Monday, August 15, 2011

Groupthink and Group Prayer

I came across a recommended article on - ripped from the NY Times headlines. This posting on the August 9th Arts Beat Blog by Patricia Cohen, Thinking Cap: Preventing Groupthink ( cited a presentation by YU Psychology Professor Elieze Schnall and student Michael Greenberg at the APA convention on the title "Irving Janis' Groupthink and the Sanhedrin of Ancient Israel". The idea of a groupthink theory "describes how a tight-knit, smart and well-informed group can suppress dissent and make disastrous decisions because of the pressure to agree."

I found this article blog worthy for two reasons. The first reason was that I like its statement on a meta-cognitive level. At the end, Cohen asked her readers to share their opinion of the author's argument; I think this serves as a model for developing a rich conversation (and just good pedagogy).

The second aspect was something not mentioned in the article. It is significant that despite the social hierarchy that may have prevented groupthink, the rabbis of the Sanhedrin still davened together even though they argued and disagreed voraciously about their cases. Cohen explores the angles of groupthink and the negative consequences of discouraging dissent. However, how can you build a community of daveners when there are different styles, interests and approaches? In the movement to make school tefilla more meaningful, educators must create a dynamic among the students and staff that allows for vibrant expressions at various different points of the service, knowing that participation will rarely be maintained at a level of 100%.

One last final point. If the metaphor from the Arts Beat Blog is about the Sanhedrin, then let's take it for a holistic analysis: Mr. Schnall writes, and “disciples watched court proceedings and were generally allowed to volunteer their opinions.” Our children are watching in synagogue how the rabbis and adults behave - what are they learning? How are they participating?

I leave this unsaid to create a space for a conversation.

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