Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Teaching Spirituality in School

The following article (from the lookjed list)  is thought provoking and the link to the post has several interesting reactions and comments from educators around the world.  Additionally, I think it is good to expose the readers here to Aryeh Ben David, an experienced educator himself who has started Ayeka - Jewish Spiritual Education.

I invite you to share comments - is this practical for your school? Or do you think this better for 'informal educational' environments?

Creative Solutions to Education Challenges - Spiritual Education
by Aryeh Ben David posted on 9 August 2011

There is a problem in Jewish education. Many if not most Jewish educators are aware of this problem. It is a problem that will not be solved by a change in the syllabus. It is a problem that will not be solved by developing more knowledgeable educators. It is not a problem of pedagogy or content.

It is a problem of disconnectedness. Students are not personally connecting to what they are learning. It is a problem that exists on the day school level as well as in advanced yeshiva learning. It is not a problem of the mind. It is a problem of the heart.

This problem did not simply appear. It is the product of an approach that views education as a mind-to-mind experience. It is a product of an approach whose goal is to convey to the student masses of content, regardless of how much of this the student emotionally connects to and/or integrates into his life. It is an approach which lacks sufficient personal relevance, personal meaning, touching of the hearts and/or impassioning the student.

There is another approach. An approach that was, in fact, favored by the Hassidic masters, Rav Kook, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and others. It is an approach that is based on the wisdom of the Kabbalah, on the understanding that there are three primary voices of the soul - the nefesh, the ruach, and the neshama. These voices are expressed through the powers of the mind (neshama), the heart (ruach), and the body (nefesh). For education to be truly effective it has to access and harmonize these three voices of the soul of the student. It is an approach of one whole person to another whole person, of mind & heart & body to mind & heart & body (see Courage to Teach, p. 4, by Parker Palmer, contemporary leader in educational philosophy. "To chart the inner landscape fully, three important paths must be taken - intellectual, emotional, and spiritual - and none can be ignored").

How does this approach work?

The mind is engaged. A subject is studied. Critical and rigorous thinking is  involved.

The heart is engaged. A safe and supportive environment is created in which the student can personally relate to the material studied. An environment bereft of cynicism, sarcasm, or judgment. The Talmud states "A person only learns from the place that his/her heart desires." This safe environment opens one's heart to learning, and promotes active listening of the participant both to his/her self and to others. The students are invited to express and share in pairs how s/he connects to what has been learned.

The body is engaged. An experiential workshop enables the student to take this mind & heart experience and express it through various media, including art, creative writing, drama, or movement. The goal here is not the performance. Rather the aim is to physically actualize what has been heretofore abstract. This tangible experience serves to concretize what the mind and heart have experientially internally.

The Results:

Individual connectedness: A deep personal connectedness to whatever subject has been learned, an impassioned learner. Students begin to realize that Judaism is not just about learning content, it is not just about knowing things, but that the deep wisdom of Judaism can impact and enhance their lives.

Group connectedness: The sharing with others coheres the whole group and begins to foster a community of listening, caring, meaningfulness and passion. Torah becomes Torat Chayim.

This approach has already been tried with well over 1500 students during the last two years with outstanding success. It is suitable for timeframes of 3-hour sessions, day-long seminars, and Shabbatonim. Ultimately, the goal of these sessions is to impact students, to begin to create a community focusing on spiritual growth, and to train Jewish educators and professionals to be able to facilitate these seminars on their own. To date, we have run seminars focusing on spirituality, community, chesed, and the holidays. This approach, however, is suitable for any subject or theme.

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