To prepare this week’s column, I interviewed quite a few teachers,
child-psychologists and parents. It seems that attention-deficit and
hyperactivity-disorder are becoming increasingly abundant.
One of the teachers told me that about a quarter of the students in his class (in what is considered a good school) take Ritalin on a regular basis. Moreover, even a superficial examination of today’s state of the youth will reveal a much deeper problem than a short attention span. It concerns the whole of the education system, that’s been going downhill for decades now.
The summer holiday is a good opportunity to take a moment to reflect on the education system and the values we are passing on to our children.
A Pleasure Hunt
Desire has always been the driving force that promoted humanity. Our desires make us move, search for improvements, and for new ways to satisfy our hunger for delights. For years we have been trying to satisfy our desires, but the more we eat, the hungrier we seem to get, and our desires intensify. Each generation comes into this world with a more evolved desire for pleasure than its forerunner, demanding new means for satisfaction.
Yet, in our generation, something seems to have gone terribly wrong, as though a hidden string has snapped. Every area of life in today’s world is changing at meteoric speed, and our environment offers unprecedented wealth of opportunities. Yet, we find ourselves in the midst of a rat race chasing phantom goals that seem to grow farther the more we strain to achieve them.
So what are youth really looking for? Today, after centuries of trial-and-error attempts, youth are seeking something deeper, truer than this world presently offers, something that can fill the chasm building up within them.
The greatest Kabbalist of our time, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), points out this phenomenon in his writings. He explains that it will only expand, since this chasm is a product of our need to know not how to have a better life, but to answer one simple question: What is life for?
The Wisdom of the New Generation
According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, each generation is born with every desire, achievement, and disillusionment its preceding generations have experienced, already assimilated within it. In consequence, each generation is in a sense, an upgrade of the previous generation. In his article “The Peace” Baal HaSulam writes, “with regards to the souls, all generations since the beginning of creation… are as one generation that has extended its life over several thousand years.”
Our youth, therefore, possess much greater drives and desires than do we. And assimilation of past knowledge doesn’t only mean that they master cell-phones and computers faster than we learned to play Marbles or Tag. It concerns much more substantial issues: they have a built-in desire to discover what they are living for. And when they can’t answer this question, they become restless, alienated, and depressed, and then we “diagnose” them as suffering from this or that disorder and prescribe them Ritalin.
It is not that such phenomena exist within each youth. But a growing share of them find it increasingly difficult to find pleasure and challenges worth pursuing in the goals we, their parents, pursued. These youths become frustrated, depressed, and some take out their frustration in alcohol or drugs. But they are only trying to avoid the pain caused by the emptiness within them.
So far, we have been treating youth in distress with the means we’ve always used -- primarily medications. Instead of treating the problem at its root, we are trying to suppress the symptoms, “fighting” the messenger, instead of trying to read the message. There is only so long we can sedate our children with superficial means. We need a substantial change in our education system and the values it promotes. Our children want to know what we are living for, and it’s on us to provide the answer. Because if not us, who?
The key concept that should guide us in this process is “teach the youth according to the youth’s way.” Instead of trying to adapt the child into the patterns we have created or grew up with, we should try to adapt our education methods and curriculum to the changing needs of our children. We must try to find how best to turn our children into mature human beings -- human, in the full sense of the word.
It is not the quantity of knowledge that a child absorbs that matters, it is the quality. It is imperative that when a child leaves the education system, he or she will be able to answer the essential question about life, which all youths ask. For this to happen, we must gradually incorporate content that explains human nature, the origin of our emotions and experiences, our role as individuals and as a society, and, first and foremost, the purpose that life is leading us to achieve.
Reconnecting to Life’s Source
The wisdom of Kabbalah states that only by knowing the hidden laws of nature will we discover the full picture of reality. One who discovers the force that operates behind the scenes, understands where life is headed and sees the consequences of each act that he or she decides to take (or to avoid). Kabbalah explains that our world seems narrow and unappealing because the spiritual part that has ripened within us, our soul, is still detached from life’s source. It states that reconnecting and removing this detachment will heal all sufferings.
The growing disorientation, alienation, and detachment of youth are not a coincidence. They are here to induce a positive change in reality. If we connect our current reality with the solution offered by Kabbalah, we will discover the hidden piece that our children so desperately seek. And when this happens, they will not need any medications, since they will stop trying to escape reality. And lastly, they will feel that their parents and teachers are providing them with the tools to cope with life successfully.