Learning vs Education

It seems to me that Education has become a term for what is done to someone. We 'educate' children in the Religious School. We offer classes in 'adult education' to train people how to live or how to act. We use the word as a verb - I am going to educate you! The thrust is that education is something done to a passive recipient or to an unwilling subject. Isn't that what we all hated about middel school or High School? If so, why are we perpetuating this state of affairs?

A Learner, and Learning, on the other hand, seem to be terms for describing a positive process and an active participant, or even one who takes charge of their own process of exploration, gaining knowledge, developing, and growing. This feels much more like a positive approach to me, something which we might seek out and in which we want to be involved.

So which is the model we have in our Religious Schools? Sadly, it feels to me at this point that it is much more likely the former.

I understand that our Religious Schools need to assure that the students acquire at least a minimum base of knowledge, so that they will be competent and functional (if not literate and educated) Jews, able to participate (at least minimally) in services, and with sufficient background to be equipped for life. The most efficient way to assure this for a group is to have a system with milestones and performance markers - hence the system of measurable test points and graded classes.

What troubles me is that this is precisely the method we see in the general school system, and although it may instill basic knowledge and skills, it also inculcates a deep sense of frustration, distaste, and a desire to flee at the earliest possible moment from both the system and the subjects taught.

Since, in America, at least, taking an active part in Judaism is a matter of choice, this strikes me as a troubling result at best, and disastrous for use in the long run.

I don't have any answers. When I have looked around to see what is happening, some really smart people are working to find them, but have not yet gotten there. It can't come too soon!

I am sure I will come back to this theme at some point.... It is just too important not to keep thinking about it.

Keep on learning!

Rabbi Joe Blair

Nov. 2005