Tuesday, May 20, 2014

three ingredients of education

I think we send children to school for three reasons: 1) to learn facts; 2) to learn skills; 3) to be inspired.  I’m willing to bet some people wouldn’t include that third item on the list, and truth be told, had you asked me a few years ago I would have downplayed it myself.  Maybe it’s helping my kids get ready for some of their finals that brought about my change of heart, as I see them cramming facts into their brains, but walking away with very little appreciation for or love of the topic they are studying.   Now, it doesn’t bother me so much when the topic is trigonometry, but it does bother me when the topic is Chumash or Navi. 

The reason why schools place such emphasis on facts, less so on skills, and don’t even mention “inspiring students” as a goal in the curriculum is probably due to the fact that it’s easy to measure whether students have absorbed a collection of facts, less so when it comes to skills, and nearly impossible to do (other than a rough subjective assessment) when it comes to gauging whether students are inspired.  It’s easy for a school to boast about how many perakim or dapim are included in the curriculum, or how many great books were supposedly read.  However, kamus, quantity,  is a poor substitute for eichus, quality, and no substitute at all for developing curiosity, a love of learning, and a hunger for knowledge.  What  in important in the long run is not how many Rashis you learn in 5th grade, but how many Rashis you learn over a lifetime. 

The simple translation of the famous pasuk (Mishlei 22), “Chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimena,” is that a child should be educated so that even when he grows older, he remembers his lessons.  R’ Simcha Zisel, however, explained the pasuk as a charge to educate the child so that even when he grows old, he does not depart from that process of learning.  It’s not facts and figures that are important to retain, but rather it's the habits of mind and the love of scholarship that are most crucial.      


  1. Actually, the most important reason to send kids to school is to learn to be part of a society.
    The other three categories could be home schooled a whole lot better, and less expensively too.

  2. Isnt there a r yosef Engel on the kamus machria ha'eichus? Your %100 right, but if pirkei avos said something, then we could ve sure the world dows the opposite. Lphum tzara agra, ie the eichus counts. But what we're taught in school is the results count.

  3. You may have those three reasons for sending children to school. The actual reasons are: 1) to crush their individuality; 2) to learn to respect authority, regardless of how arbitrary; 3) to blindly follow the crowd.

    This is a restatement of what nachumj said, "...to be part of society."

    1. I would be careful or you may be first in line when the re-education camps open.

      I think studies of homeschooling show that it has no adverse effects on children's social skills. I was just addressing what I think people who choose to send to school hope to get out of it, not whether there are better options. The Christian right is way out ahead of us in its members embrace of homeschooling as a viable alternative to both public and private education.

      >>>But what we're taught in school is the results count.

      Because schools think that's what parents want.

    2. a) this would not be the only, or major, reason for society to try to re-edumecate me
      b) I moved from NYC to a state where the only thing you need to buy a gun is the money to do it with [as per the state police FAQs].
      c) therefore, I might not re-edumecate well

      About five years ago I was supposed to be one of three speakers on the topic of Jewish Chinuch at a local YI. The other two became kosher chickens and tendered their regrets. My opening line, after noting that the subject was so controversial that two major mechanchim has ducked out, was that "Jewish Chinuch" was neither Jewish, nor Chinuch.

      I very strongly pushed home schooling - think about it: if you didn't have to pay fortunes for chinuch, you could get away with only one spouse working. And your children would actually get chinuch from a parent [what a shocking idea]. The question was asked about how the children would learn social skills. I responded with the idea that that was actually what free time and camp was for.

      My comments were warmly, even enthusiastically received - even by veteran teachers. Practical results: zilch.

      Which may be one motivation for "b" supra.

  4. "I think studies of homeschooling show that it has no adverse effects on children's social skills."

    I have no doubt that that is what the studies say. I say " puk chazi".
    Two days ago you spoke of mentchlichkeit as being a prime value.
    You can't learn to be a mentch in a cave.

  5. Is public education an innovation? I seem to remember some things about Yehoshua ben Gamla and Reb Chiya and communal obligations to have manageable class sizes.

    I don't know why you present your three motives in a negative manner. Individuality ought to be crushed, because it is a cruel illusion that does nothing but stoke the ego, like Korach's. Orthodox Jews should follow authority, hoping and praying they picked the right authority. You talk of following a crowd blindly- no such thing. Crowds are led by policy makers. There decision makers who lead, and the people who aren't at the front making the decisions are sheep, and are better off blindly following the crowd.

  6. Yehoshua ben Gamla was a sha'as hadechak on talmud torah. Not, apparently, on midos [as is clear from the story of Reb Chiya - and that begs the question of what happened between Yehoshua ben Gamla and Reb Chiya to make the measures of Reb Chiya necessary]. Midos - i.e., chinuch - was family-centered training.

    Note that most gedolim were individually schooled, or learned in Slobodka, which was the same thing.

    Query: what in my statement implies negativity? I love when people are broken so that they instinctively follow me like sheep. Or perhaps better, cower like sheep.