Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Hawthorne Effect and Evaluating Davening

An interesting question was raised out of a recent post - whether it is easier to daven with people around or by one's self?

There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to each and I will not weigh in on either side except to share that I think the rabbis of old wanted there to be a tension; you can decide for yourself, or perhaps your already have.  But I wanted to begin to push our intellectual comfort zone a bit more (isn't that the point of this blog?) to see how our educational institutions teach people about this tension between public and private prayer.

The Hawthorne effect describes how people react to changes in their environment – particularly to the knowledge that they are being paid attention to. Turn up the lights in the factory and productivity goes up. Turn them down and productivity goes up (a nod to Seth Godin for recently sharing this concept).

Pretty much all of school prayer is with the proverbial lights on and teachers watching - and rarely are the results significant (I may have been persuaded that TV camera lights might make difference after seeing the footage of the Beren Academy davening).  The inverse of this theory is not true either - neglecting to coach tefilla will not develop spiritual souls.  So there is obviously a balance of sometimes tuning up the attention and other times easing back - which I think is probably the pedagogical approach of most tefilla teachers.  However, when it comes to evaluating the success of said pedagogy there seems to be an absence of criteria and literature to share and criticize.  Most Jewish Day Schools have tefilla on a regular basis and prayer is a conceptual part of most supplementary schools (formerly called Hebrew school) curriculum - but how are they being evaluated and are the results positive?

Perhaps we need to shine light on the administrators, paying attention to see if tefilla productivity will go up.

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