
may stand in the way of working to achieve the readiness conditions that might
have made meaningful implementation a genuine possibility.
One need not look far to identify ideas that, although articulated in a
compelling way, may fail the test of implementation and are in danger of
coming to be viewed as unrealistic fantasies because the requisite readiness
conditions for translation into social practice are not in place. Consider the
following contemporary example.2

This theme was anticipated by Plato almost 2,500 years ago in the Republic, in which he suggests
that the quality of an idea—even the highest quality idea, an idea certified through the Philosopher’s
encounter with the Good—will not suffice to guarantee its acceptance and adoption if the intended
audience for the idea is not intellectually or emotionally ready for it. The most profound ideas, he urges,
will only be absorbed in a meaningful way by individuals whose world has been organized, from child-
hood on, in a way that will render their souls emotionally and intellectually ready for these ideas.
I owe this example to Jeffrey Matos, M.D., a pioneering electophysiologist with a sophisticated
understanding of the history of science who has thought long and hard about the fate of ideas for which
(due to existing ways of thinking and doing things—perhaps “social and intellectual ruts” is the right
phrase) the world is not ready, even though there is compelling evidence for them and their acceptance
will make it possible to enrich our knowledge and our lives. Matos points to numerous examples of this
phenomenon in arenas as diverse as astronomy, electrophysiology, and physics.
18 Journal of Jewish Education

In the recent past, someone got the idea that external defibrillators can
help save the lives of people who, out of the blue, go into cardiac arrest in
places like airports, schools, health clubs, and businesses. The basic idea is
that if I see someone go into what looks like cardiac arrest, I look up, grab
the nearest defibrillator from the wall, read the accompanying instructions,
and proceed to shock the unfortunate—but also very fortunate!—patient
back into a normal heart rhythm. Since immediate response is of the
essence in such situations, the idea is brilliant: defibrillators have come to
be recognized as having the capacity to bring people back from cardiac
arrest—this is a bold attempt to put the innovation to work in the real-world
settings where it is needed to save lives. There is just one problem. Those
introducing the innovation may have failed to take into account what it
might be like to be the ordinary person who, rushing to catch a plane in a
crowd of people at the airport, chances to spot someone who has suddenly
collapsed: Is the nature of the problem obvious? Is it cardiac arrest, a faint-
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ing spell, or something else altogether? Likely as not, many of us would go

into a kind of panic in this situation. Anxious about missing the plane, filled
with uncertainty about how to proceed, less clear-headed than usual, fright-
ened and shaking, we might well feel paralyzed or slow witted, perhaps
looking to others for guidance. If we succeed in overcoming these circum-
stances, our state of mind may well contaminate our effort to read and
follow the directions attached to the defibrillator unit that are supposed to
guide our efforts to use the defibrillator effectively. A likely result is that
the intervention will fail.
The problem in this instance is not that that the idea is a bad one, but
that the necessary readiness conditions are not in place. Had those who
sought to bring the innovation to practice thought systematically about the
likely state of mind of ordinary people who come across a stranger who has
just collapsed in their presence, they may have realized that they need to
provide such individuals with more support of different kinds if they are to
function effectively. It is beyond the scope of this article or the competence
of the author to suggest what these supports might look like. For present
purposes, it is sufficient to emphasize that simply making available the
hardware and a set of written instructions may well be insufficient in this
situation, with the result that the power of a potentially life-saving innova-
tion is lost.
In seeking to further clarify why the relevant implementation infrastruc-
ture is not in place, we can distinguish two very different possibilities that
might apply to this and other cases. One of them is that due to our existing
state of knowledge, technology, and resources, the idea-to-be-implemented
is not ready for the world. To give a concrete example: A person who, in
the Middle Ages, came up with the idea of human beings using technology
to fly from one place to another through the air had a wonderful idea;
unfortunately, the state of this person’s understanding of flying and the
Next Steps in Advancing the Vision-in-Practice Agenda 19

