Why school?

A long ramble that started off as an exploration of the goals of education and ended in self-lament.

I�m looking forward to being back in the classroom (I mean as a teacher) in March when I do my student-teaching and next year or the year after when (inshaAllah) I�m in the full swing of teaching. One question that I’m thinking about is the purpose of education, especially as it relates to student discipline. Teachers-in-training are taught that our purpose is to produce responsible citizens. Historically, we know that the modern education system was shaped by concerns to produce good workers for a productive society (industrial revolution). Currently, educators emphasize differentiated curriculums to ensure all students are reached so that all students have access to the American dream. Some educators define their goal as simply helping children to reach adulthood.
As a Muslim, my goal as an educator is to provide all students (Muslims or otherwise) with the tools they need to be better Muslims. Don’t worry, I don’t want to proselytize. I just feel that critical thinking, the ability to express one’s self, and elements of honest discourse are inherently Islamic; and if you look at Islam on a continuum, these things help people to be better Muslims no matter what their religion is.

Ms. Frizzle has an interview with a teacher from a �Free School,� which is a very interesting experiment in education. She asked if some students would not be left behind since the school leaves it to parents to ensure progress in academic subjects. He replied,

�We don’t profess to know what each individual person will need to “succeed” in college or the working world. Our primary goal is the social and emotional growth of each child and for each child to develop within themselves their own responsibility for and love of learning (it doesn’t matter what it is that they want to learn about and we reject the paradigm that society has set up for any set curriculum of knowledge and skills). Students who have graduated from democratic schools typically have the self confidence and have learned how to learn and be their own best teacher, so that they are ready to meet any challenge that stands in their way to fulfill their own individual dreams and aspirations.

We don’t equate the amount of stimulation at home, academic support, or supplemental teaching with being a happy and successful person. Nor is the goal to be striving for a higher level of socioeconomic status. The goal is to be with others in a cooperative and not competitive learning community where children and adults are free to live and learn as they wish without impinging on others’ right to do the same. The goal is to give everyone the time and space and freedom to become self-actualized.�

Interesting. I�m thinking about conversation with a student last year. This student was from a broken home (grew up without father). His mother didn�t seem to have a lot of influence over him. Our basketball coach did, until the student decided to drop out of basketball. He didn�t see any value in good grades, although he was gifted (by my own evaluation). On second thought, I�m not sure this conversation actually took place, but it would have been like this:

Me: HH, what�s the problem?
HH: There�s no problem?
Me: Other people couldn�t pay attention to the lesson because they were too busy paying attention to you.
HH: Well you always pick on me.
Me: Really?
HH: Yes, wasn�t Ib talking? And you totally ignored Omar.
Me: What about you.
HH: [frustrated sighing]� look, I don�t wanna talk. Just give me a detention or whatever.
Me: But I�m worried, you haven�t turned in homework all week.
HH: I lost my book. I was really busy last night.
Me: Why are you here?
HH: Huh! Beats me. I think my Mom�s gonna let me transfer next year.
Me: Well ninth grade is important too.
HH: [Staring blankly at the wall]

All last year, HH and I went in circles. I had to send him to the dean on several occasions. I made copies of the vocabulary units for him when he lost his book. I found his book. I gave him opportunities to turn in work late, changed his seat in class. EVERYTHING! In the end, HH couldn�t see any purpose in education. Despite everything however, we still like each other; and he talked to me in early September about his new school.

In retrospect, it was all my failing. I think it may have started at the beginning of the year when I wrote too many discouraging remarks on his first essay. I didn�t balance the positives and the negatives. For other students, it was probably okay. But HH was probably hanging on by the thread. I followed a traditional curriculum. Poems, short stories, essays and novels were our curriculum. I didn�t succeed in making him or his classmates see how relevant Lord of the Flies is to them and their lives. The biggest concern to them (freshman boys) was being in shape, basketball, and video games. They ate salads at lunch. A lot were in the basketball team. And video games is what their lives were founded upon, it filled their every empty moment.

I approached the students as I would have liked my teachers to teach me: with intellectual rigor and solid principles. I had the rigor. But not sure about the principles. Too often as a teacher, I was more worried about small concerns, and too stressed to make good decisions grounded in my principles. Now as I�m thinking as I type, I think I also failed to make a certain bridge that all my good teachers were able to make with me. True I have always had a curious mind and I made my teacher�s jobs easy. I remember often I was lazy with the actual requirements of the class (i.e. didn�t receive the best grades) but I still learned far more than many of my classmates. At least two of my professors commented on that when I was an undergrad. Ooops! I�m talking about me again.

The point is, I want to be the kind of teacher that does reach every student. HH is going to be one of the biggest regrets of my life; hopefully, one of the biggest lessons as well.

One Response

  1. Mashallah you have nice plans for future. I am also studying to be a teacher, it’s amazing how teachers can change the way kids think nowadays. May Allah help you in every way possible. Ameen!

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