The Medrash says that any Torah sage that does not have דעת Da'at = intuitive and discerning intelligence, an animal carcass = neveilah is better than him. The Medrash bases this on the fact that Moses waited to be called and summoned by God before he entered the tent of meeting-Ohel Moed and thus displayed manners and courtesy = derech eretz. Rav Wolbe in his book Alei Shur 1:192 says that Da'at can be from something simple as what the Vilna Ga'on calls ' Muscalot Ha'rishonim – basic intuitive perception. Da'at includes basic common sense, common courtesy - derech eretz ,a sense of right, a natural feel for what is moral and straight, understanding of the heart, a sensitivity that allows people to act and speak in an appropriate way depending on the situation, to what Rashi describes Da'at in Ki Tissah, as Ruach Hakodesh - prophecy or the divine spirit. Rav Wolbe says that what is common to all these definitions is Rabbeinu Yona's definition of Da'at. דעת- משהוא משיג מדעתו - perceptions that a person acquires by himself by using his thinking and connecting to his inner being. A person's frame of reference is within himself. And by connecting to his inner intelligence he can acquire prophecy and learn by himself the whole Torah like Abraham. Accessing one's natural intelligence and understanding through his own perception – מבין מדעתו is the criterion for a person to be taught about the Merkavah. He needs this ability as he is only taught a broad outline and he has to comprehend and figure out the rest on his own.
This reminds me about a Rov who shared a chidush – a novel thought with a colleague who said it was not true to Torah. The Colleague then came back and after scanning with his photographic memory all Talmudic and Torah sources with about 5 proofs supporting the Rov's chidush. The colleague was amazed that the Rov came up with that novel thought. Apparently his photographic memory and having so many Torah sources at his finger- tips got in the way of his appreciation of the power of Da'at.
The first thing we request from God in our prayers is to be given Da'at, a discerning intelligence that will help us to differentiate – lehavdil, and act appropriately. The questions are - why aren't educators concerned with children developing Da'at , and how can we as parents and educators promote the acquisition of Da'at.
In a nutshell parents and teachers can help kids develop Da'at using Rabeinu Yona's principle - that Da'at is something that one acquires from his own personal intellect - דעת- משהוא משיג מדעתו . It means when we are learning together with kids , whether it is academic learning or socio-moral learning we need to first challenge their thinking and let them share their own personal perceptions and perspectives . We have to imbue in them that their voice , opinions, ideas , perceptions, explanations etc are very important and the path for each of them to acquire their share in God's Torah.
Educators see their role as molding kids into Torah people and scholars, rather than developing the whole child and his Da'at and building on this Torah thinking and knowledge. The result is that kid's emotional, moral and intuitive thinking – da'at gets stunted as shown with Hamish kids. In an experiment they were asked why don't you steal or why should Sunday be a day of rest. They answered because God said so. Then they were asked if God did not say so, what do you think?. The kids had difficulty in presenting a moral argument and lacked Da'at.
The problem is that educators see children as basically passive receptacles into which knowledge is poured. When it comes to socio- moral learning, children need to learn what to do, follow instructions and be obedient. Emotions and feelings are ignored. At most emotions and feelings only follow the intellectual understanding and acceptance of what has been taught. And the way these goals are attained is to use extrinsic motivation in the form of grades, prizes, honor rolls etc so the kids focus on how well they are doing and not on what they are doing. Discipline using rewards, punishments and consequences are used to deal with behavior and get compliance. These approaches just get kids to ask what's in it for me, rather than focusing on the process of learning and how their behavior impacts on others and these stunt the development of Da'at.
To help kids develop Da'at , we have to deal with the whole child, including his feeling and understand the motives and values underlying his behavior. If we want to help them be ethical people as opposed to people who do what they are told, we have to support their autonomy and also help them construct moral meaning and figure out for themselves and with each other –how to act. Kids are active meaning making, testing theories and trying to make sense of themselves and the world around them. Problems are solved in a collaborative way taking into account the child's perspective and concerns as well and giving him the opportunity to come up with a better plan and engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution. Most schools talk about middos and character but it is top-down and kids don't participate in constructing a pro-social agenda or building a caring community so kids have an opportunity of doing things together. Instead of top-down rules, we should bring children in on the process of devising and justifying ethical principles. Only when kids have the opportunity to voice their opinions, share their perspectives, feelings, thinking , construct and make real choices in the context of community, will kids develop Da'at.
The same goes for academics - cooperative learning and kids making sense of what they are learning.We need a learning environment where kids are challenged to do the learning and thinking and not just repeat what others have said. How times are kids asked to share their own thinking and explanations? Deborah Meier says – that teaching is essentially listening and learning is essentially about speaking.
While God's commandments add an element of Divine intelligence we need to help kids engage their own da'at, intellects, moral reasoning and connect to their inner souls.