10 November 2017
21 Cheshvan 5778
Our teachers and parents just finished having hundreds of conferences about their students’ learning and progress this year. And many of our parents have juggled multiple conferences for multiple children in multiple schools. For many, this is an annual ritual that is inspiring and encouraging, but for others, it can be exhausting and even anxiety-provoking. It is a rare opportunity for parents and teachers—partners in our children’s education and in guiding their personal formation—to meet face-to-face.
While not every conference goes perfectly (these are human relationships, after all), they are part of what Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls “the essential conversation” between parents and teachers about our children’s education. I would like to thank all of our teachers and parents for investing their time in making these conferences so essential and purposeful. It is a joy for me and truly a blessing for our students that we are part of a community in which our educators are so deeply invested in seeing and knowing each individual student and in which our parents are so committed to our mission and to their children’s education. Thank you!
In the spirit of learning and progress, I want to share a thought about a phrase in this week’s parsha. Toward the end of his life, Abraham is described (Genesis 24:1) as being “zaken, ba bayamim—old, well advanced in years (literally, coming along in his days)”. These two phrases seem redundant—what else would zaken (old) mean if not well advanced in years?
This difficulty prompts our rabbis to interpret zaken as meaning not just old in days and years but “one who has acquired wisdom” (the letters of zaken connect to the letters of the Hebrew word for “acquire”). They explain that the reason for the two different phrases is that there are some who acquire wisdom at an early age and others who might live out many years and not acquire wisdom. Abraham was a paradigm of both.
I think the notion that aging does not necessarily mean growing in wisdom also applies to our high school students. They will certainly grow older and physically more mature during these four years. They will also gain skills and knowledge along the way. However, whether they will grow wiser will depend mostly on how they learn and what they do with the knowledge and skills they acquire. Will they apply them to real world questions and problems, seeking to understand our community and the world around them more deeply? Will they slow down to reflect on themselves as people and as learners so they grow in self-understanding, becoming more empowered and independent young adults? Will they see themselves not only as receivers of knowledge and tradition but also as interpreters, meaning-makers, and, ultimately, as creators and contributors to the ongoing conversations in the arts and sciences, humanities, and Jewish studies?
We strive to assess and discuss both our students’ academic progress and their development as people, asking not only, “How are they doing?” but also, “Who are they becoming?” This is necessarily a conversation between educators and parents and, perhaps, most importantly, our students themselves. When our students develop the reflective capacities to answer these questions, they become more intellectually confident, more ethically responsible, and, even at this young age, more wise.
Rabbi Marc Baker
Head of School