Weekly Message 5-10-13

10 May 2013  
Rosh Chodesh Sivan  

Training vs. Education 

Shalom Chaverim,  

We celebrated our students and their parents at our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Banquet on Tuesday evening this week. More than 50 students, parents, faculty, and friends gathered to honor our students’ participation and achievements in Math Team, Independent Research and Design, and Robotics.  

The evening included a special tribute to the founding students and parents of our first robotics team, team R.A.B.B.I. (Robots and Brain Bots, Inc.), where I had the opportunity to honor our graduating seniors and, in particular, the original members of R.A.B.B.I. Their efforts have put robotics on the map at Gann and put Gann on the map of the national robotics community.  

Our teams have been so successful (and our parents so persuasive) that our special, surprise guest speaker for the evening was a STEM rock star, Dr. Woodie Flowers,  co-founder of FIRST Robotics and professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at M.I.T., who delivered a powerful message about the future of education. Dr. Flowers distinguished between “training,” which gives kids basic knowledge and skills, and “education,” which teaches students to apply those skills. “Learning calculus is training,” he said. “Learning to think using calculus is education. Training is a commodity that is necessary but no longer sufficient in our 21st century world.” To paraphrase, “We need to develop our students’ creativity, their capacities to integrate, make meaning, and solve real world problems.”  

I found Dr. Flowers’ inspiring words about training and education not only an affirmation of Gann’s educational vision and values but also an appropriate kavanah (intention, direction) as we prepare for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.  On Shavuot we remember the experience of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai and reenter into our covenantal relationship with God and the Jewish People through renewing our relationship with Torah and Jewish learning.  

This week we begin reading the book of Bemidbar (Numbers), which means “in the wilderness.” Our rabbis teach that the Torah was given in the midbar because Torah is only acquired by a person who makes himself hefker (free, open) like a midbar, a wilderness. This is both a spiritual and an intellectual charge that reminds me of the difference between training and education, between transmission of information and transformative learning. Students need essential knowledge and skills—building blocks for high order thinking and learning. At the same time, the rabbis’ vision of “acquiring Torah” goes beyond skills and knowledge. It involves opening our hearts and minds so that the subjects we learn can enter us; we learn to see the world through new eyes, and our Torah (whether it is math, science, Talmud, English literature) will, in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, “come forth like a creative force.”  

This openness, creativity, and innovation will help our students not only solve the world’s existing problems but also discover and uncover new problems that will need to be solved. And it is this openness, creativity, and innovation that will make our students not merely trained transmitters of Jewish history and tradition but also educated shapers of the Jewish future. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov,  

Rabbi Marc Baker  

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