Four Children

As an educator and someone fascinated by human nature, one of my favorite symbols in Judaism is the four children we discuss during the Passover Seder. The original language and conceptions are dated by the focus on sons and not daughters, and by the over-generalization that we could ever categorize all the varieties of children into four boxes. The big picture idea, however, is that children are different, and that an attentive parent or educator adjusts their expectations and their language to meet the needs of the child.

The seder is one big experiential history lesson, so it would be a shame if our once a year (now twice a year) evening of remembrance didn’t reach its intended audience! Therefore, the Rabbis offer some pedagogical advice – if your child is this way, say this, and if your child is that way, say that. In the United States, schools used to be oriented toward teaching children to enter a factory-oriented workforce. We didn’t care what “kind of learner” a child was – they needed to line up, listen for the bell, do what the teacher says, and demonstrate their learning in primarily rote assessments.

Today’s employment market is far more diverse and requires employees to be far more flexible, creative, and collaborative. In Jewish tradition we also have the treasured phrase:

חֲנֹ֣ךְ לַ֭נַּעַר עַל־פִּ֣י דַרְכּ֑וֹ גַּ֥ם כִּֽי־יַ֝זְקִ֗ין לֹֽא־יָס֥וּר מִמֶּֽנָּה׃

Teach a lad according to his way; He will not swerve from it even as he ages.

Proverbs 22:6

The idea (now confirmed by modern educational research) is that learning sticks when it is internalized, and this process is one in which the student links new skills or content to ideas or knowledge they already have. This requires more of the modern teacher – they don’t have to just present the information in a frontal mode and expect that all their well-behaved students will listen and absorb it. They have to get to know each student individually and determine what pathway will become meaningful for each child. This is one of the reasons that class size matter – there are limits to how many people a single teacher can consider in their teaching!

One of the blessings of a Gesher JDS education is that our faculty members (in fact every adult in the building) get to know their students deeply, and therefore are able to tailor their learning appropriately for each and every child in their care. On behalf of the school, I wish you all a Happy Passover holiday, and look forward to greeting your children upon their return from the break.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,