School started today for many kids across the country. The lucky few of us are still enjoying our summer vacation.
Judaism puts a strong emphasis on education, and it seems appropriate to ask, “can the Torah teach us anything about secular education?”
I’m not an education expert, and I will not claim I am. Nor am I a particularly political person. But I will say that I believe Judaism does have a lot of values that the non-Jewish, secular education community should adopt…not because they are good “Jewish” values, but because they are good values to begin with.
Keep the Material Meaningful and Relevant – the phrase “d’var Torah” means “teaching on the Torah”. A d’var doesn’t involve just telling a story, but giving it a modern understanding that is applicable to our daily lives. So often, teachers teach in a way that does not relate their material to anything that I would consider to be part of normal life. We end up valuing the teacher who can relate geometry to Rock Band or Charles Dickens to the newest Will Ferrell movie because it takes the boring, the irrational, the complex and the confusing and puts it into a context that makes complete sense. I doubt that Amelek would have much meaning today if it weren’t for those teachers of Torah who find a way to make it meaningful.
Scholarly Debate – I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments with teachers. Half the time I was right, the other half I was wrong. The teachers who mean the most to me, looking back, are the ones who allowed me to argue with them. They weren’t afraid of the challenge and more importantly, they knew that by exercising my mind (even when I was dead wrong), they were setting me down the path to being a smarter adult. Jews believe in this intellectual back-and-forth, the most notable hallmark being the Talmud, which is nothing but a bunch of dead rabbis arguing about the finer points of Judaism.
Be Flexible to the Needs and Skills of Others – Each tribe had their own skill set, from being the ritual priests to the construction of the Mishkan to fighting in battle. At no time in the Torah does Moses say, “OK Levites, you’re doing great with the whole Priestly Class thing, but we really need to focus more on your basket making and pottery.” So much of education is about teaching something new and outside of someone’s boundaries, that we forget the importance of helping people excel at what they are already inclined toward. As an adult, I spend absolutely no time voluntarily doing things I don’t want to do. So why is that the bed rock of education as we know it?
I hope everyone enjoys their first day of school. Kul Tuv!