Teach your children well
וְלֹא הַבַּיְשָׁן לָמֵד, וְלֹא הַקַּפְּדָן מְלַמֵּד
A person prone to being ashamed cannot learn. An impatient person cannot teach.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:5
The Rabbinic tradition makes a point of thinking carefully about education and pedagogy. These thinkers knew that while Judaism had its roots in experiential practices including sacrifices, ritual purification, and the sanctification of time, the rabbinic age (after the destruction of the temple) would necessarily rely increasingly on the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation with words.
One of the most wonderful things about being a Jewish educator in the modern world is that research in the field of education regularly provides evidence that supports insights these early rabbinic educators had thousands of years ago. Two of these are found above.
In the first sentence, we learn that someone who is easily ashamed can’t learn (easily, I will add). In modern research, this idea is actually best supported by the recent ideas of “Growth Mindset” (Carol Dweck) and “Grit” (Angela Lee Duckworth). Both researchers offer evidence linking internal beliefs and attitudes to ability to learn and grow. In growth mindset, the idea is that if one believes that their abilities are fixed (presumably by biology), then they will have greater difficulty working hard to learn, whereas if one believes that with effort they can learn, they will be more likely to do so. When we believe that our strengths and challenges are innate and unchanging, then we do experience a great deal of shame when we fail. As failure is an inherent component in learning, helping learners achieve a growth mindset allows them to release the shameful aspect of failure, and embrace it as opportunity for growth.
In the second sentence, we examine one crucial ingredient for educators (and parents) — patience. Everyone gets impatient, and we all get particularly impatient with our own children or students from time to time. The idea here isn’t to never feel impatient, as I’m sure the rabbis would agree that this is simply part of life. The point is to recognize our feelings in real time, and to try not to let them prevent us from modeling the behaviors we value for our children. Teachers have to take deep breaths all the time, and so do parents. When we do that successfully (and sometimes even share and debrief with our kids), we are teaching our children that it is normal and OK to have those feelings, and that each of us has strategies for handling those emotions that sometimes get our way. Impatience isn’t always bad — often it impels us to amazingly positive action! But when we are trying to teach, impatience that is out of balance can bring the process to a grinding halt.
This Shabbat, I encourage you to talk with your children about one of the ideas. Share a time when you felt ashamed that you failed, and what you did with those feelings, and ask them to share their own stories with you.