Thursday, December 1, 2016

Toldot/Vayeirah - True Education and Intrinsic Motivation by Allan Katz

Guest post by Allan Katz

Toldot begins with Yitzchak=Isaac and Rivkah = Rebecca praying in separate corners in their home asking G-d to bless them with a child. Verse 25:21 tells us that G-d answered Yitzchak's prayers rather than Rivkah's. The reason given is that there is no comparison between the prayers of righteous child – Isaac who is a son of righteous parents and of a righteous child- Rebecca of wicked parents.

Rabbi Dessler explains that Rivkah's efforts of rejecting her evil family's ways and becoming a righteous person are praiseworthy and meritorious. Yet Isaac's challenge was much more difficult. Isaac could have easily become a carbon copy of his father and carried on his tradition of serving G-d through doing chesed and loving kindness. Isaac did not content himself with that. He forged a new and unique path of serving G-d through holding himself to the highest standards of observance, self discipline, courage and strength= ge'vu'rah.

Rabbi Dessler explains that the education we receive from our parents, teachers, friends and from the different environments is very much a passive form of education. Even if kids study hard, the motivation is external and the product of this learning and exposure is more about acquiring good habits that are done in a rote manner - 'mitzvat anshim me'lumada 'and imitating role models than changing from the inside. Real education and personal development takes place when the child is internally motivated and overcomes personal challenges and struggles.

We see this principle also in how G-d relates to Abraham's nephew, Lot. G-d sends angels to destroy the city of Sodom and to rescue Lot who was residing there. What did Lot do to merit him being saved ?. The Medrash explains that Abraham and his wife Sarah went to Egypt with Lot because there was a drought in the land of Canaan. In order to protect himself, Abraham said that Sarah was his sister. If he would have said that she was his wife he would have been killed and Sarah would have been taken to be the wife of someone else, most probably Pharaoh. Lot was sensitive enough to the situation and kept his mouth shut. He did not, even by mistake reveal the true situation. Lot was thus rewarded for his silence.

The Saba from Slabodkah is surprised that from all the positive actions that Lot did, it was his ' silence' that merited him being saved. Lot displayed lots of courage, commitment and even risked his life when he invited the angels to be guests in his home. Is this not a more meritorious act than just keeping quiet and not handing his uncle over to be killed?. The Saba from Slabodkah explains that Lot was challenged in the area of money. He had separated from Abraham in order to settle in the rich and fertile area of Sodom. Inadvertently revealing or hinting that Abraham was Sarah's husband would have made him very wealthy. Abraham would have been killed and Lot would have been given presents from the Egyptians as he was now Sarah's only relative. Lot's display of chesed in inviting the angels to his home was due to the education he received in Abraham's home and not a product of his own struggles in this area. Keeping quiet was about dealing with a personal challenge.

Education does not have to be just about kids meeting parents and teachers expectations for good behavior and great grades. Education can be also about meeting kids concerns and hopes and becoming life long learners. When kids needs for autonomy , competence and relatedness are being met , kids become self determined and intrinsically motivated. Autonomy is not about independence but interdependence and being self directed. Kids become and feel competent when they aquire real life and learning skills, assessment is feedback and a conversation and not just a spreadsheet with test scores and grades. When learning is about cooperation and building a community of learners, kids feel they are related, have a sense of belonging where they can support others and feel supported.

Discipline and behavior problems are solved through discussion using collaborative problem solving and helping kids reflect on how their behavior impacts on others. With poor and challenging kids – both academically or behaviorally problems are solved by punishing bad behavior or rewarding obedience and using incentives or level systems to motivate kids to do better. They also get a different type of education.

Deborah Meier says that rich kids are “expected to have opinions,” and poor kids, who are expected to do what they’re told. Schools for the well-off are about inquiry and choices; schools for the poor are about drills and compliance.''

The education that all our children deserve ' starts with students’ interests and questions; learning is organized around real-life problems and projects. Exploration is both active and interactive, reflecting the simple truth that kids learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions. Finally, success is judged by authentic indicators of thinking and motivation, not by multiple-choice tests. ' – Alfie Kohn

Parents and teachers always ask how they can motivate kids to do better. The mantra of the Collaborative problem solving approach CPS is' kids do well if they can and not kids do well if they want to '. Kids would rather do better and be successful , if not it means that in the past their concerns have not been heard , and that they have been pushed back and been rejected so often .In any case adults can't motivate kids , we can only provide the conditions which help kids to motivate themselves.

Constructivist and CPS academic and socio-moral learning principles which rich kids are getting are needed even more so for challenging kids because they are lacking so many skills.

These approaches promote real education based on intrinsic motivation. The child has a say in his education , something that matters to him more than anybody else. Kids are thus given the opportunity to explore their personal interests and challenges and make real changes to their lives.

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