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Why Do We Send Our Children to School?

Why Do We Send Our Children to School?

Don’t they have the right to know?


Why do we send our kids to school? Well, we parents all know the truth: as soon as the school bus pulls away, we ditch the business suits for bathing suits and head for the water park, careful to return home in time to change clothes before the kids return.

But why do the kids have go to school? Is it just to memorize facts and figures, in hopes of giving them a chance for success in this dog-eat-dog world?

Kids have a right to know the objective of the hours they spend in school. Sadly, often the message they get is misleading.

You may recognize the scene. A well-meaning pedagogue, complete with elbow-patched tweed jacket (pipes are no longer “politically correct”), ascends the podium and, in his best attempt to be inspirational, encourages the students to dream bigger dreams, reach for the stars, picture where you want to be in ten years from now and then chart the course to arrive there. Exotic travel metaphors and occasional swashbuckler similes are common; dramatic gesturing is optional.

Dutifully, students begin to envision where they want to be. (Truth be told, most students envision when recess begins, but play along with me.) Mental pictures of vacation homes and fancy cars, the trappings of “success,” dance in their mind. They get the message: if you want to get what you want, crack open the books and get down to business.

Herein lies the problem. The message boils down to this: determine what your heart wants, and then apply your mind to chart the course to get it.

Bad news. This is backwards. Education must teach children how to make basic moral choices in life. The foundational three R’s should empower them to be Righteous, Responsible and Reverent, as well as competitive in the marketplace.

A basic tenet of chassidic thought is that the mind can—and must—direct one’s passions, first to understand what is virtuous, and then to compel, or (preferably) convince, the emotional side to get excited about it too.

In his Tanya (chapter 9), Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi describes the battle between the instinctual “animal soul” and the transcendent “G‑dly soul.” They each claim a home base: the animal soul is most comfortably positioned in the reactive heart, easily persuaded by fad and attraction, willing to follow the next whim that appears. The G‑dly soul is based in the rational mind, finding purpose through rational process.

Not content to “live and let live,” they each seek to conquer the body—and so the battle is on. They are so single-minded they even attempt to infiltrate the opponent’s home base. The animal soul is eager to commandeer the mind’s cleverness to help realize its desires, while the G‑dly soul seeks to harness the heart’s passion for more enthusiastic service of G‑d and the betterment of humanity.

So how is one who’s caught in the crossfire of these two combatants to determine if his impulse is G‑dly or self-serving? Look to the source. If it originates in the intellect, that’s a clue that it’s a G‑dly soul impulse; if the return address reads “heart,” it’s probably from the animal soul.

We must teach schoolchildren to pursue their studies in order to form a moral and ethical code, enabling them to make a genuine difference in the world, not just the next “best mousetrap.” Sharpen your mind in hopes of making it more resilient against the wiles of the animal soul.

When the administration recommends searching the heart for “what you want” and then engaging the mind to “figure out how to get it,” they send the message that desire is king and intelligence its servant. G‑d created humans with their head above their hearts, reminding us that we must develop our emotional capacity under the tutelage of the mind to be of greater service to G‑d and mankind.

The school bell will ring for the final time in every student’s career, and the task of translating education into living will be thrust upon them. School must equip its charges with the tools to defend against the bombardment of temptation through mind-over-heart G‑dliness.

Now go out there and do some real good!

And parents, hurry up and get toweled off; the kids will be home any minute . . .

Rabbi Baruch Epstein is a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Illinois, and serves as the rabbi of Congregation Bais Menachem. He and his wife Chaya are the proud parents of three daughters.
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Discussion (50)
February 26, 2016
I think that we should only have to learn what we need to learn for our field of study and basic things like math and writing.
chris w.
February 14, 2016
School is better than gang banging and getting killed
Molly I'm sweatin
February 2, 2016
8th grade photographer
Just like the 7th grade photographer except I am in 8th grade. I really want to pursue photography as a career. However, a lot of my time is wasted learning the organelles of a cell and Shakespeare.
January 27, 2016
BH Wow! I really sense your frustration and sense of purposelessness in your school experience. You truly want to find the purpose of all the time you spend there in study of what seems useless and irrelevant! Perhaps try this approach: In much of life we do not see the objective of our required activities - certainly not on a timeline consistent with 30 minute episodes where everything is all neatly wrapped up in a simple linear story - "introduction of characters; description of their routine - disruption of routine - angst! problem solved - all live happily ever after!"
Reality is so much more interesting, unpredictable and therefore "fun" and amazing - trying seeing school - where I hope you can find some wonderful teachers and important info - as a crucial - if unclear why - step in becoming yourself!!

Stick with it and the meaning will come - and at least you will learn the vital life lessons of compliance and endurance!
Rabbi Epstein
January 27, 2016
Hi, I'm in 7th grade and I'm a photographer, I can actually take decent pictures but with school in the way I don't have time to get it out there in the open. We as students seriously waste away our lives till we are 23 (most people go to college for 4-6 years) we waste our time in school learning about robots and a old gorilla named ardi. This is unimportant and will not help us in the future, with taxes, buying houses? How do we do that? School doesn't teach us the important things in life and it's terrible, there is no use "learning" useless things. A girl in 7Th grade.
January 10, 2016
School is a lot of stress on children because they wake up early in the morning and get ready. Then they stay at school for a long time and the teachers are just talking about math and english and other subjects. But if you think about it, waking up early teaches us to get up early for work. All that boring stuff we learn, does benefit us in the future. So stay in school kids!
January 9, 2016
In my opinion, yes, schools can put a lot of pressure and stress on kids. But when you look back at the most basic stuff you know right now, you had to learn it at some point and it seemed super difficult at some age.
January 3, 2016
Stupid time
I think personally school is the worst all the kids need to know is basics then we should be done with school forever we do not need to go to school at all my school repeats the same thing we already learned before every single day.....
December 10, 2015
we do not need to go to school for too long when we hit the age of 15 then we think like we are smarter than everyone but that thought is a good thing that is the time when we can be free so we can dream big and go to make wonderful things in life so we can be a useful in this sad and dull life.
November 26, 2015
The sad truth is that we have to go to school to go anywhere in society today its tough because your only way to have a good future is if you follow there way sometimes I feel like just a part of the system which bothers me. I'm 16 by the way.