[This week's Toronto Torah is here!]
A brief dyspeptic thought on our educational system, in both schools and synagogues.
A few weeks back I heard a rabbi observe that our Jewish education system actually hates learning. He was talking about a certain weakness in our schools regarding special education, but I took it in a somewhat different direction: Much of our school and synagogue educational system hates the process of learning. We would prefer that our students simply know everything; we would like to avoid the learning, itself.
Contrast the way we learn with the way we eat:
I enjoy eating. I’m a closet foodie; I like ice cream, hamburgers, green vegetables, maple syrup (Good Canadian that I am), pasta, fish, bread, you name it. I like reading recipes. If I could eat constantly and not worry about the time, cost, and health involved, I would. I don’t want to be full. I don’t want to come to the end of an eating process.
A parallel in learning would be to say, “I want to learn. I enjoy sweating a text, analyzing and wondering and questioning and suggesting and rejecting and straining my brain to climb the mountain and then smash the mountain in little pieces. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to finish a course of study.”
But many of our schools don’t encourage that; we teach our frustrated students (adults as well as children) easy tricks of memory or shortcuts to pseudo-comprehension. We get lazy in explaining difficult topics without the difficulties, and we teach our kids to get lazy. We would be happy if we could give our kids a pill or a neural implant that would provide instant knowledge; the only reason we teach them math rather than rely on calculators is our concern that a calculator may not always be available. We don’t really want them to learn. And so this is what we teach them: Knowledge is good, Learning is bad.
To use another analogy, it’s a little like working out at the gym: Some people enjoy a good workout, like to sweat and strain and push their limits. But sometimes we get bored during our workout, and we just want to be done with it and emerge looking good. We don’t want the workout, we just want the results.
We don’t want the learning, we just want the knowledge, and I believe that’s corrupting and destructive. The Torah’s mitzvah is to learn, not to know. The search really is what matters.
I’m not a schools expert; I don’t know enough about educational administration to say, “This is how it oughta be.” But those are my two cents.