It is my fervent belief that there’s more to an education than school! The longer I work in education, the more I learn from students who have benefitted from experiences far beyond the classroom. The road trips to different states, the excitement of uncovering some part of history that they learned about in school, figuring out how to pay in a different currency or to navigate the underground in a city across the world—these are life lessons that impact our intellectual growth far beyond what a textbook can teach us.
As an adult, I was stunned by the true beauty of Van Gogh’s “ Starry Night“ at MOMA in New York City. I had seen numerous renderings and photographs of it, studied it at school and then later as an adult, and thought that I should go and see it on a recent trip to New York City with my niece. I was totally unprepared for my reaction to finally seeing it. I was mesmerized and sat on the floor in front of the painting for a long time, staring and remembering everything I had learned, making the connections to my past, thinking about Van Gogh as he was painting and all the while hearing Don McClean singing in my mind.
Learning experiences, be they carefully constructed with education in mind, or random—taking advantage of the moment—represent some of the most impactful learning we receive. A student remembers the Revolution for the rest of his life if he takes part in a reenactment, but will soon forget the sequence of events he read about in his textbook.
Tefillat Haderech, the Traveler’s Prayer, asks that we reach our destination in life, joy and peace. What is a destination without learning along the way? Is anything gained from an empty journey? As you travel with your families, take advantage of the opportunities for learning as they arise. Impart knowledge, share your stories and those of your ancestors, explore, ask questions and grow together. In the words of Debbie Friedman, “ May you be blessed as you go on your way.“ ✿
Sue Penn is a mother of three, Education Director at University Synagogue, president of Jewish Reconstructionist Educators of North America and a member of the Jewish Educators Assembly.