As we begin a new school year amid the pandemic, let’s remember why so much effort, thought and care is being placed in how best to educate our children.
Rabbi Shlame Landa of Chabad of Fairfield
Education is a need. It’s essential. It’s time we view it accordingly.
In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Connecticut schools have largely been closed as the virus swept through. With the new school year arriving, many schools are preparing to reopen using a hybrid model, alternating in-person and online learning.
It’s a decision that may be the best compromise under the circumstances, but one that has satisfied no one.
Many teachers are still voicing concerns about putting their health at risk to teach. And many parents continue to oppose measures that would prevent them from returning to work by keeping their kids at home.
The concerns of both sides are, of course, valid — and must be addressed. The discussion over reopening schools, however, should be centered around neither an economic argument nor an academic one. Such arguments sidestep the key question of what education is all about.
We all intuitively understand that education is not simply about supervising children so their parents can work. Nor is it solely about academics: teaching math, reading and science. Education is about nurturing the whole child. It’s about relationships and forming connections and morals. It’s about transmitting values and fostering respect. It’s about modeling interpersonal relationships.
It’s about creating the next generation of responsible adults and tomorrow’s leaders. And this is essential.
As the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, said in 1978, “the educational system must … pay more attention, indeed the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values.”
There are countless signs on lawns advocating the wearing of masks to protect doctors, nurses and other essential workers. It is time to start putting out signs that say “Wear a Mask to Protect Teachers.” Their well-being should be paramount in our minds especially because of how important it is that they be able to teach our children. Because the story of every decent, productive member of society begins with an educator. What our children learn, especially in their formative years, informs how they live their lives, and how they will respond to adversity.
Today’s teachers are creating people who will care for the safety of others the next time a disaster strikes. According to a May 21 Pew survey about the pandemic, “People with higher levels of education are more likely to believe the U.S. should help other countries deal with their problems.” Education creates empathetic and caring people.
And that’s essential.
Educators need to see themselves as essential. Parents need to recognize that their children’s teachers are essential. Indeed, each of us as parents need to appreciate our own essential role in educating our children and not passing the buck onto educational institutions or society as a whole. This has been highlighted perhaps more than ever in recent months when schools were shuttered, as so many parents put their obligations aside to focus on educating their children.
To create the next generation of people who will value helping and caring for others, their guardians and mentors need to model those values in practice. What will our children think if all they hear are adults bickering over who has to supervise them? What can we expect of our children if their teachers and parents are perceived as being self-centered and self-absorbed?
Education is essential. It’s time the tenor of our discourse reflects that.
Rabbi Shlame Landa is a rabbi and educator who co-directs Chabad of Fairfield together with his wife, Miriam. They have seven children.