Saturday, January 15, 2011

Great Expectations

What am I trying to accomplish or what is all this for? I think that any parents who ever considered their child's education seriously has asked themselves this question.  Put another way,  what is the broader purpose of education besides the obvious acquisition of certain skills and facts?  And while we are on the subject of asking questions, then let's throw in a few more.  Why are so many educational theories so hung up on teaching classics or classics caliber material?   Really, on a different plain the question of why are Jews so obsessed with the Torah and the centrality of Torah learning to Jewish observance, is really the same question as the above ones.  So here is what I think the answer is and how all of the above fit together.  Education is ideally a process of introducing the child to the broader picture of how life and all its various manifestations work.  It's about teaching the child how to think, how to approach life, how to analyze things.  Teaching the classics, however one would define them, gives one access to how great minds thought, analyzed and saw the world around them.  And it teaches one to apply the same thinking processes, to use the same language to access this dimension of certain thinking sophistication, learned by example.  Torah is our access point to G-d's mind, it gives one the true picture of reality, it teaches one the nuanced language of deeper reality and how one must relate to it. My husband helpfully pointed out that Jacques Barzun, a non-Jewish intellectual of renown, remarked that intimate knowledge and understanding of the Bible provides one with the necessary framework to be able to think about any conceivable question or problem (See the end of 5th chapter of Pirkei Avos).  He says that  the reason why people now find it hard to understand why the Bible played such a crucial role in the thinking of the previous generations is because they do not read it and don't know it.  This would also explain how a person could become quite educated, well-spoken, etc. in the days of yore, having access only to the Bible and possilbly just a few other good books.  Human beings are endowed with the ability to aspire to greatness and to be great.  But one only gets to greatness by thinking big ideas, by aspiring to great things, not in an egotistical kind of way but in a transcendental one. So I think, the true goal of education, is not to create geniuses, or to stroke parental egoes but to help our children achieve their potential by inspiring them to greatness, to love of learning, to thinking big, to value and aspire to excellence.


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