available technology made this idea incapable of effective implementa-

tion—as was, we can imagine, easily illustrated when the inventor plunged
to a noble death in the name of scientific progress. Similarly, although the
idea of depression-easing medications might have been a brilliant idea, the
state of our understanding in the nineteenth century was such that it could
not be meaningfully implemented. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say
that these were not bad ideas, but ideas whose time had not yet come.
There is, however, a second explanation for why the implementation
infrastructure for an innovative idea might fail—a case in which the failure
could rightly be described as a tragic failure, where tragic is intended to
convey that the failure was both unnecessary and damage causing. In this
instance, with a modicum of intelligence, imagination, and foresight, guided
by the right questions patiently examined, it would have been within our
power to create the requisite implementation infrastructure. Such may well
be the case in the external defibrillator example described above.
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What has thus far been said applies forcefully to the case of education.
More often than we would like to think, exciting ideas that might have proven
transformative fail the test of real-world implementation because insufficient,
or insufficiently thoughtful, attention has been paid to the conditions that need
to be in place if they are to be successfully implemented. When this happens,
both their critics and their erstwhile supporters are likely to draw the unwar-
ranted inference that these ideas have been proven to be unrealistic fantasies,
rather than coming to the more sound conclusion that the relevant readiness
conditions for their meaningful implementation may not have been in place.
The result: It may be years later, if ever, that we discover that these ideas
would have been capable of implementation, given the requisite technology,
skills, attitudes, and resources—or just a modicum of good thinking.
Recall in this connection Seymour Fox’s distinction between visions
and visions-for-education. The difference between them is between inspir-
ing ideas, as such, on the one hand, and inspiring ideas that are embodied
in a credible conception of how they might be interpreted and meaning-
fully implemented in our real-world circumstances. However noble it may
be, an idea that cannot serve as a serious guide to practice will soon be
dismissed; and, unfortunately, many educational innovations fail and soon
get cast aside as irrelevant because the conditions needed to implement
them in a meaningful way are not in place. As already suggested, in some
cases, these conditions are not in place because the relevant technologies,
human resources, and stock of knowledge are way beyond our capacity;
but in other cases, it would, given sufficient careful thinking, will, and
resources, be possible to establish the necessary readiness conditions, but
the relevant community fails to recognize this and decides after initial fail-
ures to abandon the idea as silly. As Fox used to ask in a rhetorical spirit:
How many potentially revolutionary innovations have been lost to us
because they were abandoned before they were tried in a serious way,
20 Journal of Jewish Education

that is, before the relevant (and achievable!) readiness conditions were
put in place?
I begin with this set of comments in order to contextualize the point
I want to develop in the remainder of this article: We stand at a moment of
great potential in the development of Jewish education in the America; but
this potential could be squandered, and excitement turned into disappoint-
ment, if we don’t quickly establish the readiness conditions that will make it
possible for this potential to be realized. The potentially generative moment
to which I am referring is defined by the circumstance that increasing num-
bers of individuals with the power to shape the course of the field at local,
regional, and national levels have come to believe that critical to their suc-
cess will be the identification of inspiring visions of success that can be put
to work to guide curricular, pedagogical, and other educational decisions. If
I am correct concerning the significance of this moment and the need to
take advantage of it in a timely way, then those interested in the success of
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Jewish education must quickly mobilize around the agenda that this assess-
ment puts before us.
Before elaborating on these points, let me begin by clarifying that by
educational visions I am referring to relatively coherent conceptions of the
aims and process of education that can offer educators fruitful guidance in
designing, implementing, and evaluating educational practices and arrange-
ments. At their best, such visions have at their core a set of ideas concerning
the kind of person and community that is the object of the educational
endeavor—a conception of an educated person and a flourishing community.
Such a conception must not only be inspiring to a critical mass of an institu-
tion’s core stake holders, it must also be sufficiently clear and concrete to
offer policymakers and decisions makers a measure of real direction in their
work. Against a social background (both in general and Jewish education)
in which practice is frequently an ill-thought-out amalgam of this-and-that
that is not unified by any larger sense of what the enterprise is about, the
ideal of vision-guided educational practice is best justified in three interre-
lated ways: first, a guiding vision offers a rational basis for making decisions
concerning such matters as pedagogy, curriculum, hiring, admissions, and
budgeting; second, it offers a nonarbitrary basis for evaluation; and, third, to
the extent that the vision of core aspirations is enthusiastically shared by the
educators, it may inspire them to do more effective work and bring them to
the rewarding sense that they are members of a community of shared purpose.
For those who have not encountered this web of ideas before, what
has just been said may immediately raise questions and concerns of various
kinds, but these are matters that I will not be exploring at this time (For a
discussion of some likely concerns raised by a vision-guided approach to
education, see Pekarsky, 2007). But I do want to emphasize that whereas
15 years ago this body of ideas was viewed by most Jewish educators as the
exotic terrain of philosophers, and of little value to practitioners, now these
Next Steps in Advancing the Vision-in-Practice Agenda 21

