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 . . .