Dear Beit Rabban Community,
The Pesach Seder is a time for families to come together to celebrate and engage with questions big and small. In Jewish day school families across the country, one of the perennial questions asked at the Seder is “nu, was the tuition worth it?” Children show off their learning, and their adults assess the value of their investment. It’s a generations old tradition. I do it even though my kids attend the school I run!
As a person who sits on both sides of the aisle, asking “is my investment paying dividends” as both a parent and an educator, I have some advice to the parents and grandparents reading this email. It’s not about how powerfully they belt out Ma Nishtanah.
The Seder is perfectly structured to showcase the goals of progressive education: authentic curiosity, deep reflection, learning through relationships, fluency for the purpose of being empowered and equipped to make connections, to build upon the learning, and to transform the learning into action. We grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually through conversation with other people and in conversation with the worlds we inhabit. This is what you should be looking for, and these are the habits of mind and heart that the seder inspires in its very structure.
Questions above Answers
Just like in progressive education when we introduce a “provocation” for children to explore and react to at the beginning of a unit of study, we start the Seder by placing a collection of random things in the middle of the table on a fancy plate. Why? For the same reason we put out a basket of leaves and pinecones in the middle of a preschool classroom with no explanation at the beginning of fall, so the children will ask. It is all about the questions, and the Seder clearly values the act of asking questions and discussing ideas over finding the “true” answers. We live in times where any factual question can be answered by asking Siri, and all existential questions remain as mysterious as ever. Education today has to be about celebrating the process of noticing and articulating questions and then exploring, prototyping and tweaking answers on an ongoing basis.
Learning with a Purpose
The Seder does not tell a coherent history of our people for our children to memorize, it demands of us to step into our ancestors’ shoes. We read bits and pieces of the story of our people, for the purpose of connecting with our people, of perpetuating our people, and of acting as a people with empathy toward others who also have wandered and been oppressed. In progressive education, all subjects must be contextualized in lived experience and purpose. One of our organizational partners, Facing History and Ourselves, articulates this perfectly with respect to the purpose of studying history, “people make choices, and then those choices make history.” We study history for the purpose of cultivating a sense of responsibility to make intentional choices, understanding the weight our choices have on the future.
The Importance of Differentiated Engagement
The Seder knows that people learn differently and engagement is critical to learning. So too, progressive education embraces these truths and believes that a community of learning needs to engage everyone and do so in different ways. The Seder is a modern progressive classroom with opportunities for flexible seating (see pillows and leaning), tactile engagement (breaking the matzah or hitting people over the head with leeks), simulations (packing our bags and leaving Egypt), and playfulness (Dayenu, anyone?). We stick to one subject for a long time, going deep and doing so through many different modalities and lenses, and with an explicit recognition that people learn in different ways- if you have four children, you should expect to teach the story of Exodus in four different ways!
When you come together with your children tomorrow night for the Seder, prepare to cash in on your investment in a progressive Jewish education. Engage together through curiosity, playfulness, love of learning, and a commitment to turning our learning into action for the betterment of our people and the whole world. We should, of course, continue to enjoy the sweet Ma Nishtanah recitations! More importantly, we should celebrate the questions, the creative answers, and the interactions at our Seders. Enjoy the nachas.
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat and a redemptive Pesach!