ideas have entered seriously into the ongoing conversation among Jewish
educators and the communities they serve. Many of those participating in
this conversation have—wisely, I believe—come to recognize that the cause
of education will be advanced if educators and especially educational lead-
ers think seriously about questions of basic educational purpose and the
role of guiding visions of success in shaping their efforts at education. Here
are a few of the indices of the change:

• A few years ago, representatives of the major movements in contemporary

Jewish life gathered for an intensive two-day seminar organized around
the effort to make vision-guided practice central to their respective move-
ments’ educational efforts.
• In 2006, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education made
the theme of “vision and education” the subject of its concluding plenary
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• In 2008, the theme of “vision and education” was at the core of the
annual gatherings of the Conservative movement’s Educators Assembly.
• The graduate programs in Jewish education at institutions like Hebrew
Union College, Brandeis, the Jewish Theological Seminar, Siegel College,
and the University of Judaism have joined the Mandel Leadership Insti-
tute in introducing questions and texts relating to vision and education
into the core of their curricula, with representatives of their faculties par-
ticipating in a regular seminar organized around questions relating to the
teaching of this theme in their programs.

These changes have their origins in the imagination, insight, and tire-
less work of Seymour Fox. More than 30 years ago, Fox was writing about
the pareve or bland quality of most contemporary forms of Jewish education,
an enterprise typically organized around no powerful ideas at all. Over
many years, he worked to educate educators, educational leaders, and the
larger Jewish community about the need for guiding visions in Jewish
education. A landmark achievement in this effort, one that was pivotal in its
influence on the field of Jewish education today, was the publication of
Visions of Jewish Education (2003), which Fox co-edited with Israel Scheffler
and Daniel Marom. This book included important essays by all three of the
co-editors as well as articles by extraordinary scholars who advanced
thoughtful, intellectually rich, but very different conceptions of the whys
and wherefores of Jewish education. Surrounding the publication of this
book, the editors, as well as other contemporary educational theorists, have
written other articles and books that make the case for guiding visions in
Jewish and general education, sometimes illustrating their points with power-
ful examples of the difference it can make when educational endeavors are
suffused with powerful ideas concerning what the enterprise of education is
22 Journal of Jewish Education

Through the spread of these publications, through teaching that has

been ongoing in arenas like the Mandel Leadership Institute and graduate
programs sponsored by major rabbinical seminaries in North America and
by regional colleges of Jewish Studies, as well as through seminars and
workshops held for groups that include camp directors and educators
employed by Jewish community centers, the remarkable change already
noted has taken place: Ideas that were once viewed as wildly impractical
and a distraction from the challenges of practice3 are now increasingly
viewed by educators and lay leaders as essential matters for them to
address. They are eager to have their institutions pursue what might be
called a vision-in-practice agenda—an agenda that involves identifying a
serious vision of the aims of education around which their members can
mobilize, and developing an educational orientation (curricular, pedagogical,
etc.) that flows out of this vision, as influenced by up-to-date empirical
understandings relevant to educational design in the existing cultural, eco-
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nomic, and technological context.

