o havruta o mituta: Fellowship and feedback

I am leaden with dismay. Who needs context? You know what I am talking about. To buoy my spirits and shake my fear, I find myself grasping for slivers of light. Even small amounts are ameliorating. Snatches of conversation with friends, moments playing pretend with my son, the warmth of Frankie Cosmos’ pop miniatures: these all have healing effects.

Study, too, has healing properties. A significant source of light emanates from an independent study that I am advising in my library. An adept senior completed our French trajectory and is delving into Latin. Two times a week we meet and strive through the Cambridge School Classics Project Latin Course.

In a past post, I wrote about independent study in the library and the ways in which it helps to promote formative justice. That is, while schooling is often scripted, independent study challenges students to make personal choices about investments of time, ability, and attention—choices that help them to forge an identity and fulfill their potential.

Feedback is an essential part of this study. My advisee is paired with a tutor in North Wales and receives corrections and typed notes on his assignments. “Excellent.” “First class.” “First class but for one typo.”

While this feedback has its merits, it only goes so far. When I met with my advisee’s mother on Parent’s Day at our school, she expressed gratitude for taking the time to sit and meet regularly with him instead of leaving him on his own. Independent endeavors can be daunting alone, even for our best students.

I have always loved school. I love that shared study can form the basis for friendships. These friendships are often fleeting and formal—they may only extend the duration of the term of the class. Nonetheless, they manage to allow disparate people to work together when they might have no other reason to do so.

This friendship is echoed in Talmudic scholarship, through a form of study called Chavruta, or “fellowship.” In this approach, students work together in pairs to study and debate a shared text. There is even a phrase “o havruta o mituta;” meaning, “Give me fellowship or give me death.” As Rachael Gelfman Schultz explains, this has less to do with the pedagogical approach of learning in pairs. “Rather, the phrase means that the individual needs society and the respect of others, and without them life is not worth living.”


Today in our independent study, we ended Unit I with a dramatic telling of the sudden explosion of Mount Vesuvius. A Pompeian citizen felt the ground shake (ego tremors sensi). Another saw a strange cloud (ego nubem mirabilem conspexi). The workbook ends with the shock of Vesuvius’ eruption and its tragic consequences.

Noting the sullen demeanor of many of our students and faculty today, I see a similar sense of shock. However, I am confident that fellowship will see us through. How is your library a space where light can shine? Leave your examples in the comments.


Author: Mark Dzula

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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