Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for March 13th, 2009|Daily archive page

Parents as Teachers, Teachers as Parents

In David Brooks, Education, Judaism, Parents, Teachers, Teaching on March 13, 2009 at 6:07 pm

David Brooks put his two cents in regarding the Prez’s education plan:

We’ve spent years working on ways to restructure schools, but what matters most is the relationship between one student and one teacher. You ask a kid who has graduated from high school to list the teachers who mattered in his life, and he will reel off names. You ask a kid who dropped out, and he will not even understand the question. Relationships like that are beyond his experience.

Because the master teacher–i.e. the rabbi–in Jewish life is also the central authority, Brooks’ statement resonates loudly in Jewish tradition. Originally, it was the parent who was given the responsibility to teach his child, but in Talmudic times, this responsibility had been transferred to a new profession, the teacher. Teachers had assumed a parental responsibility and were afforded the respect that parents had only enjoyed. As stated in the Mishnah:

Your parents have brought you living into this world, but your teachers will usher you into the next. (Mishnah Bava Metziya 2:11)

Implicit in this understanding is that the teacher by definition assumes not only a parental responsibility, but a parental interest in the child.

I always tell teachers that they have to take this responsibility very seriously and yes they must love the children, but they need to get their love at home. Beyond proper tools, beautiful buildings and cutting edge technology, there is the one who knows and also cares.

Obama takes an unwitting cue from the Rambam on Education

In Education, Maimonides, Obama, Rambam, Synagogues, Tzedaka on March 13, 2009 at 3:26 pm

My understanding is that even though No Child Left Behind had some positive impact, the implementation of standards was never followed up with the funding that was promised. It is clear, however, that Obama is going to put serious money where his mouth went this past week.

Years ago, I collected several sources from the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah regarding his priorities for what were considered essential communal services.

In Hilchot Matanot Aniyyim Laws of Tzedaka, He states that every Jewish community has to have a community fund to take care of the poor, and acknowledges that he never heard of a community that didn’t have one.

In Hilchot Shekhaynim, Laws regarding good citizenship, he states that citizens can force each other to contribute to the building of a synagogue and the purchase of a community Torah scroll.
Note the injection of coercive language that was absent from the community fund.

In Hilchot Talmud Torah, Laws of Torah Study, he commands that every town must hire a teacher for their children, and if they don’t we put a ban on the town, and if they still don’t, we destroy it.

Why is the most coercive language saved for educating children? The Rambam knew that if one didn’t have an educated population, soon enough one would not have synagogues or community funds. Education is the foundation of civility, success, and communal memory. It is where we are reminded of our connections to each other and the value of a collective enterprise. A school is where these messages are reinforced. Obama’s right! Education reform, in the long run, is the most critical of all his goals and it can’t wait.

Just look at the most dispossessed of peoples and their profound adaptability when only a text kept us together for nearly two thousand years, then one may understand, “Why are you Jews So Smart?” Click on the link for the Rambams in question.