A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 41 – The Downside of Severity

In the previous chapter, we learned of the importance of sincere communication, focused on the needs of the student. Another principle of communication that should govern teacher student relations is the illusion that severity in communication–such as shouting or reducing the student to tears–is a legitimate educational technique.

(While both reward and punishment have their place in education, and are discussed at length in the seventh and final prerequisite, nevertheless, a philosophy of education should not institutionalize or glorify severity as a means of communication. There is no contradiction here. Severity as a methodology employed in giving over the teaching is a grave error, while reward and punishment can be used as necessary to correct the student’s understanding and internalization of that teaching).

The seemingly dramatic results derived from employing severe measures fade quickly, whereas growth that is inspired by love and gentle concern endures. Sometimes a teacher sees that one of his students needs a serious shake up to move him or her out of a particular rut. While this evaluation may be true, nevertheless, the motivating stimulus–if it is to be effective in the long term–must come from within the student. The teacher, in his impatience and enthusiasm, can’t just give the student a jolt. Rather, he must permeate the student’s heart with drop after drop of light, love and Torah. Slowly, this infusion of light will create an inner dissonance, eventually erupting in the form of an internal shake up, which will propel the student out of his or her rut.

A teacher who imagines that his anger and impatience are for the student’s highest good is rationalizing his own lack of control. While his harshness may seem to force growth and learning, its effect is fleeting. In the end, his students retain little, if any, of the benefits and may even become hardened and desensitized in the process. Such an educator is really placing his own drive for immediate gratification (that is, his need to see results as well as his penchant for emotional release) above his students’ educational interests; he will not be successful in his teaching and may even cause more harm than good.

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