The Purpose

“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

– Martin Luther King Jr. The Purpose of Education

While still in college, MLK penned these words which outline for all of us what is at stake in education, and how it can either be an instrument for the betterment of society or a terrible menace to it. It should cause us all to reflect about what purpose we believe is at the heart of education and how it informs our decisions around school policies concerning everything from content and instruction, to extra-curricular activities and student services.

Even in the halls of hallowed study, the struggle to keep the purpose of education clear has been ever present. Rabbi Hezekiah da Silva (17th C. Italy), in a sermon he wrote while in Jerusalem to the Jewish community of Amsterdam, discussed the study and learning of sacred text. He states “if they do not go beyond the theory of learning into the practice of action, which is good works together with acts of loving kindness and justice, then they (study and learning) remain lacking in benefit. They disappear within themselves, they become a thing without aim, void…” Rabbi da Silva makes clear that the value of education stems from the moral action it inspires and that without it, education, even of a sacred nature, has no purpose at all.

This Shabbat we return to the beginning of the Torah, initiating a new cycle of its reading and study. As we do so, I believe we have an obligation to keep the voices Rabbi da Silva and MLK in our hearts and minds. Each time we invest ourselves in the study of Torah, or in any kind of personal learning in which we engage, we must challenge ourselves to remember the purpose of education and hold ourselves accountable to take steps toward fulfilling that purpose. In many ways, to learn is to change and so during this Torah study cycle we can also heed the call to focus on learning that will bring about change within us that makes clear the purpose we seek. Even in striving for this, we will fill our world with more character, compassion and worth.

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