Dear Beit Rabban Community,
Pardon the bragging, but I had the absolute best seat at this week’s Inauguration, it was in a Kindergarten classroom. Technically, I was not sitting, I was standing in the doorway due to our COVID-19 protocols, but the social distance just made me feel that I was having an authentic 2021 Inauguration experience. There are few places as full of sincere wonder, utter confusion, and constant learning as a Kindergarten classroom. They embrace the gravity of big moments, even if they don’t fully understand them. Kindergarteners are the best people with whom to share defining moments.
Our whole school watched the Inauguration on Wednesday. Each class watched for different lengths of time, prepared beforehand, and followed up afterwards in developmentally appropriate ways. All elementary and middle school students wrote letters to President Biden as he began his first 100 days, describing the issue they most hope President Biden will prioritize. And, with all this, I am confident that the vast majority of our preschool and Kindergarten students did not understand what was happening. Just in case I needed confirmation, I received a text from a Kindergarten parent sharing a question her daughter raised over a dinnertime discussion about the Inauguration “remind me who Avraham Lincoln is?”
We had all our preschool through middle school students watch the Inauguration, irrespective of what they understood or did not understand, because part of what we do as educators is create opportunities for “defining moments.” Obviously we teach through direct instruction as well as self guided exploration; through planned lessons as well as spontaneous opportunities; through individual attention as well as collaborative experiences. We also educate by curating defining moments. In the book The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they remind us that “The brain doesn’t retain every piece of information it receives. Doing so would be a waste of energy… What the brain does remember, however, are the important or ‘defining’ moments. Those pinnacle times in life you remember and reflect on years after they happened. They shape who we are and can often change the course of a life.” Arguably, the lessons we teach through marking and curating such moments are the ones our children will hold onto for the longest.
We teach Jewish text, traditions and prayers through a variety of educational modalities. Our children need this, it builds their fluency and confidence, and I also know that the actual celebration of Jewish ritual is what builds their connection and love to our religion and our people. No matter how much time we invest in studying Purim, for example, and no matter how creative and multidisciplinary that learning is, it is the celebration of Purim together as a community--reading the megillah in our costumes, booing Haman and Zeresh--that has the biggest impact on our children. Similarly, citizenship is taught through the study of our governing documents, reflection on our history, exploration of our national values, and hands on service. Citizenship is also taught through sharing in the experience of defining moments with our fellow Americans.
I did not expect to cry at Inauguration. If I had expected it, I probably would not have chosen a kindergarten classroom as my perch for the experience. When I saw Justice Sotomayor swear in Vice President Harris, I burst into tears. I remembered back to being in Kindergarten myself when the first woman ran for the second highest office in the land. I remembered seeing a picture of Geraldine Ferraro on the cover of Time Magazine and my mother explaining to me that a woman could become president or vice president, something I had not known. I remember nothing else about the campaign, I do not even remember being phased by the outcome, but I remember that moment of epiphany and it has no doubt affected me in many ways. Thirty seven years and only three potential candidates after finding out that there was no de jure prohibition against a woman serving in the highest positions of government, our children witnessed the de facto prohibition being shattered. I hope that my unexpected tears and my explanation that I had been waiting for this moment for 37 years added to the drama of this moment for them. I hope it becomes a defining moment that inspires each of them as human beings and a Americans to reach beyond what they think is possible, and to support others who do so as well.
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,