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Haggadah! The "Bible" of Education

Haggadah! The "Bible" of Education

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After all that scrubbing, elbow grease, putting things away – c'mon now, you must've found some long-lost goody! You know, that 100 dollar bill that was MIA for the past eight months, that new pair of glasses behind the dresser, the extra set of car keys... something always turns up when ya gotta turn the house upside down – Passover is now arriving.

We're about to enter the land of matzah, horseradish – homemade is the best! – charoset, and all the delicious goodies of the Passover seder.

As a special-ed teacher, I've always been intrigued by Passover and the HaggadahThe Haggadah, the book we use to recount the Exodus from Egypt and the whole episode of Passover, is the "bible" on education—and, in fact, contains about a zillion lessons on how to truly be a good teacher. In other words, we can look into the Haggadah and – just from seeing how it's set up, how it operates – realize what makes for good education. As a special-ed teacher for close to thirty years now, I've always been intrigued by Passover and the Haggadah.

I have the awesome job of running a music therapy program for students with profound special needs. I've seen the power of music, not just listening to music (voila the "Mozart Effect"), but more importantly, when people make music! The act of creating music has a deep power to it, and indeed, this is a central theme of the Haggadah. We sing a lot of the Haggadah—with basically everyone participating, from young to old, across all dominations and labels (which are ridiculous anyhow). Some of the Haggadah is said in a sing-song sort of melody, which is somewhere in between singing and speaking.

Another major component of the Haggadah is the notion of asking questions and then trying to give explanations. Rather than just say something as fact – or even as a mere statement – the Haggadah sets a different tone here. We're encouraged to ask questions! The custom is to have the youngest participate here and ask the famous "Four Questions," whether in Hebrew or English or any language that they understand. I remember, as a student in elementary school we had one teacher who would begin her classes with us asking questions about the subject material at hand. The opposite of most classrooms—where the teacher asks the questions and the pupils have to respond. In fact, one solid technique for preparing for a test is to reverse the roles. Let's say you, the adult or parent, are preparing your child for an exam. Play the game differently. Let your kid ask you the questions and then you have to give the response! Then, you see, they get to play teacher and listen to your response and offer alternatives, explanations, or simply correct you and give the real answer! Rather than just give a lecture, the Haggadah is much more interactive. All throughout the night, people ask questions and share answers and responses.

Another doozy is the use of acronyms to help with memoryAnother doozy is the use of acronyms to help with memory. You know, those funny little thingies that each letter of a made-up word or phrase refers to something. C'mon, how many of us learned the planets in order by first learning "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles!" Which, of course, is the first letter of the planets in order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, etc. Hmmmmm... do we keep the Pickles, mates? Remember that recent controversy about removing Pluto from the planet system! Booooo! We may have to change that old phrase to: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles!" Adios to the pickles.

Where's the letters and catchy phrases in the Haggadah. Ah, ya gotta take a closer look maties! There's the staff of Moses that had the letters inscribed along its side: D'tzach adash b'achav! Each letter of this phrase is one of the ten plagues that G‑d Almighty brought upon the ancient Egyptians. And yes, there's more of the catchy little word phrases in there mates. Do your homework!

So we have the following so far: Use of song—creative music, mates... not just listening to music! Use of interactive questions and discussions. And use of acronyms—catchy letters joined together to help us remember things.

Now we move on to more goodies. Yes, I'm talking about the sight, smells and tastes of Passover.

Now it becomes more than an intellectual exercise and lecture kind of deal. It now becomes multi-modality—one that involves the senses. We already have the sounds of Passover—all the wonderful songs of the seder. But we now move into a more tangible realm... We dip the potato or piece of onion into salt water and munch away. We dig into the matzah, sprinkle on some charoset (my absolute favorite), then hit the bitter herbs—or should I say it hits us?! So now the story comes alive as we don't just talk about the bitterness of slavery in Egypt—we eat some bitterness and take it into our very bodies! We don't just talk about the dough not rising—we eat it!

So add an important fourth ingredient here folks. Good education takes a multi-modality approach. Involve the senses! The Haggadah teaches us, in fact, how to teach!

The story comes alive as we don't just talk about the bitterness of slavery in Egypt—we eat it!Another central theme, and this may be even the biggee, is the notion of involving even the little children! It's mentioned in many books on Jewish law and philosophy that children should take a nap during the day before Passover, so they can stay up and participate during the seder. So, we see that it's not a holiday just for smart, intellectual adults. No, the main emphasis is on the children. And so the kids ask the Four Questions, take turns reading from the Haggadah, leading songs learned at school, etc. Kids play a vital role in the whole story of Passover!

So add that to the list. I think we're up to five important ingredients so far.

Numero 6: Games! Fun! Perking up interest by keeping the motivation there. Yes, we're talking Afikomen of course. The kids know that after the meal they will look for the Afikomen, the pieces of matzah that you hid earlier in the seder. All attention is focused on the kids as they search, and you get to tell the little buggers "hot" or "cold" and in general try to confuse them even more! I caught onto my Grandpa Sol's secret pretty early, and usually found it in his pillow case! I also remember finding a piece under his kippah one year! And so, the Haggadah has a built-in fun aspect as well. The kids know that if they can stay up till after the meal they get a shot at finding that Afikomen, that hidden matzah, and with it comes some sort of prize!

Well maties, I'll leave you with those six doozies. Yes, there are more, of course. There's the whole notion of preparing beforehand... of dressing in new clothes... of family reunions! It's a most wonderful, awesome holiday indeed!

I wish you all a very happy, healthy, inspiring, and kosher Passover!

My luck, of course, is that the Sabres will probably be playing in the playoffs on this holiday.

Well, they usually do better when I don't watch anyhow!

Dr. David Lazerson, affectionately known as Dr. Laz, is a world renowned educator, musician, author & entertainer. He won Teacher of the Year for NY State in 1981 and again for the Broward County Public Schools, the nation's 5th largest school district, in 2007, and is a 2008 Inductee into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.
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April 6, 2009
Dr Laz!
It's great hearing Dr. Laz's voice again.

It's been a while. Keep them coming, please!
Sam
Brooklyn, NY
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