Extra credit – An experience of education

I don’t think I can recall a single story or experience that formed the way I think and learn.  However, over the years, the environments in which I’ve spent most of my time learning have greatly contributed to the process and method by which I learn.

For the past many years,  the setting in which I learn has become a very familiar one to me. Imagine walking through a set of double doors into a very large room filled with rows and rows of eight or six foot long tables. Two large clocks are hung at either end of the spacious room, one to the far right and one to the far left. The room is lined on all sides by tall bookcases reaching up to the ceiling, each filled to capacity with volumes and volumes of books. New books and old books. First prints,  second editions or books that date back to hundreds of years ago. Everyone studies from the books. Computers and other technology are used to complement what is learnt from the books but the primary source of information is most certainly what is written inside of those books.

Sitting by the tables, either side-by-side or face-to-face are tens or at times hundreds of pairs of what we can call “study buddies.” you may picture the scene to resemble that of a library, and indeed that may be a comparison of sorts, but there is one very stark contrast. A library is quiet –  this room is anything but quiet.

After receiving direction from the aged professor regarding what material or which texts we should look at and learn about regarding the topic at hand that is being learnt, study buddies head to their respective seats and open the books. The day has begun.

Each of the “buddies” start looking at and analyzing the text, then discuss and debate about key points and definitions. Rather quickly, the large room becomes a hustle of noise and activity – a cacophony of about sixty pairs of “study buddies” talking, yelling, pointing, gesticulating about what they believe to be the true understanding of the subject at hand. For most,  the noise is not a distraction, rather a sort of “white noise” that has become a familiar and welcome background hum that can actually help promote concentration.

If a pair reach a stalemate in their discussions,  they’d usually walk over to another pair or group of people learning about the same topic and discuss it with them and ask their opinion on the debate at hand. Ultimately, this can lead to group discussions of 30 or more people conversing and sharing information and arguments with each other. Eventually, if no clear outcome is reached, the professor may come over to join the discussion and offer his input.

After a couple of hours of these discussions, the professor calls the class down to the lecture hall where he proceeds to lecture about how he understands the material being studied and the ramifications. Questions and comments are accepted and welcome during his lecture as well. 

Thought not familiar or conventional to many,  this is the atmosphere and environment where I’ve been educated for many years and it has truly affected the way I digest and perceive information and knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Extra credit – An experience of education”

  1. Nice work, Yehuda! You have completely piqued my interest and now I want to know more. What keeps the buddies on task, focused on the material, rather than talking about other subjects? What *is* the topic being studied? Is this learning measured in any way? This seems like an incredible model for educating many students when you only have one instructor (say, in a school with few resources where there is a high student to teacher ratio). Fantastic use of descriptive details throughout!

  2. Thanks for the feedback and questions, Professor!
    I didn’t leave out the the subject being studied to make it all the more mysterious and foreign. The reason why I left it our is because I just didn’t think that many would relate to it or understand what it is. The truth is that we learn about and study a variety of wide-ranging (Jewish) topics, but u I guess one could say that what us being studied is primarily the Talmud and it’s commentaries.
    Some students struggle to maintain focus and stay on topic for prolonged periods of time. Breaks are taken when felt necessary, and I myself have gone for short walks around the block to clear my mind or refresh. But the truth is that for most of us, after years of learning in this style, I guess we learn to build up and keep our attention on the matter at hand. When one is interested on what he or she is learning about, that he/she won’t slip out of focus so easily. I never gave it much thought but it occurred to me now that this could be why most students manage to stay on topic.
    Regarding how to measure success in this type of learning method, there is no clear-cut, general formula for judging how well one is progressing I’m his studies. Some opt to take written tests, others prefer oral and there are those who feel testing is not conducive or necessary (although reviewing the material is strongly suggested and encouraged).
    The best barometer of how well one is ding may be by how he progresses in his learning. Much of the material is built on information and logic that is usually acquired after learning in this environment for a period of years. Someone who is able to move forward and use what he has learned in connection with newer topics, is progressing and succeeding in his education. Needless to say, this education is never-ending…

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