רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ אוֹמֵר, הַלּוֹמֵד תּוֹרָה עַל מְנָת לְלַמֵּד, מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד. וְהַלּוֹמֵד עַל מְנָת לַעֲשׂוֹת, מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לִלְמֹד וּלְלַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת
Rabbi Yishmael his son says: One who studies Torah in order to teach will be given the opportunity both to study and to teach. One who studies in order to practice will be given the opportunity to study, to teach, to observe, and to practice.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 4:5
One of the core values of the modern American Jewish movements is the idea that we are commanded to perform acts of Hesed (loving-kindness). Hesed as a concept doesn’t translate perfectly into English, but generally it includes pious acts that express love of the divine and love of other human beings. We believe that the world is filled with imperfection, and that through acts of Hesed we can make it a better place.
The quote above is one of my favorite, as it speaks clearly about my own philosophy for education (why we teach) and pedagogy (what/how we teach). Over one hundred years ago, John Dewey wrote about the power and importance of real-world experiences for education:
“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and [if] the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”
Of course Rabbinic wisdom predates Dewey by over a thousand years, so I think we get to take some pride in knowing that the Jewish approach to learning was “progressive” way before any of the modern philosophers of education began writing. The idea in both quotes is that the human brain is designed to learn and grow through action and experience. Reading and listening are also great ways to learn for many people, but I think we can agree that actually having the experience beats them every time.
This is one reason that I love Gesher’s tradition of celebrating elementary school learning through Siyyumim (final celebrations). When the students have practiced and experienced the skills, knowledge, and content enough, they have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning with our whole community, including parents and friends. These experiences include leading morning Tefilot (prayers) as the 1st graders receive their siddurim (prayerbooks), 2nd grade leading Havdallah on Saturday night, 3rd graders leading an out-loud recitation of the eighteen blessings of the Amidah, and 4th grade leading Hallel.
We know that these experiences have meaningful, lasting impacts on our students and their families, and that the impact is far greater than any test or quiz could ever produce. I’m so grateful to our educators for buying into this philosophy whole-heartedly, because it actually requires much more work on their part to coach and guide the students than it would to just give them a traditional assessment.
To return to the Rabbinic quote — the point of learning isn’t just knowing things — it is knowing things that enable and empower you to make a positive impact on the world around you, and give you the moral compass to make meaningful decisions and relationships.
We are looking forward to celebrating our first Siyyum of the year this coming Saturday night, as the 2nd grade leads Havdallah!