For educators, parents and students the world-over, summertime offers a moment of reflection — a time to compare and contrast our beliefs, hopes and dreams around how the process of education should unfold to our on-the-ground experiences in our school systems.
Many times, in that exercise, there is an aching gap.
Can you imagine a world where students are engaged as whole individuals, with the ability to steer their own learning, fully immersed in their spiritual practice and in-tune with their unique mission in this world?
A world in which schools are living systems with the openness, elasticity and adaptability to fully customize the learning for each learner– no matter how different one is from the next?
How about a world in which education highlights the underlying oneness of the world, where we sense purpose and possibility at every juncture, empowered to dive in, learn, and make a difference?
Yet across all communities – the broader world, diverse Jewish communities, maybe yours at home – there is pain. So much pain.
Schools are crushed under bureaucratic systems, limited budgets and talent-scarcity.
Teachers – so many times undervalued, underpaid – are paralyzed against the almost-impossible task to effectively differentiate for diverse learners.
How do we expect them not to teach to the middle?
And our students- our children.
So many graduating without the skills they need to be truly manifested in this world.
So many beat down by the message that success in learning looks one way – the ability to perform in a factory-like, normative model – a world where being ‘above average’ is making the grade.
So many stifled and disempowered, disconnected from authentic, joyful, passionate Jewish life.
And even for those of us who fondly remember our days in school, we may be left with a sense that there could have been more. That we needed better.
And yet, it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. Our children can thrive in a learning community that values their individuality. That nurtures their creativity. That fortifies them to be their ultimate selves, ready to actualize their unique, G-d given mission.
In order to solve this, to fully enact our collective responsibility to our children, to our future, we need to get a bit uncomfortable.
To be willing to face what’s not working.
To let go of the nostalgia.
We need to wiling to let go of our desire to compare our children to one another.
We cannot compare, with accuracy, how our children measure up with other kids. Because it’s not fair. Because the concept of ‘average’ is a myth. Because each child is unique- in every way.
We need to let go of the notion of schools as static institutions. Schools are not buildings. They’re not budgets. They’re not the latest curriculum or technology. Schools are alive and dynamic– because people are alive and dynamic.
We need to let go of our preconceptions around how we teach and nurture our precious heritage, our Jewish values- that the road toward living our lives as engaged, committed Jews is straight and narrow.
That building a fully-actualized, invested Jew means a top-down, fear-based process.
Because my Judaism is not your Judaism. But all Judaism is based on love.
We need to be willing to let go of control.
Because we cannot control our children, steer their destinies, write their stories and guarantee the ending.
Yet there is so much we can still hold onto.
We are People of the Book. We are people with a rich tradition of putting Jewish education first. Let’s honor that.
We are people of structure. Of boundaries. Of intention. Even in a model that values the individual, we must still nurture the will to choose to obey.
We are sustained with the teachings of the Torah that illuminate the underlying wholeness of this world, that teach us that every single one of us matters- and that every good deed matters.
We are visionaries- yet we stand on the shoulders of giants.
And when we finally let go of all this – the factory model of education, rigidity, crushing expectations, control – we stand so much to gain.
We become Lamplighters, holding our torch high!
We have the courage to face the unknown, to challenge what’s not working in normative education.
We have the capacity to unearth the treasure inherent in each child.
We can design living systems, adaptable to the needs of every learner.
But this takes an investment of financial resources beyond the price of tuition. Systems change necessitates systemic investment– there is no other way to move from pockets of excellence to a sustainable revolution in Jewish education.
Parents, educators, community activists and donors: Make a commitment to never let one child fall through the cracks. Make a commitment to orient our education to the soul of each child. To illuminate what’s beyond the surface. To fan the flames of one another’s glowing potential.
It is time to stand strong and unafraid– not just for our students and children, but for our community. For the Jewish People.
It is time to let go.