As a rabbi, Jewish day school administrator, and parent of a rising kindergartener and preschooler, I found myself eagerly anticipating the start of the 2016-2017 school year. Here are some thoughts that are on my mind during this great season known as “back to school.” I write a column like this on an annual basis, so it’s wholly possible that I’m echoing words from previous years. But, like most educators, I’m looking forward, not backward.
- Education is an optimist’s endeavor. Education is for those of us that believe in limitless human potential. It’s for those of us that believe in personal power and self-efficacy. It’s for those of us who think that the future is ours to help author and realize. It’s for those of us who believe in the goodness of human nature. It’s for those of us who believe that the acquisition of knowledge is transformational for the individual and for society. Education must be entrusted to the optimists among us.
- Education is relationship based. Education is for those of us that value relationships. It’s for those of us that value authentic connection. It’s for those of us who understand that we are fully human only when we exist alongside others. It’s for those of us that think that caring for one another is a core expression of what it means to be human. Education must put relationships front and center. There can be no teaching or learning absent relationship.
- Education is concerned with ethics, morality, and the social good. Education is fundamentally about making the world a kinder, more compassionate, more just, and more ethical place. Every curriculum, every educational setting, every educator must impart not only the content that they are tasked with conveying, but also an ethical imperative of goodness. Even the most morally neutral subject must be taught by someone who is concerned with the betterment not only of the individual student, but of society as a whole. For that reason, education can be both evolutionary and at times revolutionary. When the world around us is in need of rebuke, good education tends toward the revolutionary.
- Education is about empowerment and giving voice. Education is about empowering the next generation to take responsibility for society and for the world. True education seeks to make itself obsolete by transparently and comprehensively sharing everything that it has to offer with the learner. True education empowers every learner and helps every learner discover and cultivate his or her own unique voice. For that reason, education is about listening just as much as it is about speaking.
- Education is about the whole child. Education is about physical and intellectual development, but it’s also about emotional and moral development. And education is also about spiritual development. Too often education favors the physical and the intellectual, relegating the emotional and the moral to a lesser status. And too often education completely neglects the spiritual development of learners out of a fear of violating some sort of taboo in this particular area. There’s hardly an educational mission statement in existence that doesn’t speak of the whole child, but those invested in education must always validate this claim for themselves.
Most adults truly value the role of education in our lives and in the lives of our children. At the same time, most adults remain somewhat naive when it comes to really reflecting on the deep assumptions, foundations, modalities, and aims of education. I hope that the 2016-2017 school year is a year full of learning not only for our children but for all of us that want to live a world that reaps the full benefits of powerful education done right.