Educate the Educators

 Don’t swallow wholesale what others say. Check it out. Ask questions. Does it make sense?

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Salespeople gain savvy each time a customer poses a new question—challenging the salesperson to become smarter each time.

Teachers are also in sales, trying to market an idea. Be an educated consumer: When you learn something new, get out the “red marker.” Does it make sense? Is it just a good theory, or can it be put into practice, too?

Way #48 is ha’mach’kim et rabo—literally “make your teacher wise.” Way #10 talked of the need to pick the right teacher. But that is only the beginning. We need to sharpen our teacher to achieve the maximum learning experience.

Don’t be afraid to challenge. If your teacher has the truth, he is happy when his students are critical.

By questioning and challenging your teacher to articulate his position, you’re actually sharpening him. As one of the great Sages said: “I learned a lot from my teachers. I learned even more from my study partners. But I learned the most from my students.”

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The Talmudic Sages would occasionally make intentional mistakes, inserting an illogical twist to keep the students on their toes. The teacher wanted to see if the students were “thinking,” or just “swallowing.” A good teacher wants his students to be keenly critical. Who needs a roomful of zombies, parrots and tape recorders?

Then the teacher would ask: “Do you understand? Does that make sense?” And woe to the student who actually said “Yes!”

Of course, whenever you challenge a teacher or parent, do so with respect. Temper it with expressions like: “Pardon me, I don’t understand how you came to that conclusion, but it seems to me incorrect.”

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Another aspect of “make your teacher wise” is to regard him as a wise person. In order to learn from a teacher, you have to take his statements seriously. Otherwise it won’t work. Accept the fact that he has something to say. He has credentials. Give a fair hearing to his ideas.

Never dismiss something your teacher says as “ridiculous.” Consider his point of view even if you get the feeling of “this is impossible, it’s a mistake, I know better.” Don’t dismiss it outright. Give him another chance to explain, and then think it through again.

But, you say, maybe the teacher is really wrong! If that’s the conclusion you come to, then speak up. But only after you analyze. Don’t just protest. Figure out why you think he’s wrong. What’s your evidence?

Example: Your teacher gives a definition of “love.” Is there something wrong with defining love? Perhaps you don’t like the idea of boiling it down to a definition? Or you don’t believe it’s possible to define an emotion?

Go ahead and pose the question: “How can you define emotions?” (The answer is that we don’t define emotions, we define what elicits the emotion.)

Regardless of whether or not you end up agreeing, the very act of working it through will result in tremendous growth.

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One of the biggest obstacles to obtaining wisdom is being emotionally invested in our own position.

Be aware when¬ever you feel a desire to distance yourself from the words of others. It might be your own defensiveness (because you aren’t so sure yourself). Or it may be intellectual laziness, or a fear of the implications, or some ingrained prejudice.

Analyze what’s bothering you. Track it down, and put it on the table. Identify where he is stepping on your prejudices, where he is going contrary to your opinion, against your inclination, against your desire.

Wherever we come from, everyone holds something to be sacred. If you’re from China, communism is holy. If you’re from America, capitalism is holy. If you come from a kibbutz, socialism is holy.

It’s actually most important to listen to another’s view point when you disagree! Often the very thing that we need is that which we push away. If you find yourself being flippant or dismissing an idea out of hand, that’s probably struck a defensive chord in you. That’s precisely where you have an opening to grow—and need to pay the most attention. That’s the power of schizophrenia within us. We’ll call something “ridiculous”—even as we have a sneaking suspicion that it has the power to transform us in a positive way.

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Think and rethink what your teacher says. Certainly this applies when you don’t fully understand him, or when you disagree. But even if you agree with the idea, don’t be so sure that you’ve gotten the full message.

Even when something seems obvious to you, try viewing it in a different light. Many times, you’ll be surprised to see new aspects that you previously overlooked.

Wisdom is very deep. We may think we immediately understand, but as time passes, we accumulate more life experiences, and begin to unravel the layers beneath the words. There are a thousand different aspects you haven’t thought of. So you’ve got to keep digging. And the deeper you dig, the more you’ll see how much there is to dig!

We don’t completely understand an idea for a very long time. In fact, the Sages say it takes 40 years!

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Broaden your understanding of concepts by looking from the other person’s point of view. Get into his wavelength. Figure out where he is coming from. Even though you may be sure you’re right, become a lawyer for the other side. Don’t dismiss it outright.

Play your own devil’s advocate. Force yourself to give 10 reasons for the other viewpoint. Even if he is wrong, there are still good reasons why he believes what he believes.

Apply this technique whenever you get into an argument. It’s terrific for healing rifts, particularly when the combatants are tense and emotionally upset. You might say: “Look, I really want to understand what you’re saying. So here are a few reasons I’ve thought of that you’re right. Would you mind giving me a few reasons that I’m right?

No argument can last under these conditions. Do you see that?

What’s the worst thing that can result from all this? You may still disagree, but you’ll understand each other and build respect between you. Beyond this, you might actually discover truth and change your point of view!

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Apply this technique of “looking from the other side” to all serious issues of life. For example, before a person intermarries, they should come up with 10 reasons why to be loyal to Judaism. Don’t dismiss Judaism based on your experience as a 13-year-old. The Jewish people have given a moral foundation to the world, and have thrived against all odds. That’s a heritage worth checking out.

Similarly, before you dismiss God from your life, give 10 reasons why it’s important to have a relationship with Him. The Almighty is our Creator, our teacher. Give Him credit.

Are there things you don’t understand in life, such as suffering and injustice? Of course, ask the questions! But try to see it from God’s perspective. It doesn’t make sense to hold a grudge against Him. Is there evidence for His existence? Find out.

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- When one teaches, two learn.

- To get the full meaning of any idea, you must ask questions.

- Even if you don’t understand an idea, consider its merits carefully.

- Give the teacher credit that he wouldn’t say something ridiculous.

- Appreciate that you’re not perfect. Maybe in this case you’re making a mistake.

- Uncomfortable ideas are our greatest opportunity to grow.

- Wisdom is deep. It takes time and patience to acquire.

- In Jewish consciousness, learning lasts a lifetime.

- The smarter a teacher becomes, the smarter the student becomes.

#48 of 50 in the 48 Ways Series
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Way #47: Learn In Order To Do
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Way #49: Organize Your Mind

by  Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Posted in: Personal Growth