Rays of Light: Triggering the Mind to Think in New Ways

by Lali Ray

Does anyone else’s mind work the way mine does? I can be working on a project and read or see something totally unrelated that triggers a new insight (or sometimes reinforces an old insight!) into whatever I am working on. This happened to me last week.

I have been working with a congregation here in Long Island on development of an updated curriculum. Their desire to update their curriculum was triggered by a “sudden” realization that there was no rhyme or reason to their current Hebrew curriculum. Everyone seemed to be teaching a “different” Hebrew. It was also clear that there was not sufficient thought given to the sequence of subjects in the rest of the curriculum.

One of the subjects they decided to revise was Jewish Values/Mitzvot. They are planning to use “Jewish Values from Alef to Tav” in their “Bet” class. This particular congregation starts their children a year earlier than most, so their “Bet” would probably be someone else’s “Alef.” Anyway, the first part of the “trigger” was working with some teachers who are unaccustomed to the individual booklet approach and, like many of us, suspicious of anything new. I had my own suspicions that they would take whatever they were given and teach it in the same way they would teach any book or subject.

The second part of the “trigger” was in, of all places, an Ann Landers column. She was responding to parents who were having trouble “letting go” of their children. They were trying to maintain an inappropriate control over their children’s lives. (As I recall, the “children” were 21 and 23!) The last part of the “trigger” was sitting with Joel, Jane and Alan and talking about the Bet Curriculum. We talked about the concept, the framework, the uses, and the materials themselves.

Now, I’m going to put it all together. We, as Jewish teachers, often have not only the problem of “letting go” of what we have been doing for years and what we feel comfortable doing, but also the problem of confronting why we’re doing what we’re doing. We, like many of the students we teach, want instant gratification. We want to take materials and rush them into the class without considering why they are written the way they are. We want to deal with all materials in the same way, not always considering that some lend themselves to different approaches or styles. Whether this is the result of insecurity or a desire to make the teaching as “easy” as possible, I am not sure.

In Hebrew, particularly, concept is critical! It’s not only whether you want to use phonetics/phonics or whole word recognition; it’s not only whether you start with Alef and end with Tav or start with a word and teach the letters in it; it’s not only the differences in vocabulary from one set of books to another or whether you want to teach language or davening. It’s the CONCEPT—a combination of these choices—that is necessary to understand if everyone is to proceed along the same path and, hopefully, wind up in the same place. “Jewish Values…” in the Bet Curriculum is part of a total concept with several components. Even if, as in the case I mentioned, only a part of the curriculum is going to be used, it is important to understand the whole approach and the other materials that go with it.

The Bet teachers with whom I am working are spending a part of their summer working on ways of teaching the values curriculum. There are three teachers, and I am sure that all of them will have different ideas. I have asked the principal to be sure that teachers meet together on a regular basis to share their ideas with each other. I will be encouraging them to explore all of the possibilities with which they are comfortable. They will then understand what the INTENT of the writers was and how THEY saw it fitting together, and that in itself should provide encouragement.

These are good teachers. I think they’ll do fine with it all. But they, like all of us, need a little handholding to “let go” and a little patience from everyone concerned as they explore the concepts, and a little time to develop their ideas.