Forgetting Leaves Space for Learning and Growth
To understand memory, we must acknowledge the vital role of our physical brains. As educators, we are blessed with caring for children during the most precious stages of brain development. Memories are formed when there are strong connections between neurons. The act of forgetting has often been understood to be a passive act. However, scientific research over the last decade is beginning to uncover that our brains were also built to forget. Memory ensures we are grounded in life and our understanding of the world. Forgetting, on the other hand, allows us to move forward. If we remembered every detail of our lives, we would have difficulty moving forward.
Memory is so integral to Judaism that we find the word “zachor” appears nearly 200 times in the Torah. A clue that forgetting can also have a positive value is found in Devarim 24:19: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to take it; it shall be [left] for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord, your God, will bless you in all that you do.” This mitzvah depends on an act of forgetting which accrues benefit to others.
As we begin a new school year, we have an opportunity to be inspired by the value of forgetting. Not the forgetting we perceive in the passive sense, but the forgetting that gives us space to learn and move forward on a strong foundation of memory. At this time of reflection, we have an opportunity as educators and leaders to pause and reflect on how forgetting may be key to learning and growth—
In the classroom: Where does the act of forgetting play a role in students being able to form identity?
Around the board table: How can boards honor some of the forgotten traditions that have left space to embrace the world we live in today?
In the headship: How it is possible to move on from moments of pain and difficulty and have the strength to continue focusing on building a strong future?
Let us take a moment to ponder how both remembering and forgetting can play a healthy role in the strength and permanence of our Jewish day schools.