Closing the Teacher-Student Feedback Loop


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By Yonatan Gordon

In our previous article, we gave some tips for how teachers can formulate a discussion that engages all students. While the details should be conveyed, there should also be a healthy amount of “headliner” statements. Those sayings that attract and involve even those students deemed as coming from the “outside” (i.e. converts and returnees).

We also mentioned in our article that began this present classroom series, “What if Technology, Just…Vanished???”, that matters of spatial distance between the teacher and student, need not lead to a more separated state. As we explained using the example of quantum entanglement, students and teachers should be able to stay connected no matter where in the world they each happen to find themselves.

Being as we have discussed spatial distance, now it is only fitting that we begin to discuss temporal changes. Are teachers and students more connected during the lesson, than before or after it? To assist with an answer, we thought to turn to a recent article from, called “Loophole in spooky quantum entanglement theory closed.”

“The weird way entangled particles stay connected even when separated by large distances — a phenomenon Albert Einstein called “spooky” — has been confirmed once again, this time with a key loophole in the experiment eliminated.

The results from the new experiment confirm one of the wildest predictions of quantum mechanics: that a pair of “entangled” particles, once measured, can somehow instantly communicate with each other so that their states always match.”

The Mysterious Future of Content

Before we relate this quote to our discussion, let’s first bring something we mentioned on Twitter, but not yet in an article. The headline for this year’s Book Expo America is “Great Expectations: The Mysterious Future of Content.”

When they were deliberating on the wording for this headline, it’s easy to imagine that instead of saying “mysterious,” the suggestion to use the word “spooky” also came up. What then is the difference between something that is “mysterious” or “spooky”?

When Einstein called the faster-than-light communication between particles “spooky” it was because it was unexpected. Even 80 years later, the implications of quantum entanglement still seem to conflict with a basic premise of Relativity; that nothing is supposed to travel faster than the speed of light.

But in common parlance, something is spooky because the noise, or tap on the shoulder, was coming from an unexpected source. The devoted student is well aware that his teacher is presently thousands of miles away. What may appear “spooky” then is when he realizes, that he can still hear the lesson, even though the live video feed was interrupted.

Perhaps then, while quantum entanglement was “spooky” for Albert Einstein, maybe it was simply something “mysterious” for Richard Feynman? Whereas faster-than-light travel is perfectly in line with quantum mechanics, it seems to conflict with relativity. While the receiving particles in Feynman’s world fully expect to be “tapped on the shoulder” from distant particles, the same receiving particles in Einstein’s world do not appear to be expecting this “tap.”

The use of the “mysterious future of content” headline for Book Expo America then suggests a world where quantum entanglement is more real to us than relativity. Where we fully expect that once two things are measured together as a pair (either a teacher and student, or a coupling of particles), then they manage to “somehow instantly communicate with each other so that their states always match.”

Like Yourself

We mentioned last time, that the greatest general principle of the Torah is to “love your fellow like yourself.” The question is asked, why was it necessary to add “like yourself,” if we should already be viewing this person as verily ourselves?

To answer this, an allegory is brought about a great Rabbi that is asked what he thinks about a particular person. He answers that this person is nothing, he’s not worth anything. He then goes through all the great rabbis and says that no one is worth anything, until he alone is the only one left. Now this person is a rosh yeshiva (head of seminary), and in the place where he lives, there are all kinds of simple Jews there. He loves each and every one of them, and even tries to give them work related to the upkeep and maintenance of his school. The obvious question that is asked then is how can this Rabbi, who is so harsh to his colleagues, can be so pleasant and hospitable to the simple Jews of his town?

The answer is that the main lesson about loving your fellow, is not about loving the simple people. While this is important too, the biggest test came when this great Rabbi was asked to love those that are his equal. Those rabbis that are exactly comparable to him in learning and stature. For that Rabbi, the greatest challenge was to love even those people that seemed to be in competition with him in some sense.

It is not enough then that the teacher should throw out headlines, and tidbits of information that interest even these “outsiders.” In order to live according to quantum mechanics, to show content to be “mysterious” instead of “spooky,” the teacher needs to see himself as verily like the students; to view them each as an equal.

But on the surface, this is not the case. The teacher is the expert, and they are the simple students. One answer then is to say that this is only true with regard to the passage of time. But if we were to experience things above time, we would observe that in a matter of time, each of these students would become an expert like the teacher as well. But this is not our common experience of things. Most of us do regularly experience the passage of time.

Perhaps a better way to approach this teacher-student symmetry, is to regard each student as a personal emissary of the teacher. In the Shulchan Aruch of the Alter Rebbe, the same word mamash (verily) is used with regard to the case of these agents. Just like an emissary of a good action is verily like the person who sends him, the simple student of the teacher can also “verily” be the teacher. This occurs when the student views himself as a carrier of the information contained in the lesson. This is something we explained at length in “Learning to Teach with Encrypted or Discrete Messages.”

We learn that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died because they did not honor one another. But how was this possible? Everyone knew there was a mitzvah to love your fellow Jew. But what they didn’t understand was that the real difficulty is in loving someone who is equal to you.

This then explains why indeed, the future of content is more “mysterious” than it is “spooky.” The fact that a community of students online, dispersed throughout the world, can not only be fully connected with their teacher, but also be verily like the teacher himself, is indeed a very great mystery!

Excerpted and adapted from the weekly shiur (class/lesson) given 6 Iyar 5773 from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh



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