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Home » Torah » Text-Books and Text-People, posted by Josh on January 31 at NATE 2011

Text-Books and Text-People, posted by Josh on January 31 at NATE 2011

[Re-Posting from January 31st, 2011 in Deep Thoughts by Josh]

Tonight, during the presentation by Ari Kelman and Jeremy Price, someone (forgive me… I was sitting at the back of the room) stood up and quoted Abraham Joshua Heschel.

“Heschel taught us, ‘We need don’t need more textbooks. We need more text people.’”

It’s a great line, so it’s one of the most oft-quoted sound-bytes in our line of work.

But here’s the thing: We’re all misquoting Heschel. Yes, he said (and here’s the exact quote), “What we need more than anything else is not textbooks but text people.”

But he wasn’t bashing textbooks or new technology, or anything like that. In actuality, he was talking about the importance of teachers. The quote comes from a speech (later published as an article) entitled “The Spirit of Jewish Education.” (Here comes your source citation: Abraham Joshua Heschel. “The Spirit of Jewish Education.” Jewish Education, Fall 1953, pp. 9-20. Wait… I’ll do better than a source citation. Link. Bam!)

In that article, Heschel said:

To guide a pupil into the promised land, [the teacher] must have been there himself. When asking himself: Do I stand for what I teach? Do I believe what I say? he must be able to answer in the affirmative. What we need more than anything else is not text-books but text-people. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read; the text that they will never forget. The modern teacher, while not wearing a snowy beard, is a link in the chain of a tradition. He is the intermediary between the past and the present as well. Yet, he is also the creator of the future of our people. He must teach the pupils to evaluate the past in order to clarify their future. 2 

Taken as a whole, the article is about the need to teach not just facts about Judaism, but to enable students to derive meaning from living a Jewish life. Heschel observes that religious schools effectively teach students the basic blessings said before eating bread or drinking juice, then bemoans the fact that few teachers exploit the opportunity to explore the “grand mystery and spiritual profundity” conveyed by the blessings’ words.

People who take Heschel out of context suggest that relationships (“text-people”) are more important than book learning (“text-books”). But examining the entirety of Heschel’s argument, he’s not saying that relationships are more important than learning, but that relationshipsenable learning.

And that’s the question that I walked out of tonights session asking: If “technology” (but lets be clear: I’m talking about social network technology and other tools that are designed to connect people) is all about relationships, then how can we use those relationships to enable learning?

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