Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

The Value of Education

“The need to assure that every child has the opportunity afforded by good teachers is urgent. As urgent as the need to be well nourished and for exactly the same reason. A child’s growth depends on it.”

-Lowell Milken

“We can only make a difference in this world, as our ancestors have made a difference in this world, if we are educated, if we learn.”

-Richard Sandler

You’ve most likely heard this saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  If you look back through Jewish history, there are some distinct patterns that emerge, both in the behavior of the Jewish people, and in that of those who keep trying, unsuccessfully, to eradicate us.  There are days of the year that are set to remind us of our history, and today happens to be one of those days.  It’s the 17th of the month of Tammuz, and it’s a fast day, where we remember the fall of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of our Temple.  You can read more about it here, if you like.

Judaism is big on remembering the past, and on education, especially when it comes to educating our children.  Twice a day, we are enjoined to say the Shema, a declaration of faith.  In this prayer, we mention our obligation to thoroughly teach our children. Not just sometimes, or once, but doing so when we get up, when we lay down, coming and going, in our house and out of our house.  It’s pretty comprehensive.

Ideally, every parent is supposed to be the teacher of their own child.  That’s the way it was way back in the day.  While home-schooling may be on the rise, and there’s support for those who choose to do so, many people still send their children out of the home for education.  Even if you’re not of the Orthodox persuasion, you might still send your children to a day school or Sunday school or something.  ‘Cause we want to teach our kids our traditions.  It’s, well, tradition.

Being a teacher is viewed as a very altruistic, noble and valuable profession.  At least theoretically.

Last week on This American Life, there was a short story about a celebrated Science teacher who had won a number of awards, yet decided to quit his job because, well, financially it wasn’t working out for him.  He spoke of the guilt and conflict he felt over this decision, as teachers are expected to not care about the money.  They’re supposed to be superhumanly noble.  But, you know, it’s not unreasonable to want  some degree of financial security.  And that is something this country is lousy at providing teachers.

I briefly taught fifth grade girls in one of the Jewish day schools in Cleveland, and I was astounded at the amount of work that went into it.  Prior to this experience, I was vaguely aware that teachers worked hard, and I have always had great respect for the profession.  Was I exhausted at the end of the day!  And that was with “only” teaching in the afternoons.

Of course, there was much more to do than simply standing in front of the class.  There was all the preparation, the grading, the pondering ways to engage the girls into learning, the discipline.  And all of that was on my “own time.”  Is a teacher ever really off the clock?  It takes a great deal of dedication, innovation and care to continue to foster love for Judaism among the little people.  And how much financial security is involved?  Not much.

Rewarding Jewish Educators

It is an incredibly complex task, and very important.  How can we encourage intelligent, sensitive people to pursue this profession, and to stay in it?  Lowell Milken, a philanthropist out in California, recognizes the importance of rewarding outstanding teachers, and showing the importance of education through the Jewish Educator Awards.  The award winners receive $15,000.  That’s some serious appreciation.

Here’s one of the recipients of the 2012:

Mr. Milken’s  life-long passion for education reform can be seen through the tremendous work his Foundation, The Milken Family Foundation, has done to support this important profession.  To quote the site: “The belief that young people are not only our greatest natural resource, but our greatest national resource has been the guiding philosophy that drives Lowell Milken and the foundation to develop many of the country’s most groundbreaking education reform initiatives.”

Even though summer has begun and teachers are maybe not figuring as prominently in the day-to-day of our children’s lives, you could still send a card or make a phone call to a teacher, to express your appreciation for all the hard work they do.  It may not be a monetary award, but even simply hearing that one’s efforts are appreciated can be a welcome boost for a dedicated educator.

What else could we do to help improve Jewish education?  

6 thoughts on “The Value of Education

  1. Love this. As a kindergarten teacher who formerly taught toddlers, I also was shocked at the amount of work that went into teaching older kids (younger kids were easy because I could be more flexible and creative). It was a ton! And we are not paid very much at all, especially since we’re entrusted with such an enormous job (um, raising the next generation of human beings). we work every night, weekends, and summers to prepare our classrooms and curriculum to be the best we can make them. And every note, every thank you, really makes a difference to our day, which affects our moods, which affects how well we teach. I had a parent call me a week after school was out, after giving me a beautiful end of the year gift with a lovely note a week earlier, just to say thanks again. It was so sweet. And personally, I keep all the cards I get. On rough days/weeks/months, I read through them and remember how good it can be.


  2. I love this piece. You know I stopped teaching because…well, after 20 years, I just couldn’t take it any more. Meanwhile, think of what we pay athletes and movie stars. Do you think $15K even comes close to what those others get? Do those athletes and entertainers have the same kind of direct influence over our children? It breaks my heart. I loved my students, and I don’t reget my time in the ckassroom. But who would be crazy enough to want their children to go into teaching? Sad, but true.

    1. Don’t even get me started on the way we pay movie stars and athletes. DON’T EVEN. Ugh. My brother is a math teacher/baseball coach, and we’re so proud of him! But it’s not simple. How do people save for things like a house? I don’t know.

  3. Love this! As a (very underpaid) teacher, it’s nice to hear so much genuine appreciation, and gives me added koakh to help ignite those “light up the world” fires that the kids will eventually build. Thanks Rivki. My best advice would be to do everything we can to enable teachers to be stay focused on why they are here, and why what they do is so important. So often we get caught in a battle of politics and unimportant details (when, like pay, can become VERY important) which make us lose sight of why we do what we do. Our job is to help teachers not get bogged down with these things and remain focused on helping the next generation reach its’ potential.

    1. It’s true that there’s so much more to teaching than just the teaching, i.e. the politics and various logistical realities. I’m happy to help inspire! I’m sure you’re doing a fabulous job! Keep it up!!

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