In Every Generation . . .

If you’re interested in education, you could spend a few profitable hours analyzing the liturgy for the Passover Seder (feast). We like to think that instructional design is a new and scientific “thing.” But many of the techniques we are “discovering” are a few thousand years old.

The Passover Seder, which is celebrated tonight, is built around a set of four interactive questions, which are answered several times throughout the ceremony in different ways. Although the central lesson of the Seder has to do with remembering the freeing of the Israelite slaves in Egypt more than four thousand years ago, none of the four questions explicitly addresses that learning objective.

Instead, each question refers to a metaphor for learning retrieval. The first question asks the reason for eating the unleavened bread (matzah), which is described as the “bread of affliction.” The second question asks the reason for eating the bitter herb, which causes the learner to reflect on the bitterness of slavery. The third and the four questions refer to other ceremonial acts that cause the learner to reflect about redemption and freedom.

The Seder is also explicitly aware that people possess different learning styles. We read about four types of children—the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the child who does not know how to ask—and are given different formulas for reaching each of them

And there is much more.

The fact is that human beings are a learning species. Learning is age old, not new. It is in our genes to do this and we do it well, so long as we are clear and simple and engaging.

Happy Passover to all my Jewish friends.

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