For those of us who champion the ideal of vision-guided practice and
believe that progress in its direction is essential if we are to have a fighting
chance of meaningfully responding to the difficult challenges that face
Jewish communal life and education, the new interest in vision-guided edu-
cation is enormously exciting. But this development brings in its wake a
new challenge—that of satisfying the demand that has been created. To
some this challenge may bear comparison to that of a company whose suc-
cessful marketing campaign gives rise to a demand for its product that is far
beyond what it had expected and that suddenly finds itself faced with the
problem of ensuring that the product is available to the many who are
demanding it at the requisite level of quality. One might, however, argue
against this analogy on the following grounds: Whereas the company is
interested in providing the product that it has been marketing, the present
case is different in the sense that the hope is that institutions will pursue a
vision-in-practice agenda in a self-directed way—that is, on their own.
Unfortunately, and this is a critical point, this is probably an unrealistic hope
at this juncture: If day schools, congregational educational programs, summer
camps, central agencies for Jewish education, or other organizations come
to believe that their efforts are not informed by a guiding vision and that
this serious weakness demands remediation, they are unlikely to enjoy
much success if they attempt to address this challenge on their own. The
reason for this is that the requisite work is difficult and delicate, requiring
ideas, strategies, materials, and skill sets that the leaders of these institutions

I recall here a rabbi who, some 10 years ago, acknowledged the absence of a guiding vision in the
educational program he oversaw, but announced, referring to the crises and demands of everyday life in
a congregational educational program: “Rome is burning; we don’t have time to address the challenge of
vision seriously.”
Next Steps in Advancing the Vision-in-Practice Agenda 23

are unlikely to have, with the result that their own self-directed efforts to
become more vision guided are likely to culminate in frustration, demoral-
ization, and perhaps skepticism concerning the vision-in-practice agenda.
My own view is that institutions that have come to the belief that they
should become more vision guided would be wise to turn to external
sources for the necessary help in pursuing this agenda.
Unfortunately, however, institutions that seek out such help at this time
will encounter the kind of problem pointed to above: Organizations don’t
presently exist with the capacity to meet the demand of educating institu-
tions for serious help in their efforts to become more vision guided. If one
seeks a deeper understanding of this sorry state-of affairs, two different
explanations might suggest themselves. The more optimistic hypothesis is
that although we already have a relatively sophisticated understanding of the
kinds of resources that would help an institution make serious progress on
what I am calling a vision-in-practice agenda, we have not as a community
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yet developed and organized the conditions that would enable interested
institutions to access these resources. Although, if this hypothesis is true, we
could probably effectively deploy the requisite resources to mount a couple
of inspiring demonstration sites which illustrate the progress an institution
can make if supported by the right inputs, we are not yet in a position to
offer this opportunity on a large scale. In the idiom of contemporary educa-
tional discourse, we would need to embrace a scaling-up agenda.
The second hypothesis is less optimistic; we might even call it the “take
two steps back” hypothesis. The starting point of this hypothesis is a denial
that we are already in a position to specify and produce the constellation of
resources (the infrastructure of ideas, skills, materials, activities, strategies,
and human resources) that will make it possible to substantially help even a
very receptive institution to advance toward a more vision-guided educa-
tional reality. If this is true, our interest in helping educating institutions
improve cannot begin with scaling up, because we don’t yet adequately
understand or have the “what” that is to be scaled up; rather, the work must
begin with an effort to bring into being the relevant constellation of
Either of these hypotheses, if true, would take the wind out of the sails
of an educating institution excited about getting the help it needs to
become more vision guided. But the situation is surely more grave if it’s the
second hypothesis that’s true: For it would mean that even if we had all the
money in the world, we would not at this moment be in a position to scale
up so as to address the felt need of educating institutions to make progress
on a vision-in-practice agenda. So let’s directly consider this more pessimis-
tic hypothesis: Is it true that we can’t presently specify, or don’t yet have the
know-how to create the infrastructure of ideas, skills, and other resources
that would be needed to help an educating institution work effectively
toward vision-guided practice? Here the news is mixed. On the plus side,
24 Journal of Jewish Education

we do have a significantly stronger capacity infrastructure than was avail-

able 10 years ago. Here are some of the assets currently available:

• A literature on guiding educational visions. These include a number of

theoretical treatments of the place of guiding visions in education, as well
as some vivid in-print portraits of vision-guided institutions and of the
difference it can make if you have a guiding vision. Most importantly, a
number of rich, accessible, and very different conceptions of the aims
and process of Jewish education are now available that can be used by
individuals and communities struggling with questions of vision as vehi-
cles of clarifying, expanding, and deepening their own convictions con-
cerning the basic purposes that should guide Jewish education.
• Scaffolding for productive vision-in-practice work. As a result of efforts
undertaken over the last 10 years by Daniel Marom and others in their
work with schools, camps, Jewish community centers, and other educa-
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tional programs, we now have a more developed set of ideas than we

used to concerning how to help an institution struggling to become more
vision guided make progress in this arena. This includes not only ideas
about larger strategy and a variety of helpful curricular materials and
activities, but also a deeper understanding of the readiness-conditions
that must be in place in an institution in order for it to undertake a seri-
ous effort to become more vision guided.
• Human resources. The world of Jewish education includes an increasing
number of people—lay and professional, leaders and rank-and-file partic-
ipants—who understand and identify with the need for vision-guided
education and who could be enlisted to encourage, guide, participate in,
and support efforts to advance Jewish education in this direction.

Having said this, candor demands acknowledging the substantial chal-

lenges on the horizon. To date, we cannot point to many significant examples
of institutions that have (on their own or with the aid of outside resources)
traveled the journey toward becoming more vision guided in a reasonably
enduring way. Moreover, we still have a relatively primitive understanding
of how such a journey can be deliberately facilitated in a way that will give
rise to worthwhile results in both the short and long term. Much more theo-
retical work, experimentation, and analysis of experiments undertaken will
be necessary to grow our knowledge in this arena.
Equally important, as already suggested, even if we do succeed in iden-
tifying the resources that make progress likely, we will still need to address
the scaling-up challenge if the relevant resources are to be available to
those interested in taking on a vision-in-practice agenda. A critical challenge
here will be the identification, recruitment, and training of the human
resources needed to give institutions the help they need—people who have
the knowledge base, the educational orientation, the interpersonal and
Next Steps in Advancing the Vision-in-Practice Agenda 25

analytic skills, and the requisite time to help an institution carry out a seri-
ous vision-in-practice agenda.
To complicate matters further, assuming that we have or acquire the
know-how to do these things reasonably well, we will still face the chal-
lenge of mustering the financial resources needed for this entire endeavor
to take place. Make no mistake about it, this endeavor cannot be success-
fully undertaken on the cheap. Funds will be needed:

• to create training opportunities that will cultivate the human resources

that will be used to help institutions become more vision guided;
• to underwrite the work of the individuals thus trained to work with insti-
tutions as intensively as may be necessary;
• to make it possible for the personnel and lay leadership of appropriate
educational institutions to devote time and energy to a serious effort to
become more vision guided;
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• to support systematic empirical research designed to maximize what we can

learn from institutional efforts to become more vision guided, as well as the-
oretical research that deepens our understanding of the nature, dangers,
conditions, and outcomes of vision-guided educational change and practice.

Although these challenges may seem daunting, I do not identify them

to encourage pessimism. On the contrary, although skepticism may have
been understandable 15 years ago, things have changed substantially since
then. There is good reason to believe that the challenges identified above
could soon be meaningfully addressed in ways that would make it possible
for many educators and educating institutions to get the help they need to
make serious progress on a vision-in-practice educational agenda.4
It needs to be emphasized, however, that our making this progress will
depend on recognizing the importance of the vision-in-practice agenda and on
honestly owning up to the difficult ground work that needs to be done to sup-
port it. There are no quick fixes here. In seeking to encourage vision-guided
reform and practice, especially in existing institutions, we are struggling
with a problem of change that includes personal, educational, and institu-
tional dimensions—a problem that is at least as daunting in general education
as it is in the Jewish world. Indeed, so difficult is this problem that even a
friendly skeptic might wonder whether it is not hubris to think that Jewish
education can make progress on this agenda with which general education
has had so little success. But the right answer is that it is not at all hubris to
be optimistic about this—there are, after all, conditions in place in the Jewish

