Mifgashim Volume 8 Issue 81
1. Mazal tov to Paul Shaviv!
2. Lookstein Podcast: JEL
3. Day School Graduation Speeches
4. Marshall Memo: Can Deferring Gratification Be Taught?
1. Mazal tov to Paul Shaviv!
Mazal tov to Paul Shaviv, Head of School at CHAT, who received this past week in
Jerusalem the Max M. Fisher Prize for Jewish Education in the Diaspora for 2009. The
prize is awarded to educators who have made outstanding contributions to Jewish
education in their communities.
The citation notes: “Since Mr. Shaviv assumed the role of Headmaster in 1998, the
school's enrollment has grown from 750 to 1,500 students. The school currently recruits
more than 400 new students each year. 17 WZO/JAFI teacher-shlichim work in the school,
and 50% of all Jewish Studies is taught in Hebrew. A recent survey found that 96% of
married TanenbaumCHAT alumni have Jewish spouses; 72% of alumni “continued their
Jewish study” in some form after graduation; graduates have visited Israel an average of
six times, and 10% of them live in Israel.
Mr. Shaviv has published many articles, book reviews, and reports on Jewish Education,
Jewish Affairs, Jewish History and Jewish Ideas. He also has lectured extensively on
these subjects. In the past, he has served as Principal of Bialik College, Montreal; as
Founding Director of Jewish Studies at Immanuel College, London; as Director of Jewish
Studies at Carmel College, Oxfordshire; and as Director of the Bnai B’rith World Center in
2. Lookstein Podcast: JEL
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3. Day School Graduation Speeches
USA Today had a brief column on ten stellar college graduation speeches. (See
Inspired by USA Today’s idea, we have been collecting excerpts from speeches delivered
at this year’s day school graduations. Below is a sampling of some of the wise words
our administrators shared with their graduates.
Ray Levi, Head of School, Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School:
We are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technology that hasn’t been
invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet….
You will see change beyond our imaginations in your lifetimes, but you are determined to
shape that change. You are passionately moved by injustice and you are at ease in adult
settings, pushing yourselves beyond your comfort zones.…
Your strength comes from a strong inner core. Unlike so many of your contemporaries,
you know who you are. You have tested your own limits on ropes courses—and seen how
the encouragement of your peers stretches you to new heights. And Jewish texts are
very much a part of your being. You ask questions of God and you have learned from the
mistakes of David and the trials of Job. Familiar with the foibles of characters in the
Tanakh, you are determined not to repeat their mistakes. Knowledgeable about the
mitzvot that are our responsibility, you look to fulfill them.
Advisors from the educational and business worlds tell us of the importance of
collaboration in addressing those problems that we do not yet know about. And my
confidence in you grows from the fact that you have one another. Many of you have
spent nine years together….
We are all familiar with the words from Pirkei Avot words: Eseh lecha rav, ukeneh lecha
haver. Find yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend. Perhaps, you offer a variation:
In finding friends, you have gained teachers who will guide you through the uncertainties
of the future. If you retain the strong bonds that link you together, collaboratively you
will bring about the constructive change you so passionately seek!
Paul Shaviv, Director of Education at TanenbaumCHAT,Toronto, Ontario:
There are very few original thinkers or artists in our world – very few people, in any area
of life, who have something to say or do which is truly original, fresh, stimulating... who
genuinely have the ability to challenge our comfortable ideas, to make us sit up, mentally
or physically, and look at things differently.
Just a few days ago, I had the, for me, rather gloomy privilege of celebrating my 60th
birthday. That puts me just over four decades ahead of you, our graduating class. In
those years, I have read millions upon millions of words, heard and given thousands of
shiurim, lessons, talks and speeches: held conversations and exchanges with friends, with
colleagues, with teachers, with students; studied texts, thought thoughts, had
experiences, contemplated art, listened to music – more recently, surfed thousands of
internet sites ………
But among this huge, unquantifiable intake of information, of ideas, of culture real
originality – real creativity, real original thought – has been so rare. At this stage in life,
I crave it. I am tired of hearing or reading the same material over and over again.
