Inspired by his time on a kibbutz, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg pioneered the field of cognitive development theory and moral education. Combining democratic and collectivist values, Kohlberg established a Center for Moral Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and promoted a “Just Community” approach to education. This approach is two-fold: direct-participatory democracy and a unified commitment to building community. At the Jewish Middle School, the idea that students can work in both a democratic and ethical manner is present in all aspects of student life.
Kohlberg’s vision for direct-participatory democracy is most evident in JMS’s newly formed student government. Empowering students to become active within the school and greater community, the student government is heavily focused on leadership and citizenship. Made up of positions like Community Service Representative and Environmental Officer, the student government will promote the belief that faculty, students, and the greater community can be of service to, and benefit from, each other. Eighth grader Aisha Sims is this year’s JMS Community Service Representative. Aisha believes that her role, “will show the community that we care about others, both inside and outside our school.”
Community building has always been a hallmark of the Jewish Middle School. From its inception JMS has undertaken to create responsible, compassionate, and community-minded students. JMS founder Rabbi Saul Strosberg says, “JMS helps foster community and build leadership traits in our students to prepare them to go out and make the world a better place.” While in-person community service became increasingly limited at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, planning and brainstorming never slowed. As part of their requisite Personal Service Projects, JMS students are reassessing the needs of their communities in light of the pandemic and rethinking how best to address those needs.
Modeling Kohlberg’s Just Community philosophy, JMS students continue to actively participate in their communities in ways that are impactful, ethical, and contributory.