Perhaps one of the most oft quoted Psukim in the entire Tanach when it comes to education is the Pasuk found in Mishle (Proverbs) 22:6.
חנוך לנער על פי דרכו This generally has come to mean that one should educate one’s child based on the way that this child learns. This verse has been used (appropriately) to make decisions about switching schools, when things are not working out in the original one chosen by parents. This enables, or more precisely, charges parents with the responsibility to educate their children in different schools and with different forms of instruction, in ways that will best benefit their children.
I recently came across a different way of looking at the words of Shlomo HaMelech, who wrote them in Mishle, and this new meaning shines a new light on a very specific moment in a child’s life.
Over the past sixteen years, I have been asked to sit with parents and with students to help them make a decision where to send their child for high school or for middle school. I never tell them where to send their child but merely help them see all of the possibilities and in light of the charge of חנוך לנער על פי דרכו. It is a rare occasion that I sit with parents to assist them in deciding on FIRST grade. Most seem to look at their choices, make a choice and move on, hoping that if they at some point they need to make a switch for some reason, it is not such a major issue. (Yes, I know I am painting with very broad strokes).
However, based on the above-mentioned new twist on this Pasuk, perhaps spending as much IF NOT MORE time on the FIRST grade decision is very critical.
Instead of translating the pasuk as “Educate a child based on his path/way,” we can use the words to give us the following message.
In Breisheet 29, Yaakov Avinu encounters a flock of sheep grazing and the Torah notes: והאבן גדולה על פי הבאר (“…and the large rock was at the opening of the well”) The meaning of the words על פי in this Pasuk indicate “at the mouth of” or “at the beginning.” With this idea, let’s look once again at this famous Pasuk from Mishle.
חנוך לנער על פי דרכו — Educate a child when he is at the beginning of his path! This idea tells us that as early as one begins to place a child into the educational system, it is already at THAT time that it is crucial to look at and make proper decisions as to where the child should go to school. It is not only about high school, yeshiva day school, college, etc. It is about PRIMARY school as well. And, perhaps, THAT decision is even more critical than the others.
There is yet another phrase in education that is a little lesser known. The phrase is גרסא דינקותא. This phrase refers to the education one receives at an early age. The Gemara in Massechet Shabbat tells us (based on Rashi) that such learning is not forgotten and lasts better than that which is learned at an early age.
This is the time of year in which schools host Open School Day/Night. It is the time of year in which schools are vying for your attention and your vote of confidence. As you go through the decision making process with your older children, no less importance should be placed on the younger children. The decision of where to send your child to primary school may very well impact his approach and connection to Torah, to education and to life for many years to come. Choose wisely!