September looms and children all over have either just begun school or will be starting shortly. Judaism has always been a culture focused on learning. The Torah commands parents to teach their children, but since many parents are not capable of fulfilling the role of teacher, schools have become a necessity. Baba Batra 21a discuss extensively our Sages’ views on education.
Local schools are important. The Sages even discuss whether a child may be forced by circumstances to go from one town to another to receive a proper education.--“Joshua ben Gamala came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town.” Thus was established in the first century C.E., the first edict requiring compulsory education for any child over 5 years of age.
While kindergarten is, technically, the beginning of “school” in western society, it is viewed by most educators as a transition year. Children are generally six years old in first grade.--“and that children should enter school at the age of six or seven. Rav said to Rabbi Samuel ben Shilath: 'Before the age of six do not accept pupils; from that age you can accept them and stuff them with Torah like an ox.'”
The Sages’ opinions even reflect the modern discussion regarding homogenous or heterogenous classes. --“The attentive one will read, and, if one is inattentive, put him next to a diligent one...”
Class size, no matter where or what century, has always been a contentious issue.--“Raba further said: The number of pupils to be assigned to each teacher is twenty-five. If there are fifty, we appoint two teachers. If there are forty, we appoint an assistant, at the expense of the town.”
Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.