SSL Certificate

Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes

Visual Experiments

This past week, I was sitting with one of our first grade students who showed me his new Minecraft books. The process that he engaged in as he shared fascinated me. He thumbed silently back and forth through the book. He would hold different pages apart with his fingers, flipping through all the pages several times. A few minutes later, he would explain to me a sequence of possibilities that would occur with different combinations of the items. Then, he would repeat this process over again with new combinations.

This observation occurred just after I had read that morning an article in the New York Times. The article chronicles Albert Einstein’s “visual thought experiments” that were integral to Einstein’s way of working. As a young boy, he would visualize what it would be like to travel so fast that you caught up with a light beam.

He continued creating a series of thought experiments – all visualizations of “what if”, and eventually through this process, he claimed that space and time were not independent. And so, in time, his mind gave birth to The General Theory of Relativity. The author of the article concludes, “That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’.”

The line between imagining different plays in a Minecraft book at the age of seven to something as seminal as the Theory of Relativity is neither assured nor direct; however, the ability to take time imagining and engaging in ‘visual experiments’ is key to developing a creative thinker – someone who can look at a combination of factors, reimagine it in a new way and continuing taking it apart and putting it back to together again in his/her mind. I realized that this is exactly what this first grader was doing.

Psychologists, neuro-scientists and educators agree that imaginative play is a critical feature of a child’s cognitive and social development. Among the documented benefits are increases in language usage, perspective-taking, empathy, reduced aggression, problem solving and creativity. Unfortunately, we tend to encourage imaginative play among young children, and rarely appreciate the need for older children and adults to take the time to imagine.

One of the hallmarks of the Singapore mathematics approach that we use at Wornick is ‘mental mathematics’. Teachers read a mathematics problem to the class and, without pencil or paper, children visualize the problem and create a solution. Until I read the article about Einstein, I didn’t fully understand the importance of this practice. Feel free to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the general theory of relativity with a few visual experiments.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Wednesday November 18, 2015 at 10:07AM
get link

Seeing the World with Artist’s Eyes

“All Children are artists, the problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.” (Picasso)

If you’ve recently visited our school, you would see the explosion of the arts. Under Ginger Slonaker’s skilled teaching, colorful and inspiring artwork fills our bulletin boards. Children eagerly await each art class. Ginger engages children with stories, playfulness and careful unpacking of technique.

And if you happen to be on campus on Wednesday and Friday mornings, you would hear the animated music classes taught by Evie and, on Monday, by Meghan. You would hear the students practicing various songs and sequences using solfege – the method used to teach pitch and sight singing. You would also hear fourth graders playing ukuleles.

The arts are often the “afterthought” of education, and seen by so many in our society as a “nice” addition to the curricula. As so many schools and educators worked to keep the arts in schools during the recent recession, arguments supporting the arts focused on ideas like music training improves the ability to read, and visual arts enhance the ability to do mathematical calculations.

Some of these justifications may be correct. But they are concerning for two reasons. They suggest that the arts are only valuable for a very particular way of being “smart” reducing all education to reading and mathematics. Also disturbing is the reliance on a “utilitarian” value.

Historically, American education has privileged the utilitarian function over other purposes. But there are important benefits of an education that also makes time for learning for its own sake – for the pure enjoyment of an elegant mathematical solution, in the unexpected ways that we encounter the world through a piece of artwork, the deep joy of listening to a well-performed piece of music and for the emotions tapped in a well-written novel. This is an education that inspires graduates to live lives of meaning and engagement in the world.

In the words of one of my colleagues, Dr. Scheindlin, “we all need skills and knowledge, but we also need access to the reservoirs of meaning that varied cultural expressions can open within us. Any education, and certainly a spiritual education, needs to embrace the fullness of human endeavor and expression.” Please wander through our first floor halls to see how our students see the world using their artistic sense and pause to engage your senses in this experience.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Thursday November 12, 2015 at 08:37AM
get link

Welcome Means Listen

I took a couple of board members on a walking tour of our school today. They saw engaged students, enthusiastic and inspiring teachers. But they also saw something that every prospective parent or guest experiences and comments on when they walk into one of our classrooms. An adorable student stops his/her work and walks over to the guest. S/he looks him in the eye, sticks out his/her hand offering a handshake, and says “Welcome to Grade “x”, my name is “y”, and we are working on our “z” right now.” This never fails to startle and impress visitors. Impressing guests is a by-product not the goal.

