Parshat Bo is one of my favorite parshiot in relationship to school and education.
After suffering through the drama of repeated disappointments, the Jews finally broke free from slavery. They made a harrowing escape through a miraculously parting sea. Once on dry and safe ground, with the wilderness ahead of them, few possessions to maintain comfort, and nothing but un-risen bread to sustain them, Moshe had the challenging task of motivating them to continue the arduous physical and spiritual journey to become a nation. What words of encouragement could he use? On his website, Covenant & Conversation, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that in such defining moments for nations, other leaders have spoken about freedom, like Abraham Lincoln did in the Gettysburg Address, or like Nelson Mandela did in his famous “long walk to freedom” speech. Moshe certainly could have done the same but he didn’t. Instead he spoke of children and education. He spoke about the distant future and the duty of parents to educate their children. He spoke of answering questions that your child may ask, thus encouraging active dialogue between parents and children.
Considering the strategies that nations have used to promote survival and longevity, this is a counter-intuitive act. It has also resulted in the survival of the Jewish nation. Wherever we are, we educate our children. We teach our children the importance of justice, righteousness, kindness and compassion. We teach them that freedom can only be sustained by an educated people who know the laws, and practice them. But education itself is not the entire objective. We need, grit, or determination, to sustain freedom.
Speaking of grit, this is an essential character trait that researchers have found to be needed for school (and life) success. Researcher Angela Duckworth found in a study that the single most important indicator of success is grit - or stick-to-itness. IQ was not as strong a determinant in success as the quality of “grit”. Check out her TED talk if you want to know more. https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit?language=en
Grit is what is needed to persevere through difficult academic material. It is what is needed when you prefer not to do something but you do it anyway, because it will result in a good outcome. Grit is following the rules, even when you don’t want to. It is what holds children in check when others around them are making poor choices. Grit is a pathway to education, which is a pathway to freedom.
At Sulam, our goal is to help our children develop the grit they need to do well in exams, in their coursework, and in the general school environment so that they will succeed in their lives. In order to help develop grit, we hold our students to high expectations, in a supportive environment. We hold them accountable to well articulated rules. Sometimes they balk, but we persevere with understanding and firm expectations. This does not mean we expect high grades and a track record of success. It means we want them to try, try and try again.