Why School?

Why School?

By Yoni Binus


I'm starting a bi-weekly blog on the happenings of school, my learning and musings about education, and how I see our Jewish day school changing the world. So, I thought I'd start with a light topic: what's the point of school anyway?

Unfortunately, I can't answer that big question to anyone's satisfaction. But I can try to answer why we have this school.

Heilicher is here to serve the Jewish community and families and, by extension, the global community touched by Jewish thought, leadership, values, and service. We believe the path to this service is through challenging students to think deeply, learn and experience the principles and practices of Judaism, and to love and practice learning throughout their lifetime. We believe that education is about challenging students to embrace failure, learn how to think deeply, and boldly use their Jewishness to make the world a better place. Beyond all else, Heilicher will be hitting these points home throughout the coming years.

Some believe that school exists to impart knowledge. I agree to an extent, but, for me—and for Heilicher—the definition is much more expansive. Yes, "school skills" (how to deconstruct a sentence or take a multiple choice test, for example) are important in the short term—and, depending on your chosen profession, in the long term. However, at Heilicher we see teaching strong "school skills" as a means to focus also, if not primarily, on teaching life skills.

Take algebra, for example. Working out algebra problems arguably may not become a lifelong skill for most students, but we teach it in a way that elevates value of critical thinking, uses challenge and failure as a pathway to success, and helps students reach beyond their limits. Math is about thinking deeply; math is about communicating; math is about executive functioning; math is about solving problems; and math is about organization and discipline. We don't ever just teach math at Heilicher, we guide students to grow and develop these life skills applicable to almost any pursuit as an adult.

So, how are we achieving our goals of teaching and guiding your children to be strong, successful people who will use Judaism as the core driver of their identity, their actions, and their decisions as they go through this complex and challenging world? Well, let's take a look at the year ahead, and a few ways we are moving toward our goals in this regard:

  • STEAM initiative. Despite the name,STEAM is not solely about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. While true that our STEAM initiative will boost all of these disciplines, we are also applying the pedagogy and inquiry-based methodology behind it in all curricular areas.

    STEAM is about:
    • critical thinking
    • using failure and challenge as a way to grow and learn
    • fanning the flames of inquiry and discovery that will transform students into lifelong investigators and learners
  • Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. All staff have been asked to read Dweck's critical work, as we prepare to dive into further STEAM training together. This work is about what really motivates us, how to guide students (and ourselves) to success and mastery beyond innate talent, and how to foster resilience and a love of learning in our children. I will share more thoughts about this book over the course of the year. I recommend picking up a copy and joining the dialogue.
  • Machon Hadar/Jewish Life. We are excited to join a groundbreaking national pilot program and cohort for pluralistic and community Jewish education. Faculty and our whole community will work with experts around the country and locally to strengthen and evolve our Judaic and Hebrew experiences and curriculum and to do so in a way that appropriately grapples with what it means to be an inclusive and open community Jewish school.

So, going back to my initial question, I don't think I am qualified to answer, for the entire public, why we have school. But I have my opinions, and I have my hopes for the type of 21st-century education developing at Heilicher.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how and why Heilicher can serve the families of the Jewish community. Come in and see me, give a call, send an email, or say hi when you see me around town. I'm happy to talk (just not during services!).

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in a couple weeks as we begin another great school year.


Head's Up is a blog by Yoni Binus, Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School Head of School. We hope you enjoy reading Yoni's ruminations on all things related to Heilicher, Jewish life, and education. If you have a question or topic for Yoni to consider, please email him at

  • Education
  • Head of School
  • Jewish Education

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