Erika Landau, a psychologist and educator who believed in teaching through experience and emotion, died Monday at 82. Landau, who never wanted to have children of her own after surviving the Holocaust, founded the Young Persons’ Institute for the Promotion of Creativity and Excellence in 1969.
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The goal of education, Landau told TheMarker two years ago, is to “prepare the child for life.”
“When you ask parents what the goals of good parenting are, they answer: ‘for the child to be happy,’” she said. “But happiness is a momentary thing, and education doesn’t bring happiness. We create happiness ourselves. The purpose of good parenting is to teach the facts of life. You can’t feel happiness if you don’t know suffering.” .
Landau was born in Czernowitz, Romania, in 1931. During World War II, she and her parents were taken to a work camp near a river.
“We marched along the river, which was flooded, and it was hard to march in that heavy mud,” she told the business newspaper Calcalist in 2011. “During one step I lifted my foot and my shoe got stuck in the mud. I fell down and wanted to get up but couldn’t. A German soldier ran toward me and started to hit me. I looked at my father, who was standing next to me. He looked at me and wept. That’s double the pain - the pain I felt in my body and my father’s pain.”
Landau spent four years in concentration camps; she immigrated to Israel in 1947 and married at 17.
“The love I was given gave me great strength,” she said, referring to her parents and husband Shlomo. “After I saw the horrors of the concentration camps I never wanted to have children. I couldn't free myself from the sense of catastrophe around the corner. Looking back, I don’t regret it. I have many children that I love and help in various ways; they don’t have to be my children.”
After doing her bachelor’s degree at Tel Aviv University in psychology and history, Landau earned a PhD in psychology and art history in Munich. She wrote her dissertation on the subject of creativity.
Her institute, which now has a number of branches in Israel, works with children from kindergarten through junior high school using a multidisciplinary approach. Alumni include former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, former air force chief Elyezer Shkedy, high-tech entrepreneur Shai Agassi and author Etgar Keret.
“Gifted children should live with average children, and thanks to them we can improve the average,” Landau told TheMarker. “I’m against isolating the gifted ones, and one reason is that emotion develops slowly with children. If I take a child of 5 or 6 out of his framework, before he has made all the connections in kindergarten, school and the neighborhood, I break the sense of belonging he’s developing. He cuts himself off from his surroundings. When he finishes the army, he feels that it was a waste and that he doesn’t belong.”
According to Landau, “When a child asks questions, he wants to be connected to you. When he asks something, he should be asked back ‘what do you think about that?’ That’s how a child learns to express himself and think about things before he asks …. Children have to be allowed to experience things. We must understand that the purpose of education is not to know, but to experience. The goal must also consist of my feelings, self-awareness and social interaction.”
She noted that when she spoke with people her own age, every second word was “I forgot.” “But I remember. I discovered that when I learned only with my mind, things are forgotten. But in a place where learning goes with emotion, nothing is forgotten. Therefore I believe in education not through facts or knowledge, but through questions.” She said questions “open the world, while knowledge closes the world. In a well-formulated question is half the answer.”
As an example, Landau offered the question: “What is water?” That’s something the children at the institute are asked. What is it for them? “One says, ‘cleanliness,’” Landau explained. “Another says, ‘thirst.’ A third says ‘going with daddy to the sea on Shabbat.’ A fourth says, ‘water has energy and power.’ Suddenly the world opens up.”