Thursday, March 14, 2013

mitoch she'lo lishma ba lishma

Sarah has been working on her Chumash paper for school.  She was so involved in it yesterday, that I had to pull her away from it to go to parkour with me, and she spoke animatedly about it for most of the ride.  She was so excited about it, and full of passion for her subject.

I was thinking about that a lot today.  If she hadn't been "forced" to write that paper by the school, if she hadn't been pushed into it, she would not have done it of her own free will and motivation.  She would not have decided to thoroughly research and investigate an area of Chumash, slog through a bunch of mefarshim, ask questions, come up with an approach, systematically outline it and write it out and achieve that much clarity.

Will unschooled children never do that?  Is the only way to get a child to do that by assigning it?  Am I missing out on all sorts of possibilities by taking an approach that the children only do what interests them?  Don't children who are obligated to do things they wouldn't choose to do end up being exposed to a variety of different areas, and ultimately can possibly choose satisfying paths that they never would have chosen if not obligated to try it?  Am I limiting my children?

This led me to the concept of "mitoch she'lo lishma, ba lishma," which I think makes the question even stronger.  This is a principle in Judaism that means we don't always start out doing things for their own sake or for idealistic reasons.  We often embark on something for other motivations, for ego, for reward, for approval, for something other than for its own sake.  But in the course of doing it, we realize that it has its own value and come to appreciate it.
So it would seem that inherent in the understand of Judaism, and especially learning Torah, we start off doing it not for its own sake, but in the course of being immersed in it, come to love and appreciate it.

(This is anti Alfie Kohn who says that giving rewards tends to make people less appreciative of the inherent value of an activity.  And this is in line with the Rambam, who says to give children candy, money, and honor for learning Torah, so that they'll be immersed in it and hopefully come to appreciate its true worth.)

So wouldn't this suggest that I get my children involved in Torah, even if they wouldn't be naturally drawn to it?

I have some thoughts.  But I'm going to leave this as a question and answer it in a different post.


  1. Interesting question. I don't think it has to be an all or nothing thing - all lo lishma bo lishma or all Kohn. I think the Rambam and Kohn are both right. Sometimes its best not to push with rewards and let pure curiosity determine the agenda and sometimes its best to push with rewards - as is clearly the case with Chana that you described. It appears to be a delicate balance depending on circumstance, child, subject, age, and everything else.

  2. I'm not sure that what I've done with chana is the best. I was hesitant to unschool her because i couldn't imagine that she would actually grow to be interested in torah and acquire the skills if i just waited for the interest to grow on its own. as i think more about the subject of unschooling i wonder what would happen if i educated that way instead.

    although i am happy with chana's acquisition of skills, i do feel that her eagerness to learn has suffered and that it has dampened her urge to learn for its own sake.

    if somebody asked me, i would not push unschooling and certainly do not denounce actively teaching a child (in a generally pleasant way). however, the theories of unschooling beckon to me and promise joy and excitement and motivation.

  3. Wait, not clear on the facts, you schooled Chana or unschooled?

    What do you think about the idea of using both methods based on circumstance that I mentioned? Isn't there a place for both in Talmud Torah?