The Talmud tells of a Rabbi who wished to teach his students to be soft of speech;
He invited them to a meal, and served to each, both a soft tongue, well-prepared, and a half-raw tough tongue. They selected the soft and left the tough. “Let this be a lesson to you,” said Rabbi. “The soft tongue is agreeable and the tough disagreeable to all of you. May your tongues be tender towards each other.” (Wayyikra Rabbah, 33)
Did this rabbi’s object lesson really illustrate the lesson he was seeking to teach? Even a cursory examination reveals that the rabbi is using the concept of “soft tongue” in two different ways. The rabbi is guilty of equivocation (the fallacy of four terms) and the conclusion to which he leads them does not logically follow from his argument/illustration.
Does that mean that the rabbi’s pageant was of no benefit, or worse, that it was manipulative or misleading?
It is clear that the rabbi was not depending upon the incident to convince his students of the value of soft speech. He was not seeking to persuade them, he was attempting to create a memorable incident for the purpose of reinforcing truths to which his students were already committed. The value of the skit was in the tacit knowledge being passed from instructor to student in a kind of mnemonic device. It is the artificial and contrived nature of the charade that serves in drawing out the “real” lesson and making it memorable.
Good pedagogy always includes much more than straightforward communication of information. It is a combination of commitment, creativity, memory, passion, humor, … MAGIC. Mix them together in an authentic relationship and you have learning — you have magic. I have no intention of serving tongue to my students any time soon, but I aspire to create the kind of memorable experience served up by this rabbi.
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