Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I am Four Torah Students....

The Mishnah's been doing sets of four lately. I've got a couple more to post later, but I really liked this one. Something for teachers to meditate upon....
"There are four types of students (lit., among those who sit before the Sages) -- a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sifter. The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on this [side] and brings out on the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour."

This week's mishna discusses four types of students, basically in terms of their ability to retain the knowledge taught to them. The sponge retains everything, but is unable to distinguish between correct and incorrect points (Maimonides and Rabbeinu Yonah) or between significant and insignificant ones (Rashi). The funnel is the one for whom information goes in one ear and out the other. The strainer discards the wine -- the significant material, and retains the lees -- the incorrect or insignificant points. He's the sort who remembers all sorts of trivial, useless details of the material he studied, but has no idea he's in a forest. Finally, the sieve retains the fine flour -- the significant material, and discards the dust -- the inconsequential details.
I think these types of students need to be categorized by interest as well as by memory: most of us are sponges of trivia, strainers of gossip, funnels of stuff that bores us and, if we're lucky, sieves in our own fields.... Is the trick for teachers to make our students sponges by pre-sifting stuff for them, or can we really make them sieves in our own fields?

1 comment:

Jozef Imrich, Esq. said...

What a great analogy ... I shall remember that ... it is finer than the references to hedgehogs and foxes