Community Blog The Power to Choose

By 829 Studios

Do you miss the campaign ads on television? I know I do … not! (If you are Xfinity owners, you could skip all the ads by watching your shows On Demand. Sshh! Don’t tell the candidates!)

Putting the commercials aside, this past Election Day demonstrated that every votes count. Be it the gubernatorial race here in the commonwealth, or the senatorial race in New Hampshire, if you voted, it mattered. And if you didn’t vote, it mattered.

Having a voice is key to making change — be it in government or for your vacation plans (should you travel by car or plane (in my case, the deciding factor is whether the mode of transportation has videos to entertain my children)).

This is true for education. Children now have (and should have) a voice in what they study.

Up until recently, except for college students, children knew exactly what to study and what they needed to know — or what they thought they had to know. Educational systems were akin to Ford’s assembly line, whereby students were filled to the gills with knowledge, facts and specific skills to demonstrate that they could regurgitate that knowledge.

At the college level, students had limited choice in what to study but not necessarily in how to demonstrate what they learned. To sum it up, educational systems followed bubbie’s advice of “It’s good for you! So, “zie shtill” (be quiet and stop complaining!).”

Today, more and more educational systems are slowly returning to Dewey’s vision of learning. As he wrote, “The great thing for one as for the other is that each shall have had the education which enables him to see within his daily work all there is in it of large and human significance.”

Children (like all human beings) are unique and deserve the power of using their voices to determine what they study, so that their work is significant not only to the world, but also to them.

During election night, I reflected on this “power” each of us has to determine who serves in our government and what we study. Further, I see it each Sunday and Tuesday at Makor, Hebrew College’s supplementary middle-school program that I direct.

Here, sixth- and seventh-graders choose what they want to study based not only on their interests, but also the skills they want (and need) to learn. For some, it’s learning the language of our heritage, whether to be proficient with the siddur or being able to order shwarma at Mahane Yehudah in Jerusalem.

For others, it’s learning about Israel as a country, because their family is planning to visit for the first time. For still others, it’s creating a yad for their bat/bar mitzvah or studying Tanakh or Talmud and finding meaning in the texts that ring true to them through cinema or sports or ecology.

Here at Makor, kids have a choice. They are finding their voices and choosing what they want to study to help them solidify their Jewish Identity. For college kids, this seem natural. For high schoolers, this seems somewhat risky because of their limited experience in making choices (how many actually choose to put their laundry away?). For middle schoolers, does this seem right that they should have a voice?

Yes, it does!

It does seem right because sixth- and seventh-graders have hopes, dreams, worries and fears. They have desires and interests. And when you speak with a middle schooler and can get past the psycho-emotional-developmental drama that can only be classified as the fifth episode of the soap opera entitled “As the Stomach Churns,” his/her hopes and dreams bloom. Here at Makor, students choose what they want to study and their hopes and dreams concretize into reality. Here, 11- and 12-yea- olds are paving their own way in their understanding of who they are as Jews.

That sounds like a win to me, and I will vote for that!

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