Dawn Unity Viewpoints

Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei

With summer upon us, and with a little distance from the daily routine of school activities, I want to explore the key to successful learning.

Like many concerned parents, I want to assure that my children are learning and growing. The key to it all, I believe, is found in the very first garden—The Garden of Eden.    

Eve alters the course of the human narrative when she reaches for the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil at the center of the garden. 

What made her do it?

In some religious circles, Eve is dismissed as defiant, but I believe she is heroic. When Eve reaches for the fruit, she reveals the most essential element to learning—curiosity.

Curiosity inspires us to push the boundaries of what we know and accept. But it is no easy task to motivate humans to stretch their brains.

Our brain prefers to work automatically, because thinking requires much more energy. While automation makes daily tasks such as driving on the 405 freeway much easier, it does not allow for cognitive growth.

Curiosity is the key to jumping our brains out of automatic and revving up our thinking.  

Classrooms that cultivate curiosity and engage students with questions offer the richest opportunities for higher level cognition and learning.

When challenged with an appropriate question, with just the right amount of cognitive stretching, like Eve, students take hold of the fruit of knowledge. And like Eve, once we taste the fruit, are eyes are opened to a world filled with even more questions calling out to us through our curiosity.  

It reminds me of when I first began studying Talmud; I started studying because I was in search of answers.

I quickly discovered, however, that the vast majority of Talmudic inquiries fold into even more complex questions. And this helped me internalize a truism about education: the richest learning leaves one with more questions than answers. 

Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei is with Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. He can be reached at bschuldenfrei@nertamid.com.

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