There is serious pedagogy in this greeting. The greeting, connected to the social-emotional objective of learning empathy, is also connected to a core Jewish value about welcoming the stranger “for you were once a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 18). The greeting is linked to another important pedagogic goal - attending (listening). The student needs to be aware of people entering their space, and then needs to listen to that person for cues about how to make them feel welcome in that space.

Every day our students say the “Shma” which I often call the “listening prayer”. This prayer asks us to be present and to attend to what we might hear if we just stop to listen. It is the one prayer that is universally known by Jews. The translated words are “Listen Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One”, and traditionally it is recited at every service, at night before going to bed and on one’s death bed. Irrespective of one’s theological position, the universal question raised in this prayer is about listening.

This seems like a simple task, but it is one that many contemporary educators believe is in short supply. Listening is a skill that we tend to assume happens naturally. Listening is not a major part of any curricula, yet, we know that listening in order to learn and in order to build relationships is critical to future success in school and in life.

Listening is in fact rather complicated. It is complicated because the words we hear are filtered by a myriad of interpretations. If we marry multiple interpretations to weak communication skills, we may never be able to clarify a puzzling or hurtful communication. When we hear something, the following is possible – what we heard, what we think you heard, what the speaker said and what the speaker meant to say. There are so many places for misinterpretation. The conflicts that emerge from failed listening are the grist of great literature and movies. They are also the fabric of children’s altercations throughout a typical school day.

At Wornick, we help children become skilled listeners through practicing the following: a) listening without judgement, b) listening empathically, c) listening for feelings d) listening for needs, e) and listening with maintained eye contact. Each of these has several dimensions, and each leads us in different directions in responding best to the communication we are receiving. This is what is really behind our student greeters.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Wednesday November 4, 2015 at 08:05AM
get link

Encouraging Conversations

Walking down the first floor corridor on Monday, I observed our kindergarteners cuddled next to their third grade reading buddies. The older buddies were reading to the younger children. I slowed down to listen to the conversation that was taking place between one such pair of children. The younger child made a comment about what she thought might happen next. The older child looked at her and flipped back to the few pages that they had already read, and said “I don’t think that we have gotten any clues from the author that this might happen.” The younger child turned back a page and pointed out something that she saw in the picture. The older child said, “maybe…let’s keep reading and see.”

This scene came into sharp focus as I listened to Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation, addressing a breakfast meeting of local Heads of Independent Schools on Tuesday. She spoke about her research captured in her new book. At one point, she talked about the difference between robots programmed to read to children and the intimacy and spontaneity that occurs when a person reads to a child. The conversation that I observed in the hall was a perfect example of this idea.

Turkle claims that our largely unquestioned embrace of technology has led to an atrophy of the very qualities that define humanity – empathy, reflection, patience, intimacy, imagination and vulnerability. Dr. Turkle is a psychologist who has studied people’s relationships with technology. She is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and she makes her claims based on a substantial body of careful research. She is also someone who uses and values technology; however, her work is a call to action to understand the deleterious effects of technology on basic human qualities. She is calling for responsible, limited use of technology. It is provocative and somewhat counter-cultural for a Silicon Valley and an MIT audience.

