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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

How We Teach

As a teacher, I have always considered the Haggadah to be a superb effort, maybe the best effort ever (I know how overused that phrase is, but I think it applies here) to have a series of lessons that the rabbis wanted to teach, each taught in a variety of ways to a wide variety of learners. The sting of the maror (bitter herbs), the dipping of the herbs to remind us of both spring time and tears at the same time, the opening of the door for Elijah, the leaning back on pillows, the run to find the Afikoman, the story tellin, the questions and answers are all ways that classroom teachers would use to approach different learners. The rabbis desperately wanted the children to stay awake so they devised ways to keep the youngest family members in suspense. Some learners learn by hearing, others by seeing, some by sensing and others by doing. The Haggadah contains all of these methods of teaching. Through these different modalities we learn lessons of freedom, poverty, slavery, the value of community and family.

It's occurred to me that these past few weeks the people of the earth, no matter which community they live in, have a number of lessons to teach and there is no time to spare to teach us. How do governments and health professionals rise to the task of educating entire populations in such a short time? This challenge is daunting, but deadly necessary.

I remember when I was a little girl, the government must have been trying to educate the population on littering. I remember jingles on the radio and television and commercials telling us not to litter. I still have the image of a Native American with a single tear running down his cheek all these many years later. The lesson must have really stayed with me. Someone was listening. Kudos to the teachers.

The government has probably run these campaigns to educate many times over but I paid less attention. If I did, chances are that others did as well. This time, however, with this virus, people are listening to the messages.

The messages have been few and very clear. Stay far away from others. Wash your hands.

Stay inside. Don't go to work. These messages have been simple. The professionals drum them into our heads. Physicians, government officials, radio, television, social networking.

We hear the messages, we see them broadcast and slowly we see the teaching taking effect. We have seen drastic changes in behavior over the past month. The messages have been working. From what I can see, the teaching of these simple behaviors during a complicated time have worked. Some students catch on quickly, others take their time, but this time the stakes are high. These are not lessons in freedom, but the freedom that can be after this is over. These are lessons of community and family; they involve doing less to keep each other safe and alive. These lessons we are learning now are about this and more. They are lessons in poverty and slavery and continuity and that is why, no matter what our learning modalities are, we have to be the best students to keep our values and ourselves alive.

I'll probably come back to this post because I'd like to say more about this, but for now, let's just say that the rabbis would be proud of how we have learned our lessons.

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