Thursday, August 4, 2016

Masei -76 Hypocrisy , Flattery and Authenticity in Education

In our parasha God warns the children of Israel about the sanctity of life. Like Noah, who was about to leave the ark, the children of Israel are about to enter the Land of Israel. Both are warned to safeguard the sanctity of life – Noah  Ber.9:6 שופך דם האדם באדם דמו ישפך   - Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed – and in our parasha Numbers 36:33
ולארץ  לא יכופר לדם אשר שפך בה כי בדם שופכו and the land will not have atonement for the blood 
    that was spilled in it , except through the blood of the one who spilled it.
A convicted murderer forfeits the right of existence, the right to dwell on the land. If the act of murder was unintentional but there was carelessness, the perpetrator is exiled to a city of refuge and remains there until the death of the High Priest. His rights on the land are now limited because of his failure to exercise care concerning the life of someone else.  The most serious of situations is – when a person is convicted for murder buys his freedom .According to the Torah , it is difficult to get a murder conviction because there is no such thing as circumstantial evidence. The murder has to be witnessed by 2 witnesses who warned the murderer before committing the act of murder that it is forbidden by the Torah and the consequence is that he will be killed by a court if found  guilty.  In such a case where the guilty person pretends to be innocent and the court is guilty of institutionalized hypocrisy and  does not execute the man, the land is made into a ' hypocrite' and 'defiled'.  ולא תחניפו ...ולא תטמא את הארץ

The Torah uses an unusual expression –' don't turn the land into a hypocrite.' A hypocrite is someone whose actions, external behavior or words don't match his inner thoughts, core or essence. R' SR Hirsch explains that in the Hebrew, the root of the verb that the verse uses is חנף =  cha'naf . This is related to the word ענף  = a'naf , a branch of a tree that supports the fruit that springs from it. The substitution of the letters 'chet' for' ayin' is an expression of negation. What appears to be a branch does not fulfill its design, promise and mission. It does not bear the fruit expected of it. It looks like a proper branch, but at its core it is not – like a hypocrite. The design and mission of the land of Israel is to express its inner core and essence and produce the blessings of the land, but when it does not express its potential and is barren because of the acts of man, man has made the land into a hypocrite. The land is no longer authentic and true to its mission. ( Ramban, R' SRH)

The problem with this translation –' do not make the land into a hypocrite'  is that in a sense the land is being authentic to its source and inner core, when due to man's sins it no longer produces and lies barren. It is the nature of the land of Israel to respond to man's action - with blessings and plenty of produce in response to his positive actions and with curses and barren fields when man sins. The Kli Yakar translates the        לא תחניפו     , as do not cause the land to flatter you, from the word – cha'nu'pah – flattery. When a person expresses insincere praise in order to get something from another   person, he is flattering him and is therefore acting like a hypocrite. The Persian King A'hasvei'rosh flattered the Jews by inviting them to his royal party and they in turn flattered him, by showing their appreciation and enjoying the hospitality. When the land continues to respond in a normal way to man's sin and unauthentic behavior and bears the produce of the land, it is also being unauthentic and hypocritical. When the land in response does not produce its yield, it is being authentic and faithful to its mission.

We can answer - that according to the Ramban and R' SRH the land is made into a hypocrite when it objectively does not fulfill its ultimate mission to produce crops and harvest. The Kli Yakar speaks in relative terms – the mission of the land is to respond to people's actions so when the land still produces despite man's sin, it is responding to man with flattery.

The antithesis of hypocrisy and flattery is the High Priest. He shows a continuous interest and concern for his people in his prayers that people should not be found guilty in court and that people do not sin, be careless and negligent so people's lives are put at risk and die. He does not flatter or praise people in order to ' get' but is  genuine and authentic. 

When it comes to educating and raising children and students, the focus is on the ' Lo lishma ', not doing things or learning because they in their essence are valuable to kids. This is much worse than ' making the land ' into a hypocrite ' or flattering the land. Here, we build kids to be hypocrites and non- authentic people. We are building relationships that are conditional and kids and people are only accepted if they perform or behave as demanded. Parents and teachers are more often  than not, not  authentic and use flattery to get kids to jump through their hoops. Parents are told to ' catch them when they are good ' and then praise them. The praise is used is to flatter kids so they will be more easy to handle and control. It is not authentic or sincere, but used in order to get. The problem with praise that even if it sincere it is experienced as controlling and as judgment by kids. Instead care givers can help kids reflect on how their behavior has consequences for others, rather than consequences for themselves and how they can impact on others and their classroom. Consequences don't help kids to ask – what type of person do I want to be or does my behavior reflect my inner core values. They are never brought into a process, where they can participate on what values should guide their classroom and how problems should be solved. Instead of addressing underlying problems and concerns of both care givers and children , adults unilaterally focus only on their concerns and when expectations are not met , use either positive or negative reinforcements . Rewards, punishments, consequences and praise don't solve problems; just make sure that the locus of control with the adults instead of putting the locus of control with kids and helping them take true responsibility for their education. We want kids to be self-motivated and inspired by their essence and core values, see value in what they do and not become dependent on extrinsic motivators and the approval of others. 

 The educational system is driven by extrinsic motivators like rewards, grades, honor rolls and praise.  The focus is on superficial and extrinsic performance goals such as test scores rather than focusing on the whole child , his thinking, intrinsic competence goals ,helping him develop a love for learning and learning to form his own judgments , getting pleasure in his own achievements and feeling a sense of competence and self-pride.  In schools, material that is not on the test or won't be graded has no value.  Learning has no value in itself - the focus is to get the highest score, the easiest way possible. So in order to motivate kids to learn the focus is on ' how kids learn ' , so there is plenty of praise for high test scores instead of helping kids focus on what they are learning.  Kids are never asked if they find their learning relevant and meaningful and given a chance to participate in deciding on a curriculum that focuses on their questions, interests and curiosity. The alternative to praise  or grades is encouragement and informational feedback -  a conversation between the adult and child where the adult uses responses that describe rather than judge and asks questions about the process – why the child decided to act or write in a certain way. The renowned teacher – Joe Bower said that assessment is not a rubric but a conversation. Praise and flattery is not a conversation , but doing to kids instead of working with them.

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