Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Loving the Questions

Parshat Re’eh, 5770

Being a teacher means constantly asking yourself about the point of education. We teachers often have to get quite creative about this process. The thousandth time that student has forgotten what was taught the day before can be quite disheartening (though such forgetting is, in truth, the most natural of processes).

Moreover you learn as a teacher that information, even demonstrable facts, are only the raw material of education, as useless and as unappealing to students as a pile of bricks abandoned at a construction site.

Learning is about the art of the question. The masters of our tradition were not only masters of information (a lower level of proficiency), they were masters of the asking.

This does not obviate knowledge. There are such things as poor questions, and their poverty is often founded on a lack of information. Rather, it is to praise the way that they employed knowledge. Much of time we assemble information to reinforce opinions that we already hold. The brilliance of our teachers was that they arranged what they knew to explore what was unknown to them. 

The hope of every teacher, especially of those who teach young adults, is that their minds may learn to dance in the space between what they know, that learning do more than confirm what they already believe, that it open worlds that they barely suspect. The Talmud teaches that “there is no comparison between one who studies a text a hundred times and one who studies it one hundred and one times.” (Hagigah 9b)  I assure you, the text is no different on that 101st review; what we ask of it is.

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train your for that - but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don't hate anything. 
- Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to A Young Poet

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