Sunday, March 15, 2015

Studying our history to build a Jewish future

In May of 2014, I posted a personal vision statement for Jewish education. Previously, I offered two examples of this vision how we have implemented these ideas in our work at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York: In our curricula for tzedakah (which I will here translate loosely as "social justice") and tefilah ("prayer"). This week, I wish to share with you a little of how we have organized our history curriculum for grades 3-6. In so doing, I want to once again emphasize that collaboration is the cornerstone of our methodology, and I am reporting on the intersection between my philosophy and the work we do, not taking credit for our achievements. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts, your feedback, and your critique.

The most important thing you can do for your children, writes New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, is to tell them true stories about your own family. The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the greater their resilience in the face of stress. By sharing our childhood memories and the stories of our parents and grandparents, we teach our children that they are part of something larger than themselves, something intergenerational and ongoing. As our children discover that they, too, can be story-tellers, they learn how to make sense of the confusing and sometimes unpredictable world around them.

Stories of redemption -- family narratives that tell of overcoming setbacks and recovering from failures -- are the most beneficial, according to psychologist Dan McAdams. We help our children to be courageous in the face of adversity when we let them know that although we have had both good and bad times, we have always persevered. Telling stories about the times when we endured hardship without losing hope gives our children confidence in themselves and their capacity to succeed. Further, McAdams’ research shows that those who have both this sense of personal agency as well as intimate, caring relationships are most likely to demonstrate a concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being of future generations.