Note that I speak here of many (not all) “educators and educating institutions.” I do so in order to
signal the point that not all educators and educating institutions are capable of benefiting from the avail-
ability of the relevant readiness-conditions. Put differently, one of the critical readiness-conditions is the
readiness of the relevant educators and institutions for serious change.
26 Journal of Jewish Education

world that may make it easier rather than harder to be successful. For this
reason it may be possible for Jewish education to serve as a kind of labora-
tory setting from which colleagues and institutions in general education may
learn important things about the possibility of becoming more vision guided
and about the relevant enabling conditions.
If one is looking for yet another reason to work towards generating the
conditions (the skill set, the methodology, and both the human and material
resources) that will facilitate the efforts of Jewish educating institutions to
become more vision guided, it can be found in a slogan, popularized in the
baseball movie Field of Dreams. When the main character is uncertain about
whether to proceed with the building of a baseball stadium in the middle of
an Iowa corn field, the Muse of this movie’s hero proclaims, “If you build it,
they will come.” As applied to cases like the present one, the meaning is as
follows: Struggling to find a solution to their many ills, even educators and
educating institutions that may not initially be attracted to the idea that
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becoming more vision guided will help them improve may decide to give
the idea a try, once they discover that there actually exist reasonable-sound-
ing, within-reach ways to access concrete opportunities to move in this
direction. That is, if the relevant methodology and ways of making use of it
exist and are within reach, this may in itself generate an interest in embarking
on journeys that may culminate in becoming more vision guided. All the
more so when, with more documented successes under our belt, we will be
able to offer them compelling portraits of, and testimonials from, educating
institutions that have in fact benefited from taking on this challenge.
While it is a guiding principle of the agenda I have been sketching out,
it must be added that the idea that institutions will in fact benefit from
undertaking a vision-in-practice agenda cannot be embraced dogmatically.
But at the same time as we must be open to calling this idea into question,
we must also realize that the likelihood that it will prove a reliable guide to
practice will itself depend on whether good sense is at work in our efforts
to use this guiding principle to help educators and educating institutions.
Here it is worth underscoring two desiderata that such efforts should
embody. First, we must be careful not to encourage educating institutions
into a process that is so demanding, time consuming, and long term that
those who initially embrace the effort enthusiastically become impatient and
frustrated. Not only must the process of change be designed so that it is also
intrinsically rewarding (as when the stake holders are offered meaningful,
thoughtfully designed, opportunities to encounter and struggle with com-
peting images of what, at its core, Judaism and Jewish life are about), it
must also be organized so that there is some low-hanging fruit—for example,
the opportunity for the institutional stake holders that have undertaken the
change effort to introduce, based on the first stage of their deliberations,
some relatively simple changes in, say, curriculum that produce a discernibly
better fit between their commitments and their practices. Second, as we
Next Steps in Advancing the Vision-in-Practice Agenda 27