Dr. Turkle shared so many vivid examples culled from her research that I’m still processing. Here’s a very brief list in no particular order of some of the tidbits that she offered in her talk:

  • When we enter a meeting or sit down to dinner, and place our phones in front of us on the table, we’re essentially signaling everyone around us that our conversation might get interrupted because of an “emergency” call or text. Beyond the fact that if everything is a potential emergency, then nothing is, we are also devaluing the conversation taking place among the people that are sitting beside us.
  • Filling gaps in time by checking emails, twitter feeds, texts and facebook postings on a phone can prevent children from learning patience and from learning how to fill moments of boredom with creativity, observation skills and/or moments of simple contemplation.
  • The appeal of email communication is that one can edit and craft the “perfect” communication on one’s timetable. In this, one loses the social skills derived from the messy, unpredictability of face to face communication.
  • Students who depend upon laptops for note-taking often become transcript writers - capturing every word spoken by the teacher - and failing to learn how to listen and how to distinguish the trivial from the essential.

Turkle called for schools to be places where we hold conversations with parents and teachers about the issues that she has identified in her research. If anyone in our community is interested in forming a group to read Turkle’s work and to discuss its implications for our community, please let me know.

Shabbat shalom,
Dr. G.

See the two most recent New York Times articles about her work:

Posted by dizenson on Tuesday October 27, 2015 at 09:26PM
get link

Applied Civil Discourse

Life is full of ironies. Last week, I wrote about civil discourse because it was just one of those weeks where I heard too many communications that were surly and mean-spirited. But those communications were thankfully bookended by the unexpected visit by twelve of our graduates who represented the best in communication.

Sunday night, my thinking on this topic was further tested as I experienced a pretty horrific flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was on that Sunday evening Southwest flight that was reported in the news the next day. It was supposed to leave Los Angeles at 7:10 p.m. and it was delayed first until 9:40 and then an additional half hour on the tarmac. By the time, we took off and cabin lights were dimmed, I had closed my Kindle and started to doze off. About ten minutes later, I, and the entire plane, heard a woman about four rows in front of me yelling “help, help, he’s strangling me, stop hitting me…you…x…I need to recline…help.”

Everyone on the plane was straining to see what was going on. Initially, I, and many of the people sitting near me, assumed that there was something wrong with the woman. Perhaps she was delusional. Then we saw the flight crew calmly move the woman to a front seat. A few minutes later as I looked out the window, I realized that the plane was returning to LAX. The pilot came on the intercom and announced that we were returning to LAX and we were to remain seated upon landing. As we landed, I saw several police cars, unmarked cars and a fire truck surround the plane.

Law enforcement personnel boarded the plane. By this time the people behind me were laughing and joking. Other people around me were just “wide-eyed” trying to figure out what was happening, and contemplating if we would ever get home that night. When the flight attendant opened the overhead bin to remove the woman’s luggage – an oversized gold lamé duffle bag – those same people behind me snickered “of course she would have that sort of bag” and “that bag was a dead give-away.” Some people were annoyed that this woman inconvenienced us.

About a ½ hour later, we were directed off the plane to another gate area for a new plane to take us to SFO once the police and the FBI completed their interrogations. People who had taken cell phone photos were asked to come forward and share them. Around midnight, we boarded the plane again and headed home arriving five hours later than our originally scheduled flight.

While this story in and of itself is interesting, what was most interesting, and disturbing to me (especially given the topic of last week’s blog) was the conversations that took place during and after the flight, the media coverage the next day and the social media snippets that it generated.

I was horrified that I initially thought, as many others did, that the woman was delusional. Though many of us thought this, we did not articulate it until after the ordeal when we were all discussing what had happened. In fact, she had inclined her seat backwards and the man behind her put her in a choke-hold and hit her. She was a victim and those who assumed that she was the instigator victimized her again. Those snickers and comments about her gold bag were mean spirited and clear examples of flaunting civil discourse.

Then there were the tweets, and the media coverage the next day. One such communication indicated that there was pandemonium on the plane and back at the gate. There was no chaos – in fact, it was impressive how calm and restrained all passengers and crew members were. I watched people find plugs for other people’s phones and computers. Everyone was weary, but everyone was decent. People watched each other's bags as some got up to use rest rooms or to question the gate attendant.

