“Making and doing is important. But love and death, beauty and pain, ideals and despair are the stuff of our existence. Education which fails to open the mind to the meaning of human experience is irrelevant.”
This sermon was broadcast on March 29, 1964, during the Passover holiday. Six and a half years earlier, Sputnik had been launched, which, as Rabbi Olan notes, turned the curriculum of American schools firmly in the direction of science and mathematics. Not surprisingly, however, he quickly moves to championing a different view of education.
Speaking of the followers of the Biblical faith, he writes, “The People of the Book…believed that the best life was dependent upon knowledge, upon study, upon the capacity of the mind to search and to find the truths by which men shall live and not die.” He puts this together with the “practical” studies that lead to scientific developments and vocational skills: “A curriculum which does not place art and the humanities at least side by side with mechanics and science is in serious imbalance. Music, painting, poetry, sculpture, are as vital as arithmetic or chemistry. History and philosophy are just as essential as physics and engineering.”
For Rabbi Olan, the essence of education is the search for meaning, learning what and how to ask. And Passover is the holiday during which we gather together to retell our history to our children and discuss its meanings with them: We hope to “open up the mind of a child to his world” and “set them on the search for the meaning of it all.”
*Written by Frances Olan.*