I sympathize with the author – traditionally King Solomon – of that uniquely reflective
biblical book of Kohelet, ‘Ecclesiastes’ – “vanity of vanities, all is vanity. I have seen that
which is done under the sun, all is vanity … there is nothing new under the sun – en
chadash tachat hashemesh”. Every day, I read the newspaper – I am not going to say
which one! Over the weekend I get two. I am seriously thinking of cancelling my
subscriptions. It is all the same, every week.
So my message to you, as TanenbaumCHAT graduates, is to always seek the good, the
fresh, the truly original. Use the skills I hope we have taught you, to be critical – gently
critical, but critical – and distinguish the worthwhile from the kitsch; the first-rate from
the mediocre; the original from the – well, recycled!
Take your University courses, your study in Israel, the books you read, the films you see,
the music you listen to – and THINK. Question, argue, seek to understand. Never, ever,
be satisfied with the second-rate.
If you are indeed one of the unusual individuals with the capacity to be truly original –
use your talent. If you are not – asei lecha rav – find yourself a teacher – but a good
teacher, an original teacher, a great teacher.
4. Marshall Memo: Can Deferring Gratification Be Taught?
In Jewish day schools that teach about kashrut or inspire children to observe kashrut, we
may be succeeding in teaching an important life skill: delay of gratification. The
importance of self-control is highlighted in this intriguing New Yorker article where
science writer Jonah Lehrer describes the famous “marshmallow” research on deferred
gratification and explores its implications for schools.
In the late 1960s, Stanford psychologists led by Walter Mischel asked preschool children
to pick their favorite treat from a tray containing marshmallows, cookies, and pretzel
sticks. Once children made a selection, they were left alone in a small room, having been
told that if they didn’t eat the treat until the researcher returned, they’d be allowed to eat
two treats. Children were also told that they could ring a bell at any point and the
researcher would come right back – but they’d only have one treat.
A hidden camera recorded what happened inside the room as children struggled with
temptation. Some covered their eyes or turned away so they couldn’t see the treat.
Others kicked the desk, tugged at their pigtails, or stroked their marshmallow like a tiny
stuffed animal. One boy looked around to make sure no one was watching, twisted his
Oreo cookie apart, licked off the white filling, put the two pieces back together, and
The average amount of time that children were able to hold out was three minutes. Some
rang the bell in less than thirty seconds. Some refused to take part in the exercise
because they knew how difficult it would be. But about thirty percent of children waited
for the full fifteen minutes and got to devour their double reward.
At first, Mischel had no plans to follow up on this research, but his three daughters were
going through school with many of the children who took part in the marshmallow
experiments, and he occasionally inquired over dinner about how they were doing. Over
time, Mischel was struck by a link between the ability to wait for the second treat and
school success as teenagers. He started asking his daughters to rate various children on a
five-point scale, and noticed a close correlation with students’ ability to defer gratification
as preschoolers. “That’s when I realized I had to do this seriously,” said Mischel.
Careful research on the 653 children who had taken part in the original study found a high
correlation between the ability to wait at the age of four and later school success.
Conversely, most children who couldn’t wait the fifteen minutes had more behavioral
problems, shorter attention spans, a higher body-mass index, were more likely to have
problems with drugs, struggled with stressful situations, and scored an average of 210
points lower on the SAT than children who passed the marshmallow test.
For centuries, psychologists have believed that abilities like deferring gratification are
stable personality traits. But as Mischel conducted his research, he began to have doubts.
When he studied children in a summer camp, he noticed that the way kids reacted was
often dependent on the circumstances. A child might react violently when teased by peers
but submit meekly to adult punishment. In other words, aggression seemed to depend on
“if-then” patterns. Mischel began to believe that psychologists should diagnose people’s
problems the way mechanics diagnose a car’s squeaks and rattles: by asking under what
conditions they occur. Is it when the car is accelerating? When you’re shifting gears?