We eventually made it back home at 1:45 a.m. The woman flew back with us – seated by herself in the front of the plane, and the man had been removed from the flight. The majority of those involved in this ordeal were civil and kind. The person who assaulted the woman was the outlier. Those who made unsubstantiated claims about the woman, her luggage or about chaos were cases of poor civil discourse – exactly the sort of communication that tears apart the fabric of a kind and caring society.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday October 23, 2015 at 08:08AM
get link

Value-Added: Mastery of Civil Discourse

On Monday, twelve of our recent graduates surprised us by showing up for lunch. These ninth graders who are now dispersed through different schools were so thoughtful and articulate. They bubbled over with enthusiasm and with their successes that they wanted to share with us. They wanted to thank and to connect to particular teachers and administrators, and they were particularly happy to have a “Rachel lunch”. Their eager and respectful conversation stood in such stark contrast to other conversations that often swirl around us at school, at home and in the media.

Everyday, we hear conversations that are hurtful and mean-spirited. This is especially pronounced during an election year. There are verbal attacks on television, at athletic events. Various news outlets display people interrupting one another and name-calling. There are political debates where hate speech is unchecked. I find it particularly interesting this election cycle that a number of candidates have said that they want to get away from “political correctness”. My understanding of “political correctness” is about being mindful in our communication about other people’s feelings, needs and perspectives. Getting rid of that is a slippery slope.

This intensely uncivil communication that we are witnessing spills over into other aspects of our society. We hear it and feel it in school. We hear students quick to blame another student for some action, teachers sending emails that assume something negative about the recipient of the note and parent emails that are equally mean-spirited. The good news is that these communications are not the norm at our school – indeed they are a distinct, and very small, minority of communications. But they are enough to be unsettling.

Mean-spirited communication and essays about it are not new, but the rapidity by which a message is broadcast and the far reach of the message are defining features of twenty-first century discourse. The concept of civility – or civil discourse - originates with Cicero in the concept of “societas civilus” (in Teaching Tolerance, Chapter I, “Teaching Tolerance in the Classroom” from the Southern Poverty Law Center). Cicero’s concept is not about “political correctness” or politeness. Cicero understood civil speech as that which is filtered through how it does or does not contribute to the good of the city (Ibid.). As we live in an increasingly me-centered society it is difficult to maintain that balance about the good of society overriding the good of the individual. But if we fail to, then the fundamental principals upon which our society was conceived are at risk.

School is the place where children get to hear multiple ways of interacting. Some children come to school from homes where interrupting one another and name-calling is normative. So many are used to hearing rather strong opinions expressed with poor evidentiary support. Many hear opinions stated as fact, leaving no room for the give and take of authentic conversation. Our challenge is finding a way to bring this melting pot of behaviors together respectfully. We aim to help all children maintain respect for their parents even as we sometimes have to say to some that “those words may be acceptable in your home, but not at school.” In the classroom, through the Responsive Classroom work that we do, and on the field, one of our most daunting yet important tasks is to hold our students to a respectful standard of communication even as they see other forms of communication outside of school. Respectful, doesn’t mean perfect. Children are very much in process and they must fall down and err in order to learn.

What should we be teaching children so that we might have a chance at “civil society”? Civil discourse is about expressing needs and hearing other people’s conflicting needs and perspectives. It’s about careful listening – listening without judging. It’s about remaining open to suggestibility – that your idea might in fact change as you take in new information. How unfortunate that political pundits currently refer to this so cavalierly as “flipflopping” rather than the careful reconsideration of ideas that it often is.

