Friday, August 07, 2020

OK, not really “wallet.” Really “briefcase,” but briefcase doesn’t have the same ring to it, and many people don’t carry one, and those who do, don’t carry what I am going to write about in this article.

Every week we are all deluged by reading material. Whether we subscribe to it on purpose or just haven’t unsubscribed from it, whether it is sent to us by a friend, a colleague, a network we are part of, whether we see it on some social media platform we are on, whether we have time to read it or not, there is so much out there that makes it to our doorsteps—Oh, that reminds me, print newspapers and magazines!—that calls to us to read. I read some online but I’m a more tactile reader, so everything I get gets printed out and put in my weekend folder. If you’ve ever sent me an article and I don’t respond immediately, it’s probably because I save everything for Shabbos. This column isn’t about how to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s really just about what’s currently in my...briefcase.


“I Should Have Thanked My Teachers” was an article forwarded to me by someone with a long connection to WDS. Appearing in the Wall Street Journal and written by Fay Vincent, a former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, it recounts two teachers who were instrumental in Mr. Vincent’s life whom he never told how much he appreciated. Ruth Hammerman was an eighth grade English teacher. “She had the gift of her conviction that language deserves to be well-spoken and properly written.” Richard Miller taught Advanced French in high school. Vincent concludes his article with: “I am certain my act of omission is common. People often fail to thank teachers. I ought to have told Miss Hammerman and Mr. Miller how much they did for me. I suspect they knew their work was effective because they trusted in the merits of what they were doing. Now I appreciate how special they were.”

“To Be Successful in Today’s Education Market, Learn From the Past” was an article sent to me as part of a cohort of 10 schools that received a sustainability grant from the Legacy Heritage Foundation. It appeared on the NAIS website and was written by Donna Orem, the president of NAIS. Orem points to statistical evidence that the number of independent schools has decreased in the last 30 years and she lists several reasons why schools have closed, among them mission fatigue, leadership transition, financial problems and poor planning. She says that many schools tried to turn around using a “silver bullet,” a special program, a new building, different marketing, but those ultimately drained resources from core offerings. Orem quotes Jim Collins: “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” By trying to be all things to all people, says Orem, many schools fell into deeper decline. She cites several elements of a successful approach to recovery and concludes, “I believe it comes down to incremental progress—taking small steps—in a few key areas,” and then adds three elements: strong leadership, a laser-sharp focus on their mission, and the ability to continuously innovate.

“We are Born Creative Geniuses and the Education System Dumbs Us Down, According to NASA Scientists” was sent to me as part of a network of over 100 day school leaders across the country. Appearing on the Ideapod website and written by Coert Engles, the creator of Hack Spirit, the article begins with an amazing longitudinal study conducted by NASA scientists that tracked creative problem-solving ability in children. They found that 98% of children age 4-5 excelled on the creativity test, but only 30% of 10-year-olds and 12% of 15-year-olds. Adults? 2%. Engels quotes Dr. George Land in a TEDX Tucson talk that there are two kinds of thinking in our brains: divergent, which is imagination, and convergent, which is decision-making. Land says that the two don’t work well at the same time because when we ask people to come up with a new idea, we often allow them to decide the efficacy of the idea at the same time. What results is stunted thinking. He argues that we need to get back to our 5-year-old selves and think without any restrictions. He tells the reader to go home, take out a fork, and come up with 25 ways to improve the fork. It just might help train our minds to think more creatively.

What’s in your briefcase?

By Rabbi Joshua Lookstein 



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