The Education of our children is something we all worry about. Children, up until a certain age are known to have difficulty with abstract reasoning. This is primarily due to the frontal lobes of the brain forming later than any other part of the brain. For example, if you were to tell a five-year-old that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’, he or she might go to the other side of the street to see of that was in fact the truth. However, if you were to use the same idiom or expression with a fifteen-year-old, it is likely that the fifteen-year-old would understand that it is just and expression. This is because the fifteen-year-old has developed the abstract reasoning skills necessary to understand the expression. This is due to the maturation of the prefrontal cortex which controls the ability to use abstract reasoning often referred to as executive functioning.
When I was first married, I was looking for a way to earn some extra money while working on my own education. I was offered to teach a class at Beth Tfiloh School in Baltimore on the topic of Hasidic tales. Although I am not Hasidic and I was mostly unfamiliar with their tales, I told the Judaic Studies department chair that if I have a book, I could teach anything they asked me to teach.
This led to a very interesting class which centered around tales and aphorisms of Hasidic masters that were meant to teach an ethical lesson of some sorts. We would first discuss the biography of the master and then get into the tales.
One such aphorism was from the Hasidic master named the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov was orphaned from his father when he was five years old. However, he retained many of his father’s positive messages even at that young age. The Baal Shem Tov used to say something which I used with my students that resonated well. “Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, so will be the image you perceive. But should you look upon your fellow and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering-you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.”
This led to a lively discussion about how we tend to judge others. One student remarked that he had heard his father use a similar expression that when you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.
At that point, I asked the students to close their eyes and think of a situation where this would apply. The discussion was fascinating as these middle school students were engaging their brains and each other.
Metaphors, parables and tales in education enable the maturing child to see things from alternative perspectives. Many cultures use parables as effective teaching tools that help children (and adults for that matter) look at life through an objective lens and make better and less impulsive decisions. Often this is far more effective than didactic teaching methods that do not open the lines for objective and analytic reasoning. There are many creative ways of bringing metaphors, parables and tales into your classroom that are available online. I encourage educators and parents to use them with your children in order to better develop their ability to see things in abstract and become more open-minded and productive.
Dr. Jonathan Lasson is a Registered Psychology Associate and a Consultant for various food industries. He is also an educator and speaks on many topics in the field of mental health. He is working on a second book on the topic of psychology and religion.