In our school, it is all of this and it is about teaching children to make distinctions between opinions and facts. We also teach children to support their assertions with evidence, and to identify the evidence and reasoning in someone else’s statement. There is a learning curve that has to take place between knowing this intellectually when one analyzes an essay, and knowing that this also represents a standard for behavior. This is a very long process with many bumps along the way. But I do know that when our eighth graders graduate, they are ready to carry a torch of civil discourse into an often mean-spirited world. I saw it for myself this week when our graduates visited. In the end, that is our value-added – assuring and demanding civil discourse.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday October 16, 2015 at 11:39AM
get link

A+ Teachers

Last year, an alumni parent said to me, “When I went to school, I was lucky if I had a couple of great teachers during all my years at school...the overwhelming majority of my kids’ teachers at Wornick have been outstanding.” We do have excellent teachers, and we know that excellent teachers inspire and engage children. It is no accident. There are three important factors that make this happen: clarity of purpose in hiring teachers, a rigorous hiring process and on-going professional development to keep teachers at the top of their game.

We search for teachers throughout the year. This takes many forms – we place advertisements in various education job lists and we network with colleagues at various colleges of education. Sometimes prospective teachers find us and ask to be considered. Some prospective teachers serve as fellows (interns) with the DeLet program. Our teachers, trained as mentors, together with field supervisors from colleges of education train the DeLet fellows based at Wornick.

We look for very specific characteristics and skills when we hire teachers. Content and pedagogic knowledge is essential. But we know that a teacher with terrific content and pedagogic knowledge who is incapable of connecting to students, parents and colleagues will fail. Connection means that a teacher has strong listening skills and highly developed empathy. A growth mindset which includes the ideas that everyone has capacity to learn and to grow, that failure is an opportunity to learn and that avoids assigning blame in assessing a setback is also essential for a Wornick teacher. Finally, we look for teachers who are creative, discerning and collaborative because we expect our teachers to model the skills and values we expect of students and because we require our teachers to create units, experiences and assessments that meet standards.

The hiring process includes an initial telephone interview. This is followed by one or more interviews with two administrators. Depending upon the position, a veteran teacher may also interview the candidate. Finally the candidate presents a sample lesson that is observed by administrators and one or more teachers. During the lesson, among the things that we look for are the pacing and sophistication of the lesson and student connection. There is a debriefing of the lesson with the candidate immediately following the sample lesson. This last step is critical in understanding several items – how does the candidate handle feedback, can the teacher articulate the next lessons that would follow, how would the teacher assess student outcomes and how does the teacher set pedagogic goals for differentiated instruction.

Once hired, new teachers are mentored either by a veteran teacher or by one of the administrators. This means that the two meet weekly to go over goals, review lessons, post curricula units, and assess each student in the class. That teacher also has common planning time each week with his/her grade level colleague, and the teacher has daily preparation time to work on his/her own. If the teacher needs help with a specific curricula area (i.e. technology, science, literacy, etc.) then the teacher on staff with expertise in this area will spend time with him/her or we will hire an outside coach to work with the teacher.

The final piece in maintaining an excellent staff is that of professional development. Just as we differentiate instruction for students, so too do we differentiate for teachers. Teachers set personal goals with their administrators at the beginning of the school year. Coaches are brought to the school for specific teachers (and substitute teachers are hired to free the teacher for the coaching) and for specific school-wide goals. Some teachers are sent to conferences or to other schools to observe “best practices” or new techniques. There are teachers who join colleagues in tackling a particular problem – these teachers are also given time, access to experts and materials to create strategies to solve a problem. Often these teachers provide workshops for the rest of the staff. To promote an environment where everyone is continuously learning, all staff read at least two education books in common each year, and they participate in a monthly learning circle to either debrief the books or to work on various staff projects.

Professional development also includes evaluation and feedback. Teachers are given clear teaching standards, and ample time to work on any standards that may be a challenge for them. Standards range from meeting each student’s educational and social needs, remaining current in the discipline of teaching, being colleaguial and effective parent communication. If mastery of the standards is not achieved within a reasonable amount of time, the teacher is counseled out of the school.

Our staff has been remarkably stable. As I have been preparing our accreditation reports, our data shows that we have several teachers who have been on staff for over ten years, a couple over twenty years, a few who are close to twenty years, a large group who have been on staff for 5 – 10 years and four who are in their first or second year of teaching. Teachers want to be at our school because the environment is educationally stimulating for them and because they feel that they can reach each one of their students effectively because of the class sizes. They also value the amount of prep time and mentoring time granted to them. In the final analysis, A+ teachers will always impact students in positive ways – that is the Wornick path to excellence.

