Many of my current colleagues don't know that I have a B.A. in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. At one time I thought very seriously about becoming a rabbi. (Actually the word rabbi means teacher.) Though I'm no longer ritually observant, I still very much enjoy thinking about religious ideas.

So, on this day that is sacred to multiple both Judaism and Christianity, I want to ask three questions:
1. What does the word freedom mean?
2. What does the word God mean?
3. What do these two questions have to do with education and teaching and learning?

Contrary to my youngest perceptions, freedom is not the same as the ability to do whatever one wants to do. Instead, any free system requires structure and law. For without a legalized structure other people are free to take advantage of me as they see fit and I'm free to take advantage of others as I see fit. According to Jewish tradition, seven weeks from the day that the Hebrews left Egypt they received the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Without these Ten Commandments chaos would reign and freedom would amount to nothing. Freedom means the ability to thoughtfully think about the structure/laws that will govern society and have a voice in the decision making process. Freedom means voluntarily giving up some freedom to promote a healthier, more vibrant society.

God? I believe that God is a supernatural external being that tends to remain out of worldly affairs. Though I can't prove it, I know that God created this world. He/She set the world in motion. Furthermore, God ensures that natural law continues to work properly. There are so many issues related to God that I'm just not sure about! Does God really care for each person? Does God even have the power to keep bad things from happening? I hope that God is happy when good things happen and sad when bad things happen but does God have the ability to intervene? (By the way, I'm not really sure if it's important if we call this God Adonia, Allah or Jesus. I think my ideas would still be the same!!)

So, how does all of this relate to teaching and learning? Our students need some freedom within the classroom. They need to have the opportunity to make their own decisions as to what they will do. They need the comfort of being allowed to rely on their own learning styles and modes of thinking. But, our students should not be able to do whatever they want whenever they want. The structure of the classroom sets limits and constraints. Even as students feel comfortable relying on their own learning style work structures should encoruage them to experiment with new styles as well. For example, students might respond to a book through a formal essay much of the time but be required to experiment with a poetic response another time.

Just as adults have the freedom to voice their opinions about laws and contribute to the decision making process, our students should have the opportunity to contribute their ideas and voices to the rules of a classroom. Just as our voices matter, our students' voices matter.

The world would not be without God. Our classrooms would not be without teachers. Children will not naturally engage themselves in thinking about important ideas. If manipulates aren't available students won't utilize them. Just as God provides the natural resources of the world, teachers should provide the resources of the classroom. Innovative people have developed insightful ways of using natural resources. Our students should be encouraged to innovate and use the manipulatives available in the classroom.

Perhaps, in one tiny way, a teacher's role in the classroom is more powerful than God's role in the world. God might not intervene into the world to prevent bad from happening. As teachers, we have the ability to push our students towards doing positive things.

But then again, we are not all powerful. At times, students will use the resources available in the classroom for negative purposes, such as when they use the tools of Web 2.0 to bully others. When this happens, as teachers, we should recognize that we are not God. The best we can do is redouble our efforts and recognize that just as different people approach God in different ways we need to approach our studetns, who each have a piece of God within them, in different ways.

Views: 28

Comment by Jeff Branzburg on April 8, 2007 at 4:32pm

Freedom - always an interesting question. I recently heard or saw (can't remember which - either PBS or NPR) a man in a small village in China saying that to him freedom was the fact that his village provided him with all he needs - food, clothing, shelter. If he needs a new mattress, they provide it. He has no say in his own governance, and he does not care. He does not need to worry about living. It is provided for him by the village. To him, this pure communism is best.

I, however, agree with you. Self-governance, with privileges and limitations, is freedom to me.

When I was a classroom teacher I tried to bring that (to a degree) to the classroom. It was never easy, in the 70s and 80s in the Bronx. Sometimes it worked better than other times, sometimes not at all. Sometimes it was seen as a sign of weakness, and the 13-14 year olds who I taught pounced!

As for God - I just don't know - my definition of "know" makes it impossible to know. To me "know" implies provable. So concepts such as God, which depend on belief as opposed to proof, become unknowable.

Hope you had a good Passover!

Jeff Branzburg


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