When you’re turning at slow speeds? When the specific conditions are identified, the
cause becomes apparent. Mischel believes human behaviors can also be investigated by
looking for “if-then” patterns.
After hundreds of hours observing children in the marshmallow experiment, he realized
that all children felt the “hot emotion” of craving the treat, but those who were successful
in deferring gratification had a strategy: they distracted themselves.
Successful deferrers got the marshmallow out of their minds by covering their eyes,
pretending to play hide-and-seek under the desk, or singing songs from Sesame Street.
Those who used the strategy of staring at the marshmallow didn’t last long at all. “If
you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is,” says Mischel, “then you’re
going to eat it. The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.” The best strategy
is paying attention to something else. “We call that will power,” he says, “but it’s got
nothing to do with the will.”
Mischel and his colleagues are now doing brain scans on as many of the original subjects
as they can find in an attempt to map the neural circuitry of self-control. He is convinced
that people who were successful at deferring gratification as children possess something
in addition to will power or self-control. “It’s much more important than that,” he says.
“This task forces kids to find a way to make the situation work for them. They want the
second marshmallow, but how can they get it? We can’t control the world, but we can
control how we think about it.”
Whatever its origins, the ability to defer gratification is an extremely useful life skill.
When adults operate like this, it’s called metacognition – thinking about your thinking to
outsmart your shortcomings.
A classic example is Odysseus having his men rope him to the mast to survive with the
temptation of the Sirens’ song, knowing that he couldn’t possibly resist if he weren’t tied
up. Children who figure out this strategy have a huge advantage as they navigate the
dangerous waters of childhood and adolescence. “If you can deal with hot emotions, then
you can study for the SAT instead of watching television,” says Mischel. “And you can
save more money for retirement. It’s not just about marshmallows.” He found that
children who grow up in poverty tend to be less adept at deferring gratification. Their
environment predisposes them toward instant gratification and doesn’t reward delaying,
so they don’t develop and practice the right strategy.
Does this skill have a genetic origin? Mischel thinks not. First of all, some of the children
who “failed” the marshmallow test have grown up to be successful adults; somewhere
along the line they learned how to defer gratification. Mischel is studying them to see
what changed their early tendency toward instant gratification. Second, when taught how
to distract themselves, children who initially didn’t wait sixty seconds could hold out for
the full fifteen minutes. “All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user
manual,” says Mischel. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how
to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.” But will these
learned skills persist in later life, as children make decisions about homework, television,
junk food, and sex? Researchers are looking into that.
Self-control and deferral of gratification may very well be more important to life success
than I.Q. The big question is whether schools can teach these strategies and get students
to practice them enough so they become second nature.
David Levin, co-founder of the national network of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program)
schools, is intrigued and has invited researchers to work with his students. KIPP schools
make a point of teaching character, including self-control (KIPP students in Philadelphia
are even wearing shirts with the slogan, Don’t Eat the Marshmallow). Preliminary results
are promising, but it’s not certain that new habits will survive unless they are reinforced
Children need practice at deferring gratification. Some families build “sly exercises in
cognitive training” into the family routine, for example, forbidding children from snacking
between meals, telling them to save their allowance for a special purchase, and not
letting them open presents till the day of the holiday.
In Judaism, these opportunities abound. It is most evident when Jewish parents and
schools who train their children to say “no” in the service of a higher ideal through
regular observance of mitzvot like kashrut.
These parents make waiting worthwhile, teaching children how to outsmart their desires.
Mischel believes that all adults need to teach these skills explicitly. “We should give
marshmallows to every kindergartner,” he says. “We should say, ‘You see this
marshmallow? You don’t have to eat it. You can wait. Here’s how.’”
“Don’t – The Secret of Self-Control” by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker, May 18, 2009
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