Shabbat Shalom,

Posted by dizenson on Friday October 9, 2015 at 09:29AM
get link

Pokeman, Pedagogy and Sukkot

My seven year old grandson, Rami, has a formidable Pokeman card collection. He comes from a family of “collectors” - my father (his great-grandfather) collected stamps and antiques. I used to collect stamps and letters from famous people. His father collected baseball cards. As we looked over each Pokeman card recently, I mused about the value of such collections, and I wondered how pervasive collecting is today.

The Pokeman cards all looked pretty alike to me. But Rami showed me the difference between energy, pokeman (pocket monsters) and trainer cards. He showed me how each of those cards can further be divided by the cards that “go” with which monsters, and he helped me understand that these distinctions mattered when “playing Pokeman”. Then I had my education “aha moment”. The distinctions that Rami were making were the similar to those that we teach children when teaching science and math.

When we teach young children mathematics and science, we usually begin by finding collections of things and helping children learn to sort them. First we look for similarities and differences in properties (thus all fruit in one bin, all animals in another and vehicles in a third). We might also encourage sorting according to color, or shape. Finally, we might sort by purpose.

There are several pedagogic goals in sorting items. Sorting develops the observational skills required for science. Sorting is also closely connected to many mathematics concepts - understanding of sets and subsets, quantifying (more or less), operations (taking away and putting together), and organizing and displaying data.

The area of educational development that on the surface would appear to be least likely to be developed by sorting and collecting would be creative thinking. Yet, there is a connection here as well. We might pair incongruent items and ask children to use their imaginations to connect them; thus, a song and a ball (perhaps both are bouncy), or a stapler and a basket (they’re meant to hold groups of things together). Imagining an entire game with all of its possibilities using pokeman cards also develops creative thinking.

As a child, I derived great pleasure from collecting stamps and letters from famous people. In both cases, my math and science skills were developed as described above, and, because of the specific collections, I increased my interest in, and knowledge of, social studies. Collecting and sorting also challenges one’s patience and encourages an almost meditative stance. These are qualities that are in short supply in our society and would be of benefit to all in our fast-paced society.

One of the names of the holiday of Sukkot is “chag he’asif” (the holiday of gathering or collecting). The connection in ancient times was the gathering of a harvest. Though most of us are no longer gathering a harvest, consider encouraging your children in collecting and sorting. It is worth using this holiday theme in developing something that is easy to do and has great pedagogic worth.

Chag Sameach (happy holiday) & Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Wednesday September 30, 2015 at 08:54PM
get link

Opening Windows to Creativity: Holiday Symbols and Beyond

We always make the connection between Sukkot and harvest festivals because that is what Sukkot is. But Sukkot is also about symbols – the sukkah, the imaginary guests from history that we invite to the sukkah, the lulav and etrog. Symbols are a powerful, yet often unnoticed, part of a child’s education. Beyond the fact that a large part of education includes teaching symbols, symbols also develop creativity. As I thought about the many meanings attached to the sukkah and to the holiday symbols, it occurred to me that the symbolic systems that we teach in school seem often to be conveyed as “fact” rather than as “symbol”.

Young children enter a world of symbolic systems from the moment that they encounter language. In schools and homes where young children are allowed to freely play and create imaginary worlds, they again play with symbols (this chair is my car, and this block is my cell phone). I often think about how the very realistic toys that model real life cars, cell phones, etc. rob children of the chance to develop their imaginations fully.

Humans make meaning about the world through symbols. In school, children are introduced to letters that represent sounds and strings of letters that represent words and finally whole pages of letters that represent stories. When they learn numeracy, musical notation, they encounter over and over again symbolic systems – systems where something serves as a stand-in for something else. When they learn another language, children find out that symbolic systems take on a new dimension as they learn that there are multiple ways to name an object or idea. Teaching a foreign language to young child opens up this window early. As children grow, they learn the symbolic systems of scientific notation, geometry and of algebra.

