The Ultimate Goal of Successful Education – Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Education Versus Conditioning

Some tend to measure the success of education by the degree to which the child unswervingly obeys the parent’s or teacher's instructions, i.e. the immediate execution of any order he receives, with complete obedience and without objection. The parent or educator may do everything in his power to reach this dubious goal:  constant rebuke, scolding, and meting out disproportionate punishments – as long as the goal is achieved.

In reality, however, this view is completely mistaken. In addition to the high risk of undermining the child's self-confidence and self-image, or conversely driving him to extreme rebelliousness or even a nervous breakdown, the achievement itself – total discipline – if attained in this way is not called education. Obedience achieved through intimidation and punishment is not “education,” but “conditioning” at best. When trained in this way, the child does not grasp the importance of the values ​​that we are trying to imbue him with for his future benefit; he doesn’t identify with them and he certainly doesn’t internalize them. He simply acts the way his parents want him to out of fear and to avoid punishment. 

This method of education is not much different from training an animal to respond to the commands of its trainer.  Such drastic measures are only appropriate in extreme situations when the child endangers his life (such as when he’s about to dash out onto a busy street), and there is no other way to immediately halt his momentum.

But when the entire educational approach is based on fear of punishment, without the child understanding the benefits of the things he’s being told to do, nor identifying internally with them, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that when the “obedient” child is outside of his parents’ sight or earshot, he behaves in the exact opposite way of how he’s been “trained”, and often to the extreme. 
Now we know what successful education isn’t – but what is?
The Goal of Education

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, summarizes successful education in one short, clear statement:
“Educate the child according to his way, and even in his old age he will not abandon it.” (Proverbs 22: 6). The first part of the verse tells us “how” to educate, and the second part expresses the “goal” of our educational efforts.

The measure of success in education is how the child behaves when he is not with his parents and teachers who taught him! And his “old age” is the ultimate expression of this distance.

If we astutely educate the child to proper values ​​and correct behavior by means of the balanced and appropriate methods as explained in the following chapters, leading him to identify with what he’s being taught, to acknowledge its truthfulness, and internalize its messages – that is called successful education. 

The test of whether we’ve achieved this is: Does the child behave according to the values ​​we’ve taught him even when we’re not with him? How does he act when he’s in the street, at a friend's house, or in the schoolyard?  If he behaves similarly, then in the future when he grows to be an adult, he will not abandon what he has been taught, even in his “old age”.

To truly benefit someone in need is to help them reach a state of independence, wherein they can successfully stand on their own without relying on the support of others.   Real benefit is derived when you bring the receiver to independence.

Bringing benefit to others is called in Hebrew: “Gemilut Chesed“. The term is generally translated as “lovingkindness,” but the actual translation of the Hebrew word “gemilah – weaning” implies the process of moving from external dependency to self-sufficiency.  (For example, a baby being weaned from bottle-feeding, being weaned off a medication, from an addiction, etc.) Whereas the Hebrew word “chesed –kindness” implies receiving from and dependence upon another.

Therefore, the phrase, “Gemilut-Chesed – weaning-kindness” conveys the idea that the finest manifestation of kindness or charity is when the giver helps the recipient to stand on his own and no longer need to depend on the charity of others (such as arranging for him stable employment that amply supplies his livelihood).

This is the goal of all true educational endeavors and the ultimate goal of education, to teach the child to stand on his own, and to independently embrace the wisdom and values that we have worked so hard to impart to him, so that even when he grows old “he will not abandon it”.
Staying Focused

Once we know our destination, we’ll be able to determine if we’re heading in the right direction. We’ll ask ourselves before implementing any educational guidance, reprimand, or punishment: “Will this action bring my child closer to the desired goal or push him further away?” In other words, after I carry out my intended speech or action, will it promote within the child a process of internalization and identification with the educational message I wish to impart to him, or, as a result of what I’m about to say or do, will he recoil and distance himself from this important message, or even come to despise it?

It’s amazing to see how this one brief consideration can bring about a significant change in a parent’s behavior toward the child. Upon reflection, the parent may be surprised to discover that much of his current manner of speech or behavior with the child is really only a reaction to his sense of personal insult and anger at the child for not obeying his instructions, rather than from the virtuous goal of properly educating the child for his future.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, of blessed memory, known for his great understanding of the human psyche, writes in his book “Alei Shor”(p. 260) that a parent who considers spanking his child must first examine what his true motive is. Although he may be certain that he is only 'educating' the child for his own good, if he examines the depths of his soul, it is very likely that he’ll find that he’s really 'taking revenge' against the child for not obeying him. Quite possibly, the parent is simply feeling insulted or angry that the child has not heeded his words and thus violated his dignity, and therefore he grows angry at him and strikes him (this issue is addressed later in detail in the chapter “Punishment”).

Therefore, every word of reprimand to a child must be the fruit of prior thought and reflection, and a sincere search for the path to the child’s heart comprising proper phrasing and body language, and conveyed in a loving and persuasive tone.

Any approach must be specifically adapted to the character of the particular child, without being influenced by any other educational methods that may have been suited to and worked wonderfully for a previous child. After all, the wisest of all men, King Solomon has already enlightened us: “Educate the child – according to his way!”

Adapted from 'The Complete Guide to Successful Parenting' by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Coming to you soon in English


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