Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vayakhel 74 - Perfecting the self or the object - Achievement or Process

The actual physical donations were important but more important was the intention and motivation behind the giving. God was looking for intrinsic motivation, the inspired and motivated heart , and people  being moved by their   spirit. It was a national outpouring of emotion and fervor  in order to become closer to God and perfect themselves as individuals .

The princes were motivated in a different way. They looked at the building of the tabernacle- mishkan as a project. In a noble gesture, they said they were willing to 'underwrite and make good  any  materials that would be lacking. They asked – what does the building need, how can we build the ' perfect ' tabernacle. The focus of the princes was on ' perfecting the object , on ' achievement' and driven by the extrinsic motivation – the need to build a tabernacle-mishkan. The asked - what does the miskan need and not what do I need to do ?

The people were inspired and intrinsically motivated by a spirit of generosity , in order to make a contribution to the mishkan. This was  as an expression of  fervor and a deep connection with God , and a process of perfecting the self.  Moses  had to put a stop to the ' process' as the people had brought more than enough.

The word נשאם- = princes is written without the ' yuds ' . It should  be . נשיאים The defective spelling, leaving out 2 letters , the 2 yuds which symbolize spirituality, is an implied rebuke of the leaders  for not bringing their gifts until everything else had been contributed. The national response was so generous that there was almost nothing left for the leaders to give except the precious stones needed for the Ephod and Breastplate. Because they were ' lazy' in not coming immediately , the Torah spells their title defectively.

The problem with our approach to behavior and academics of our kids  is that we use rewards or consequences, grades , honor rolls and other measures of ' achievement to drive the motivation of kids. There is no reason to engage in learning because it is interesting and relevant to my life and has inherent value but they do so only for the grade or so I can get a good job or please my parents. The only reason that I behave in certain ways is what will be done to me if I don't and this is a good way to impress my teachers and parents. It has nothing to do with whom I am and that  the way I act is an expression of who I am and my values and beliefs. 

Instead we should help kids focus on the process – enjoying learning and being the people we want to be. In order to do this , we should according to Jerome Bruner help kids experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information. This will help kids focus on what they are doing and not how they are doing.

 There are many kids who are not ' lazy' , and they seem  to work hard and be internally motivated. But if we look deeper , it is as if they are being ' compelled' from the inside to work hard and perform because of the expectations of their parents and competition. We can help kids become more intrinsically motivated, focused on the process, perfecting the self rather than on achievement – perfecting the object by supporting their autonomy – let them generate choices and have a say in the curriculum,  support competence and relatedness -  building community of learners who collaborate and cooperate with each other.

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