The sukkah, modeled after the huts used during the fall harvest in ancient times, has taken on many meanings throughout the years. For some, it is seen as a temporary structure that reminds us that we are sheltered in this world by a higher power. Others note that this fleeting structure reminds us about the essential values of life – not man made edifices – but the enduring relationships of family and community. The sukkah is also associated with peace, and each week during the Shabbat service we are reminded of it as we ask for “the sukkah of peace to be spread over us”. Most years the weather also drives home another symbolic connection – humans are vulnerable to the vagaries of nature.

Contemporary educators have spilled quite a bit of ink about the need to redouble efforts in giving children chances to develop creative thinking. We often talk about developing creativity, by having children imagine different outcomes to stories, or to imagine a story written from the perspective of a secondary character. Creativity among other things, is the ability to see possibilities in things that others see in one way. As I think about the sukkah and all the different holiday symbols that we encounter throughout the year, it is clear to me that we are opening up our children’s minds to attach multiple meanings to one object in so many ways that are not even possible in most schools today.

Modim L’simcha (Sukkot greeting – Celebrate in Happiness)
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday September 25, 2015 at 08:03AM
get link

Blueprint for a Kinder World

We engaged in Torah study Tuesday morning during Rosh Hashanah services at my synagogue. We imagined what would have happened if either Sarah, Abraham, Isaac or God had engaged in teshuvah (the act of repentence – acknowledging one’s role in something hurtful to another person, asking that person for forgiveness and then not repeating the same hurtful exchange again). The discussions that followed included questions about who did what to whom and at what point in the process of these relationships would these conversations take place. We also thought about how our thinking about these relationships reflect our own involvement in the act of teshuvah. It was a lively and thought-provoking intergenerational conversation. But there was an aspect of it that was unsatisfying for me.

It occurred to me that often when we discuss this idea of teshuvah we tend to think in terms of two people. One person wrongs the other, and that person needs to do teshuvah. This is sometimes the case. I would argue that much more often, wrongdoing is multi-layered. Sometimes both people engage in hurtful behavior between them – both need to do teshuvah. The most frequent case of this happens on our school playground. One child says something hurtful to another and the other child retaliates by saying something nasty in return. In this case, both parties must do teshuvah.

There is a more common complexity, though, that is frequently overlooked in these discussions. – that of hurting another person to protect other relationships. Sometimes these scenarios arise within families. Examples that come to mind are the relative with an addiction that saps the resources and strength of the rest of the family or the sibling who might need to have his/her choice of activity take precedent over another one’s choice for the sake of “shalom bayit” (family peace). In the first case, the relationship with the addicted person might need to be severed for the sake of everyone else, and in the second case a more mature or forgiving child might need to patiently bear with his/her choice being overridden. Does anyone need to “do teshuvah” to respond to the “hurt” party?

My understanding of the “teshuvah” literature is that the one who is making the decisions in these cases still needs to “do teshuvah”. This would mean that the decision-maker acknowledges the feelings of loss and hurt that the other person experiences. It may not result in a restored relationship at the time, but it leaves that possibility open for a future time.

The act of Teshuvah that is front and center to the Yomim Noranim (the Days of Awe – from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) is an effective blueprint to grow our capacity for empathy. If everyone practiced it more regularly, we just might have a kinder more forgiving world. As we approach Yom Kippur, lets err in the direction of doing “teshuvah” (asking for forgiveness) even in cases when we might have also been wronged.

Shabbat Shalom & G’mar Chatimah Tova (traditional greeting before Yom Kippur),
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday September 18, 2015
get link

Choose groups to clone to:

Mission Statement
Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School develops students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.

About Wornick

Enrollment: 188
Grades: TK-8
Average Class Size: 12
California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS)
Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)

800 Foster City Boulevard, Foster City, CA 94404
(650) 378-2600
powered by finalsite