I am sure you agree that the day a child progresses from training wheels to a ‘big kid’ bike is a proud milestone. I remember it as a child, yet, what I don’t know, is how my folks explained it to me exactly – or how I will explain it to my children. I fell a few times and just kept at it, with their guidance, till I got the hang of it.
The notion of memory can be explained through three psychological processes – semantic, episodic and procedural. Combined, these store our experiences and aid us in drawing on prior knowledge to both navigate our way and provide a sense of familiarity when repeating an action. Whilst it is a simple task to recall a specific event or fact, the element that distinguishes the system of procedural memory from the other two cognitive structures, is that when trying to recall how to perform something, an explanation is always lacking the essence of experience. For example, in trying to describe riding a bike, one would unquestionably leave out subconscious processes and small details that can only be experienced for oneself.
Behaviour theorists such as Ivan Pavlov, John Watson and B.F. Skinner, among others, explain that learning is not always a conscious process, but is acquired through behaviour. An interesting parallel can be drawn to the famous proclamation of our ancestors at Mt Sinai of ‘Naa’se v’nishma’ – loosely translated as ‘we will do [and then] understand’ (Exodus 24:6). The theory of both call for us to teach our children through experience, to acknowledge that one simply cannot appreciate or grasp the nature of an experience without authentic action and so the importance of experiential education as a tool to monitor and develop our own actions becomes clear. It serves as an integral way of maximising growth and allowing us to learn from our own experiences.
This week we had four exciting overseas experiential programs that allow our students to do just that; our flagship Israel Study Tour starting in Poland, our new pre-IST program called Na’aleh in Israel, our celebrated Band Tour beginning in Los Angeles and our novel opportunity for graduates to intern and learn about Judaism and leadership in New York City through the Brownstone. All of these programs incorporate the idea of 'Naa’se V’nishma’, as through engaging in these enriching and unforgettable experiences, the students are provided a unique opportunity to learn about themselves and their values through practice, rather than just theory.