Intergenerational BLUF & Tachlis
Andrew will be working with Beth El Synagouge and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Durham, NC, in order to facilitate intergenerational conversations about ethics and purpose.
Class is about to begin, and as the teacher, I feel the butterflies emerging from their dormant chrysalises in my stomach sending vibrations of excited nerves throughout my body as they beat their new wings. I love teaching, and as part of the GradEngage Fellowship I am given the honor of teaching two separate ethics classes spanning three generations of students. The butterflies are here to remind me of my passion for teaching. When I care about something deeply, it is only natural that butterflies emerge to remind me of how much I care.
Class is starting. This class, about Jewish Ethics, is taught to 4th-6th graders who are members of the Beth El Synagogue in Durham. The students trickle into the Zoom room, and the butterflies finally find flowers to rest upon; I am ready to teach.
This first lesson is focused on teaching the importance of using core values as a foundation for discussion – a concept that may seem simple but makes all the difference in dialogue. In business school, we call “leading with your core values” BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). All students in the Master of Management Studies listened to an orientation speech that defined exactly what was expected from BLUF. In Yiddish and Modern Hebrew, we call that same concept of leading with core values Tachlis (“bottom line”). When I first learned Tachlis, I was in Israel, and the person explaining it to me was patient and waited to make sure I fully understood what it meant.
Because I had spent a lot of time learning what BLUF and Tachlis meant, I expected to spend at least an equal amount of time discussing what our version might look like. However, in my class, I didn’t even have the chance to name the concept, because of how eager my students were to share their opinions, and how well the students naturally followed BLUF and Tachlis. My students’ vulnerability and authenticity shined even without having to intentionally create norms. In graduate school, my peers and I struggle to share fully authentically even after establishing a relationship, yet my 4th-6th grade students were naturals. I wondered what happens to our BLUF and Tachlis as we get older.
Now is time to teach my second class. This one, called Intergenerational Ethics, is half filled with undergrads (ages 18-22) and half filled with overgrads (ages 50 and up) who are part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Durham. The same butterflies awaken before the class begins, and just like before, they find resting places once students start to enter the Zoom. I am co-teaching this class alongside three undergraduate students and one overgrad who lives in Durham. As teachers, we had spoken extensively about setting norms for the class, especially because many of the overgrads had seldom used Zoom. We feared that nuggets of wisdom would go unheard either because students would be too afraid to share or because students would not know how to unmute themselves.
To our surprise, our prediction was turned on its head. Instead of not sharing their views, overgrads shared their experiences openly and honestly. There were even times when we had to cut overgrads off to ensure others had a chance to share (respectfully of course). The adage “with age comes wisdom” was proven true, as overgrads’ experiences enlightened the undergrads in the class.
Reflecting on both classes, I realized how similar young children and retirees are. I found comfort and humility in the wisdom of children and chronological seniors (as my grandma, an overgrad in the Intergeneration Ethics class, calls herself so as not to be confused with the “academic seniors”). There is so much that we learn as children, forget as adults, and only later recall as we become seniors. The butterflies in my stomach rest, but not before baby caterpillars form chrysalises for the next week’s worth of butterflies.