seek to enter into such change processes, we should remember the old
adage that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In the present instance, this
is true in at least two interrelated senses. On the one hand, an imperfect
process that gives rise to modest outcomes may be worth a whole lot more
than a process that may, conceptually speaking, look sounder, but that, in
practice, loses the interest of key stake holders along the way; on the other
hand, even the attainment of modest outcomes may make a significant
difference in the effectiveness of an educating institution, especially if the
relevant stake holders see some relationship between their deliberations,
the changes introduced, and the outcomes of their educational efforts.
The upshot of what has thus far been argued is that it is time to move
beyond theoretical and justificatory prolegomena for engaging in a vision-in-
practice agenda and to get into the work at hand—work that at this stage
involves responding to the wave of interest in this agenda by undertaking capac-
ity building, experimentation with living educational institutions, and research
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that carefully investigates such efforts. Like the biblical Nachshon, whose bold
willingness to take the leap and step into the Red Sea occasioned its parting,
thereby enabling the Israelites to move into freedom, we need to recognize that,
even before we may feel fully ready, the time has come to move toward prac-
tice. Indeed, it may well be that only by proceeding in this way will we be able
to develop the kinds of tools that will bring into being the more robust kind of
readiness we wish for. I conclude with a brief, somewhat speculative account of
some concrete steps that seem to me promising, especially if they are under-
taken in tandem as part of a single project organized around this agenda.5
As suggested above, an important step would be to identify and, as neces-
sary, train a cadre of individuals whose job it will be to help educating institutions
that are in the requisite senses “ready” (be they schools, camps, Hillels, adult
education or summer programs in Israel) to become clearer and more thoughtful
about their basic aspirations and to develop a better fit between these aspirations
and their practice. The difficulty of this challenge is not to be underestimated: Not
only does it encompass the need to identify and recruit individuals with the right
knowledge-base, convictions, sensibililities, and skills, it also involves training
those who are not yet ready to undertake this work but have a lot of potential.
Training them, prior to our having as full a grasp as we would like of the nature
of the work that’s involved in helping institutions change, will not be easy.6
Paralleling and supporting this training effort, we would need to identify
and recruit a small cadre of educating institutions with the potential to make

The ideas that follow owe a lot to conversations, led by Seymour Fox, that began some 10 years
ago among the staff of the Mandel Foundation.
Note that even if we can identify individuals who, at present or potentially, have the requisite
qualities and skills, the pool of actually employable personnel will be narrowed based on the availability
of these individuals to enter into a training program and to work with educating institutions in a serious
way. The reason for this is that the field is so starved for high-quality personnel that many who might do
this kind of work effectively may already be otherwise engaged.
28 Journal of Jewish Education

progress on the proposed educational improvement agenda. Assuming that

we could recruit them, each of these institutions might be asked identify a
small team (its educational director, one or more lay leaders, and one or
more frontline educators) that would coordinate the project and work inten-
sively with a guide or coach trained by the overall vision-in-practice project.
It is conceivable that, as part of this process, representatives of participating
educating institutions would periodically come together for mutual support
and for the purpose of jointly examining and learning from their respective
challenges, discoveries, and achievements. We could learn much here from
the work of organizations like the Coalition of Effective Schools.
These complementary efforts would be accompanied by the work of a
research team charged with careful documentation and analysis designed to
maximize our learning about the challenges and conditions of vision-informed
change, thus contributing to a base of knowledge, tools, and know-how that
will inform the further development of the overall effort. Those charged with
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overseeing the research agenda to which this documentation and analysis

would contribute would also attempt to access, analyze, and make available to
the project extant bodies of empirical and theoretical research that focus on the
conditions under which changes of different kinds can be catalyzed in different
kinds of human entities (individuals, families, institutions, cultures, etc.) and the
conditions under which such changes are likely to be meaningfully sustained.
Although the kinds of efforts that would make up this initiative will
demand serious time, hard thinking, energy, and money, none of them are
pie-in-the-sky. The project in the form just sketched out falls into the “if you
will it, it is not a dream!” category. That is, if the proposed agenda seems
sound (both intrinsically and in comparison with other possibly worthy
ways of expending available energies and resources), it could well be pur-
sued in promising ways that would make it possible, at one and the same
time, to strengthen existing personnel and institutions, to better understand
the readiness conditions that need to be in place if we are to move closer to
a world in which vision-guided practice is the norm, and to contribute to
the existence of these readiness conditions. Equally important, this would
make it possible to take fruitful advantage of the present wave of interest in
the possibility of vision-guided educational improvement—a wave that, if
not taken advantage of soon, is likely to prove an ephemeral phenomenon
with little influence on the field.


Fox, S., Scheffler, I., & Marom, D. (Eds.). (2003). Visions of Jewish Education.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pekarsky, D. (2007). Vision and education: Arguments, counter-arguments, rejoinders.
American Journal of Education, 113(3), 423–450.