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Educating the Next Generation: Teaching Them, Reaching Them

Yisroel Besser

SMART Boards. Social workers. Mentoring. Ritalin. The vocabulary, toolkit, and challenges of the 21st-century educator are a world apart from the educator of just two or three decades ago. Two seasoned educators weigh in on how those classrooms have changed since your last “How I Spent My Summer” assignment.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

There is no such thing as a former mechanech. While an ex-cop is content to sit on the porch and reminisce and the old soldier is happy to sip lemonade and swap war stories, the former educator remains alive with the issues, challenges, and opportunities, as if he’s just stepped out of the classroom.

Rabbi Nosson Scherman is reserved, contemplative, and thoughtful, of immaculate appearance and deportment. Rabbi Yitzchok Scherman is passionate, effusive, and energetic, with a long, curly beard and chassidic fervor. They are father and son.

Reb Nosson lives with the theory of chinuch. His years in the classroom and, later, in the menahel’s office, play a dominant role in his identity. Reb Yitzchok is immersed in the practice of chinuch, as a classroom rebbi for over 20 years and a general studies principal for close to two decades as well.

They agree on many things, the Rabbis Scherman, but the differences in era between the tenure of the senior and junior are undeniable.


The Fine Line

For Torah-observant Jews, schools are much more than “institutions for the teaching of children,” as the dictionary defines them. They shape — and are shaped by — the relationships between parents, educators, and students. And they are rarely static. Over the years, our schools have constantly reevaluated and reestablished the balance between sacred tradition and progress.

How does an educator gauge where to set the fine line between mesorah and innovation? For perspective, Rabbi Nosson Scherman recalls a story about Rav Aharon Kotler. “Rav Aharon once asked the Helmetzer Rav, who was recognized as an expert in mikvaos, to come check the mikveh in Lakewood, but Reb Aharon made one precondition: “The mikveh is kosher,” he said. Before the Rav would come enhance its kashrus, Reb Aharon wanted to make it clear that the mikveh — and all those who’d used it — were essentially kosher.

“It’s the same thing in regard to chinuch. The chinuch system isn’t broken; the mikveh is kosher, but it can always be enhanced and improved. Modern trends are there to benefit us, not to replace a mesorah.”

The perspective may be clear, but in practice, innovation is often viewed with suspicion. “In our time, overhead projectors were considered a break with mesorah,” recalls Reb Nosson, as Reb Yitzchok chimes in, “That’s so funny, I have that dilemma now with SMART Boards!”

So who can decide if an innovation is a break with mesorah or not?

Reb Yitzchok’s reply is instant: “A smart menahel,” he laughs.



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