Wednesday, March 30, 2022 – 27 Adar II 5782 –
Curiouser and Curiouser
If a cat were to enter a typical school, how long do you think it would live? This is less a question about school safety and feline constitution than it is a question about how much curiosity is promoted at a school. In general, I am pessimistic about the cat’s chances; kids tend to be naturally curious, and good educators will build on that curiosity to encourage exploration. But that still leads to another question. How does one stoke curiosity?
A few years back I was listening to a podcast on which a reporter was discussing how he comes up with ideas for the features that he produces. His main starting point, he said, was surfing on Wikipedia. He would start on the main page, click on something that piqued his interest, read about that topic, and click through to a linked page that sounded interesting. Through this process, he would learn more about various subjects that he might not have much knowledge about and eventually hit upon something worth exploring in depth for the podcast.
In some ways, this way of exploring reminded me of how one of my teacher’s compared Jewish text to a web page with hyperlinks. The various words and ideas on each page of text link to other ideas and commentaries that appear on the same page, elsewhere in the book, or in an entirely different book. Each piece of Jewish wisdom is part of a greater whole that allows for nearly infinite exploration.
Which is to say that Jewish texts are natural conduits for stoking curiosity. Embedded throughout the texts are ideas that have encouraged discussion for millennia. The key for educators is giving learners the opportunity to explore. Sometimes, educators might need to push a particular subject that they deem important. More often, though, educators need to recognize what motivates learners so that learners can follow their natural curiosity to explore how Jewish wisdom informs their lives.
Rabbi Eric Zaff,
JTeach, Curriculum Director