As we embarked on a new year in both the Jewish faith and in schools across the country, I’ve thought about Shmita, which literally means “release,” and how we might apply its hopeful principles to our lives today. Students, parents, and educators have spent the past seven months coping with a pandemic that has strained our health, our spirits, and our resources. Now, with growing fears of students falling behind, teachers are facing enormous pressure to somehow maintain pre-pandemic expectations and standards. It is a tragically Sisyphean effort. And it is made worse by our failure to seize this opportunity to “release” ourselves from the erroneous assumptions, outdated practices, and antiquated attitudes that plagued American education well before the pandemic upended our lives.
For decades, our school system has been centered on rote memorization, performance, and measurement, rather than authentic, meaningful learning. An arms race to college has pushed children