Sunday, September 15, 2013

Welcome Back: The Kids Are All Right

So a lot of times adults like to decry the state of adolescence, complaining, "Kids these days . . . [a sad shaking of the head may accompany this]. They're rude, lazy, self-centered, and aimless." 

While it may be fun and easy to hate on teenagers -- and I cringe when I think of just how narcissistic I was as a teen -- I just can't see applying those adjectives to today's young adults. Over the past two years, as I've worked with students in RealSchool and on RealSchool-type projects in my classes, I've been blown away by just how devoted they are to developing themselves as people, to understanding and helping the larger world, and to finding meaning in the things that they struggle with in their faith. 

And it's not only Frisch students who've impressed me. The truth is, when I encounter teenagers today, I walk away with a sense that here are kids who have confidence and self-possession, but not arrogance, and who are much more thought out than I'd expect teenagers to be. At the same time, today's teens have humility enough to know that they're still learning, and, in fact, they're extremely open to new ideas, looking to expand their minds through books as well as challenging and meaningful experiences. These young adults also have a LOT of emotional intelligence and a great sense of humor, both of which I see them using to defuse potentially tense and dramatic social situations (They're still teenagers, I know the drama is there, but they seem to be managing it better than teenagers used to, not that I've conducted a formal study on this or anything.) 

The kids I meet today also have an intense desire to start changing the world now and can be found, at all hours, volunteering to help the homeless, the elderly, the hungry, the sick, the bullied, the marginalized. The truth is they just might save the world, and I'm really jealous, 'cuz I wish I were coming-of-age now -- and that's not only because it's clearly so much cooler to be able to text, video chat, Instagram, SnapChat and make Vines with your friends than it was to talk on a landline. Using a phone with a cord. (Cordless phones were only invented at the tail end of my adolescence.)

RealSchool has gotten off to a great start this year, its third in existence. Rafi W., at the meeting we had this past Thursday, pointed out that the club is successful because of all the great people in it, and I have to agree. The kids in RealSchool are incredible, and it's humbling to work with them. They push me to do more, think larger, be better.

We already had our first art exhibit, which we partnered with some Frisch senior classes to make. The idea of the exhibit was Possibilities and it focused on the fact that You can Change, and You can Change the World. I don't really think these kids need to be told that, but as I was praying on Yom Kippur, I looked into my Rabbi Sacks mahzor (of course I was using his mahzor; does anyone doubt that?) and saw these words, which reminded me not only of the power of prayer, something the Religious Identity team has focused on understanding, but also on what the RealSchool kids, and really all my students, have given to me:

" . . . [R]egular daily prayer works on us in ways not immediately apparent. As the sea smoothes the stone, as the repeated hammer-blows of the sculptor shape the marble, so prayer -- repeated, cyclical, tracking the rhythms of time itself -- gradually wears away the jagged edges of our character, turning it into a work of devotional art. . . . We come to think less of the 'I,' more of the 'We'; less of what we lack than of what we have; less of what we need from the world, more of what the world needs from us. Slowly we achieve the deep happiness that comes from learning to give praise and thanks. Prayer is less about getting what we want than about learning what to want." (The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor, 846, 849).

I'd like to begin this year by giving thanks to the members of RealSchool for helping me learn what to want and for making RealSchool a place where we really aim to change ourselves and the world in only the most positive ways.

With much affection and gratitude,

Mrs. Tikvah Wiener

RealSchool's first exhibit this year gets made with RS students,
art teacher Mrs. Ahuva Mantell and Chumash teacher Mrs. Yael Goldfischer (not shown)
At our first meeting, the Social Action and Entrepreneurship team
sets goals. We're really excited about partnering with
Aryevut's Daniel Rothner this year.
Thanks to Mrs. Ahuva Mantell for getting us a grant to run
our fashion show, which this year will focus on biomes!
The Fashion, Health and Environment, and Arts teams as well as
the Finance, Social Entrepreneurship, and Marketing teams will
all be involved in planning the show.
The tech teams -- App Making, Graphic Design, Video Production,
and Web Design -- are brainstorming and have already formed
a Facebook group to let each other keep track of all their projects.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Possibilities in Joyful Learning

“Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche (with thanks to Frisch teacher Mr. Joshua Gotlieb for pointing us to the quotation)

The school year has begun, and many parents are no doubt rejoicing about getting their kids back into a regular schedule. Nothing captures that parental feeling better than this famous Staples commercial:

However, we hope students, too, are pretty excited about learning. In fact, joyful learning is something we really value in RealSchool and something we try to infuse into the activities we plan and the classes that we've "RealSchool-ed." Of course, at MIT fun in learning can be seen in the pranks that are part of the school's culture. Check out this video about the hacking culture at the university. In fact, one of the first points the book Creating Innovators, makes is that PLAY is a key part of the learning process. The book quotes Joost Bonson, a lecturer at the MIT Media Lab, who says:

Look at the tradition of pranks here at MIT. What did it take to put a police car on a dome that was fifteen stories high [one of the most famous MIT pranks], with a locked trapdoor being the only access? It was an incredible engineering feat: They had to fabricate the car, get it to the base of the dome without getting caught -- and then the real challenge was to get it to the top of the dome, and get yourself down without getting caught or hurting yourself. In addition to everything else, you had to track security, create diversions. To pull that off was a systems problem, and it took tremendous leadership and teamwork. (27)

Creating Innovators also quotes Alison Gopnik, author of Scientist in the Crib, Philosophical Baby; professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley; and an internationally recognized leader in the study of children's learning and development. We were especially taken with what Dr. Gopnik said, given the exhibit we're planning for the Aseret Yemai Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance. We're juxtaposing student-collected verses from Devarim, Deuteronomy, about the possibility of repentance and bettering the self with students' favorite inventions from the MIT Media Lab. Frisch seniors learned about the MIT Media Lab in their summer reading book, The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices:

Dr. Gopnik writes:

We've found out that even very young children can already consider possibilities, distinguish them from reality, and even use them to change the world. They can imagine different ways the world might be in the future and use them to create plans. They can imagine different ways the world might have been in the past, and reflect on past possibilities. And, most dramatically, they can create completely imaginary worlds, wild fictions, and striking pretenses. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that knowledge and imagination, science and fantasy, are deeply different from one another -- even opposites. But the new ideas . . . show that exactly the same abilities that let children learn so much about the world also allow them to change the world -- to bring new worlds into existence -- and to imagine alternative worlds that may never exist at all. Children's brains create causal theories of the world, maps of how the world works. And these theories allow children to envisage new possibilities, and to imagine and pretend that the world is different. (26-27)

Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators, adds: "How do children learn such skills? In a word--through play" (27). 

So as we consider the possibilities of renewing and reinventing ourselves and the world, we should also keep in mind the vital role that play has in our lives and should have in our classrooms. We hope all students get to experience a year of joyful learning. 

Here's a sneak peek at the exhibit we're preparing, and thanks to Frisch Chumash teacher Mrs. Yael Goldfischer for having her students comb Devarim for quotations that inspired them to think of change, renewal, and repentance:

Frisch senior Eli chose a verse from Deuteronomy about the remission of debts
in order to show growth through economic renewal 
Another senior, Melissa, created an illustration of her favorite invention
from the MIT Media Lab, the iSet, which is a tool to help
those with autism to recognize facial expressions
For more on Devarim, click here

For more on the iSet, click here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thoughts for Aseret Yemai Teshuva, the Ten Days of Repentance

Something to think about this Yom Kippur when contemplating God's unity and His concern for mankind:

From Heschel's Man is not Alone:

According to Cicero: "The gods are careful about great things and neglect small ones" (De Natura Deorum. Book ii. ch. 66, 167). According to the prophets of Israel, from Moses to Malachi, God is concerned with small matters. What the prophets tried to convey to man was not a conception of an eternal harmony, of an unchangeable rhythm of wisdom, but the eternal perception of God's concern with concrete situations. Disclosing the pattern of history, in which the human is interwoven with the divine, they breathed a divine earnestness into the world of man.

In mythology the deities are thought of as self-seeking, as concerned with their own selves. Immortal, superior to man in power and wisdom, they are often inferior to man in morality. "Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all the things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another" (Xenophones).

The Bible tells us nothing about God in Himself; all its sayings refer to His relations to man. His own life and essence are neither told nor disclosed. We hear of no reflexive concern, of no passions, except a passion for justice. The only events in the life of God the Bible knows of are acts done for the sake of man: acts of creation, acts of redemption (from Ur, from Egypt, from Babylon), or acts of revelation.

Zeus is passionately interested in pretty female deities and becomes inflamed with rage against those who incite his jealousy. The God of Israel is passionately interested in widows and orphans.