“Ma, I’m really not looking forward to school this year.”
It’s a sentiment so many parents can relate to as summer vacation ends and the school year begins anew. This one in particular came from one of my kids about their apprehension at starting again. Honestly, it’s a feeling I can relate to. As we prepare the new uniforms, books and the endless list of supplies, we feel a mix of things, as do our children.
There’s the excitement that our kids are growing up and entering a new grade and milestone in their young lives. Alongside that are the nerves. Will my child do well in school? Will they struggle? Will they connect with their teachers? Will their teachers see their strengths and help them develop themselves? Will they make friends? Will they have compassion for their classmates? Will their classmates have compassion for them? Will they build their sense of self-worth?
School is easier for some kids than others. Most schools focus on children’s academic education. For kids who are academic, this may work, but for many kids, academics aren’t their strength and school can be rough. Educating children is often defined in a narrow way but in reality, it means much more than just teaching children to read, write and pass their high school exams.
In Hebrew, the word for education is chinuch. It shares the same root as chanukat (from chanukat habayit), which means to inaugurate. When we inaugurate a building for example, we are getting that building ready so that it can be used for what it was designed for. This is education in its purest sense. Successful chinuch is helping a child get to a place where they can fulfil their potential. It is giving them the skills, the tools and the understanding to know themselves. To know their strengths and how to develop them as well as knowing their challenges and how to work with them so that they as adults they can thrive.
This is the foundation of Jewish education as described by King Solomon – educate the child according to their way, so that even as they age they won’t deviate from it. King Solomon is telling us here that the trick of good education is an education that lasts a lifetime. It’s not just about getting a child to 18 and teaching them literacy and career skills. It’s about raising a human with values that stick with them as they age. It’s about raising an adult that achieves his or her unique purpose in the world. How is this done? Each child’s education has to be personalized. It has to be tailored to their specific personality.
Every person is born different — with different characteristics, talents and challenges. As King Solomon says, they are born in their own way. That way is going to be with the person for the rest of his or her life. If a child is born with a quick nature, that will be their nature. If someone is born with an outgoing nature, that will stay with them. Now, those characteristics that a person is born with are neither good nor bad. The job of an educator is to help a person learn how to channel their characteristics for the good. The quick natured child will have to be taught to channel his or her quickness to get things done; they will also need to be taught to reign in their temper and to learn to control it. When education consists of teaching each child how to harness his or her individual ways for the good, then they become adults who live according to higher values.
A good education is one that when the child reaches the end of their formal education, they have a good understanding of who they are. They know what they are good at, and they know what avenues they shouldn’t be pursuing because their talents lie elsewhere. They know what their strengths are and they know how to channel their character positively. This is achieved through a partnership with the school and the parents — when the child is given opportunities to explore many activities in a safe culture. A child who is educated like this is well equipped to shine their unique light in the world. Let’s make this a year of working toward that, one little step at a time.