Wednesday, August 29, 2007

learning vs. covering ground

My son finished part 2 of his summer projects last night when he made a siyum on masechet Rosh haShana. Since I have limited time to learn with him on a daily basis, he has been using my mp3 player with English daf-yomi shiurim to cover more ground on his own. Obviously this is not a substitute for being able to “make a leining”, but it helps build bekiyus and it is probably no worse than the daf yomi many people do with the help of a shiur. Thanks to all the people who suggested getting him to use Kehati in Hebrew; he started using it for mishnayos moed where he already has learned some of the masechtos and hopefully that will bear fruit.

My wife was recently talking to another parent of an 8th-grader-to-be who thought Mesivta Ploni was a decent option because they covered ground. My inclination (we haven’t really started looking into H.S.’s yet) is to avoid Mesivta Ploni for that very reason – they cover ground, but make no attempt to develop a derech halimud. If all I want is my son to know a lot of halachic “facts”, an mp3 player suffices (until he learns to read a sugya himself), but that is the bare minimum of what learning entails. Ultimately, the gauge of a lamdan is being able to independently “think in learning”, i.e. to be develop a methodology to analyzing problems in a sugya and discovering solutions. My impression is that some mesivta shiurim manage to turn iyun into bekiyus – the rebbe says over more rishonim/achronim on the daf, but it just amounts to more “facts” to accumulate rather than a process of thinking. Hopefully we will find a H.S. that will put him on the right track (suggestions welcome!). In the meantime, he has started on the second perek of sukkah while I try to finish R”H myself before Y”T hits us!

14 comments:

  1. Bill Selliger10:49 PM

    I can't believe a talmid chacham and baal sechel of your standing and ability wrote this. It must be a ziyuf.

    Besides the fact that the gemara itself seems to imply that quantity is a prerequisite for quality (see Sukka 29a - top, and Horiyos 14a), common sense dictates that covering ground is the basis for all lumdus. This blog is a perfect example. What makes you unique is not your intellegence or your ability to grasp and explain difficult concepts. It's the application of the impressive corpus of your knowledge, coupled with your natural abilities, to bolster, defend, and question the ideas that you deal with.

    Most young boys are not sufficiently intellectually developed to be steeped in lumdus. It would be - and is - wholly inappropriate. "Stuff him like an ox" - so says the gemara in K'subos (50a). When he matures he will utilize both the tools and knowledge that he possesses. That challenge can be addressed at the right time.

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  2. The Yeshiva of Staten Island provides a solid grounding in lomdus and bekius. An extraordinary percentage of the great talmidei chachomim of the last twenty years have come from that yeshiva, as anyone who has been in Reb Dovid's (not Reb A Y, because the SI talmidim don't go there, vehameivin yovin) Brisk or Lakewood would agree. They have excellent rabbeim, and Rabbi Mintz's bekius, and the bechinos and prizes, produce uniquely accomplished and astute talmidim. Two problems, though. One - getting Reb Gershon Weiss to let you in. Even Feinstein mishpacha has to jump through hoops to be allowed entrance. Two - handling the pressure once you're in.

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  3. Barzilai - Three: commuting to SI (we prefer not to get into a dorm situation). So geography is limited l'chatchila to Far Rock/Queens.

    Bill, you are right about the value of covering ground, but my point is that covering ground can be done semi-independently (e.g. my son's use of the mp3 and english shiurim) - you don't need a shiur for that. The "value-added" aspect of the shiur is learning how to think.

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  4. Although my oldest son is only going into 2nd grade, I have thought about this issue as well. I think Bill has a point. Also, covering ground can be done semi independently if the boy is sufficiently motivated. Part of the motivation comes from being surrounded by a chevrah who do this (although it might be peer pressure-m'toch shelo lishma...).

    I grew up in Baltimore and although I never went to Ner Yisrael for high school, I was always impressed with the amount of bekiyus that my friends learnt there. Obviously there are other factors in picking a high school (or is the correct term now-a-days "mesivta"), but in this one area Ner Yisroel impressed me.

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  5. Let me put it this way: open to any page of R' Shimon's Sharei Yosher that you like. I don't think anyone can learn to think like that just by sitting and covering ground, no matter how motivated they are.

    Interesting that no one disagrees with my basic premis that thinking can be taught.

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  6. Chaim,

    I don't disagree with your basic premise, but I am curious: according to you, what is the best way to teach someone how to think? (Though perhaps the comments section on this post isn't the best format to write about this.)

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  7. how bout chofetz chaim of queens or brooklyn

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  8. DD - yes, that is one place on the list to look into.

    Matt - needs other posts. I think I once posted on Edward de Bono's work. His 6 hats method won't work so well for learning gemara, but is a good example of a way to teach thinking. Teachers should use the upper end of Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills when they pose questions instead of asking simple recall questions (seems to be the bulk of what my son gets asked). Unless you ask someone a question that demands thought you won't get a thoughtful answer (I think : )

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  9. What's wrong with dorming? From what I've seen, it's very hard to really get araingetohn in learning if you're not staying in the dorm. Going home is a hefsek. But you know your son, of course. For some kids moving to a dorm is traumatic at that age.

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  10. Mike S.3:44 PM

    Chaim,

    I don't disagree with your view that thinking processes can be taught, especially of the sort needed for Gemarrah. That is, after all, what any advanced student of mathematics is really learning. However, since the basic method of analysis in Gemarrah is comparing statements and cases found in different contexts to clarify the underlying principles, it seems to me that a certain amount of bekius is required before one can begin developing a derech halimud. Thus, while you should expect your son's teachers to help him develop a derech halimud during the course of his schooling, his early forays into gemara should be focused on developing a familiarity with enough of the corpus of Talmudic discourse and the halacha beyond what he sees day-to-day to lay the foundation for this.

    At a different level entirely, I once heard the Rav, zt"l respond to someone who asserted that Rav Chaim's method did not develop sufficient bekius by reminding him that, while Rav Chaim's method indeed did not develop bekius, that is because bekius is a prerequisite for beginning to use Rav Chaim's method.

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  11. yaakov5:42 PM

    Chaim
    I must disagree with your premise that thinking can be taught. While it is definitely true that one can teach tools to facilitate thinking and mistakes to avoid. The mind perceiving a thought seems to be a "spontaneous" jump which recognizes a universal principle. this happens completely internal to the mind. Of course it is not random and the things which CAN be taught set up the mind to be ready to make the jump. from my own expereience if I hadn't found my Rebbeim I would be unable to think even close to the extent which I am. I apologize if I misunderstood what you meant.

    Mike S
    advanced mathematics is qualitatively different then Gemara. Mathematics uses ONLY deduction. On the other hand to uncover underlying principles one must use induction. deduction can be done by a computer induction demands a Tzelem.

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  12. Dovid6:03 PM

    Mike,

    If I remember correctly, The Mind of G-d, by Paul Davies says that some of the conclusions that really advanced mathematics has come up with could not have been done by computers. I forget why.

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  13. Yaakov, interesting point. Yesh omrim, from what I understand, that these jumps are not random and can be produced using heuristics. My personal feeling is that you are right, and jumps must be madem but I think there is a difference between jumping the grand canyon and jumping a puddle in the middle of the sidewalk. The goal of teaching thinking skills is to reduce problems to puddles and not canyons.

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  14. Yaakov3:28 PM

    Chaim
    thank you for your clarification I believe we agree fully

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