The Wisdom to Learn

בֶּן זוֹמָא אוֹמֵר, אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים קיט) מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי כִּי עֵדְוֹתֶיךָ שִׂיחָה לִּי.

Ben Zoma says: Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men, as it says, “I have acquired understanding from all my teachers” (Psalms 119:99).

Ethics of the Fathers 4:1

Just think — what would be required for you to approach every single interpersonal interaction from the perspective of a learner? Is that even possible? The value placed on wisdom in the Rabbinic worldview is extremely high. Interestingly, the Rabbinic insight into the nature of wisdom was that it requires a healthy does of humility — if you are going to learn, you will at some point have to acknowledge what you don’t know.

From the perspective of a Jewish Day School, particularly one in which pluralism is a central tenet, this idea could not be more important. Every day we are working not only on content knowledge and building academic skills, but also on cultivating a mindset that includes curiosity and openness. This mindset comes most naturally to the youngest learners, for whom each day can be filled with a multitude of discoveries and moments of growth. If we get out jobs right, we can help our students hold on to this natural sense of wonder, as it is a key component in lifelong learning.

Particularly in the Middle School years, when so many parents begin to consider the idea of shifting to public school so that their children can begin to navigate what many call “the real world,” this sense of natural wonder is much less cool to express. These crucial years are filled with important developmental milestones in both cognitive and social-emotional domains. Gesher provides a safe, nurturing, and rigorous environment in which Middle School students can explore both the world and their own identities, and we do this in a way that actually prepares students to more confidently engage in “the real world” (leaving aside my personal quibble with that term).

The key ingredient in this development is this sense of wonder — without it, learning is always rote, and often painful. But if we cultivate this perspective of open curiosity about the world and other people, then we set the stage for some truly amazing discoveries for our children as they navigate what are often considered some of the most challenging years of school.

Shabbat Shalom,