23 October 2015
10 Heshvan 5776
For many years we have been hearing from grandparents who visit the school: “I wish I had the chance to learn with some of the amazing Gann teachers!” Well, this week that wish became a reality as we held our first Grandparents’ Day of Learning.
On Wednesday over 70 grandparents filled our Beit Midrash for three TED-Talk-like mini-lessons from three Gann teachers. They learned about the foundations of American pluralism by comparing two different American communities and thinking about the kinds of spaces we create and the messages those spaces send about the communities that gather in them. Then they explored Jewish theology through passages from the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) along with rabbinic commentaries, focusing on one of our tradition’s core principles that is also a core value of a Gann education: human questioning and challenging essential to the learning process and to our relationship with God.
The Day of Learning concluded with one of Gann’s most popular classes, Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB). They learned about the neurology in the brain that makes learning itself possible. In my closing remarks, I noted to the grandparents: “Little did you know that, in addition to three inspiring classes and lunch with your grandchildren, we’re sending you home today with the takeaway gift of new neural pathways!”
Our first Grandparents’ Day of Learning was a success on many levels. One was the very fact that our Beit Midrash was filled with adults from our students’ lives who were modeling their own passion and commitment for lifelong learning. There is no more powerful image to capture the Jewish notion of “midor l’dor – from generation to generation” than grandparents learning together in the same space where their grandchildren learn and from the same teachers who inspire them. And the children are always watching. No words we say to our children and grandchildren about the importance of education can come close to the messages we convey to them by “walking the walk”. Thank you to the many grandparents who inspired all of us this week by “walking the walk”. Your presence helps to connect our students in new ways to you, their tradition, and their learning.
Another powerful aspect of the day was our passionate teachers and the subjects they chose to teach. They modeled through their lessons the ways that our students’ learning, regardless of academic discipline, maps onto their lives as Jews and human beings. Every discipline contributes something unique to a timeless human conversation about essential
questions. These questions provide the fuel that motivates student engagement and helps to put the hard work and academic challenges of high school in a context of meaning and personal relevance.
Perhaps, most importantly, when our students see the big questions behind their learning, they begin to break down the rigid boundaries between disciplines that have characterized our industrial approach to education. Instead of each course being a distinct and separate cog in the wheel of their educational experience, courses in history, Jewish Studies, science, and other subjects are in conversation with one another, part of a more integrated, organic, whole experience. When students experience this, they begin to feel less like disconnected cogs in the wheel of education (“for 45 minutes I’m a math student, then a history student, then an English student . . .”) and more like connected, well-integrated, whole human beings.
This process of humanizing our students and connecting them to the subjects they learn, to the teachers from whom they learn, to one another, and to themselves is what a school should do.
Rabbi Marc Baker