‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’*
This oft-repeated question heard across countless primary schools quite nicely sums up the problem with schooling. For the purpose of school is not about what you want to achieve when you grow up or how you want to improve society, but about which career path you wish to choose. The purpose of schooling is to get you a job. The purpose is to create cogs for the economic machinery – you may become a dull cog (garbage man, waiter, teacher) or a shiny cog (lawyer, doctor), but cogs you will all become.
Schooling creates career professionals. This is pounded into students from day one with the constant question of what you want to become.
This is the major concern for high schoolers when they choose a university to attend.
This is the major concern at the university level when students choose which degree to pursue.
And this is the major concern when the college student graduates and ‘enters’ into society.
Education has always taken a back to seat to careerism.
After all, every society has its own barometer of success. Hunter-gatherer societies placed a premium on those with adept hunting skills. Societies based on warfare deemed an individual with excellent fighting skills as successful. Tribal societies perceived strength in numbers, so a large number of sons was considered invaluable. In our modern capitalist society, one who has a ‘nice job’ and thus has accrued the most wealth is considered most successful.
But as Muslims, we have our divinely-sanctioned definition of success – faith and piety. Regardless of how good or bad we may be at hunting, fighting, or shopping, our success is measured by our level of spiritual development and servitude to our Lord.
And so, schools have failed at developing humans and have merely become the gatekeepers for the job-based professional economy as well as the national military. They have perfected the means for churning out ‘human resources’, citizens pliant enough to subserviently fit into the capitalistic model or become unquestioning soldiers in the battlefield. Schools excel at producing eager consumers and smoothly functioning bureaucrats.
Additionally, I am convinced that sending our kids off to school for 8 hours a day to be raised by complete strangers contaminates the parent-child bond. It plants the seed of deviation away from the parent’s thought-process. It paves the way for the child to accept, maybe even celebrate, a difference of opinion with his parents.
Once this reverence is corrupted, the child ceases to see the parents as sources of guidance deserving ultimate respect, viewing them instead as guardians charged merely with the child’s physical well-being and sustenance. The influence and sovereignty of the parents is eventually replaced by outside institutions such as school, government, or pop-culture.
Instead of impressing upon them the importance of family, religion, and community (social values that schools of the past focused on), modern day schooling hammers into our children’s minds that the most important goal is to get into a good college. And they must get into a good college in order to get a good job. And they must get a good job so as to live a comfortable life.
And that, my fellow readers, is the crux of the schooling failure.
The essential goal of schooling is materialistic success. Anything more is icing on the cake. Enlightening of the child’s mind, if it occurs, is merely accidental. To say otherwise is naïve at best.
I’m choosing not to be naïve.
*I ranted in a previous post on my issues with a similar socio-cultural phenomenon - the casual question of 'What do you do?'
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’*
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Having two school-age children (ages 12 and 10), education is of the utmost importance to me. I have sent both of them to school since KG and after years of persistent frustration, I have come to the conclusion that modern-day schooling is one of the greatest wastes of time.
I am convinced that schools are in the business of training, not educating, our children - in the same manner that animals are trained. Schools are factories of mass human training. They replicate the industrial model found in automated factories, churning out graduates in the same way factories churn out cars or laptops.
Schools produce graduates, not human beings. Schools excel at preparing their end-product for a capitalistic life in modern society. Schools provide a hierarchical education for a hierarchical society, embodied by the cubicle corporate lifestyle. Schools are perfect at producing docile, obedient citizens content with the status quo. Schools fill the role of creating cogs necessary for the machinery of society.
Schools do not engender a strong family or culture or religion. In fact, they undermine all of the above, replacing them instead with loyalty to the self, nation, and institutions.
The potential of most every child is stunted by this schooling system. I refer not to the ‘educational’ potential – that potential measured by report cards and SAT scores. Rather, I refer to the human potential – that potential to be a complete Adamic human being, who understands the true nature of the universe in ways the angels cannot even comprehend.
Our humanity is measured by more than grades and report cards. Life is more than homework and tests. Knowledge is more than some concocted curriculum taught at school.
Children and young adults need to understand man’s place in the universe. They need to actualize the higher purposes of life. They need to learn about the spiritual even more than the physical. They need to embody higher morals and ethics.
And this is not material that can be covered a few hours a week at Sunday schools. These subjects are the crux of our very being and yet, we have all accepted a model of education where these fundamentals are given lip service at our local Masjid. We have silently fallen in line with the rest of society, choosing to focus our children’s intellectual efforts on worldly studies.
And it’s not as if the schools excel in the worldly studies. In addition to the incredible absence of spiritual guidance, the schooling system fails to prepare children for the real world. Schools leave them disconnected, existing in a created space dedicated purely to children.
We fail to engage our children in mature topics, viewing them as mere receptacles for useless information such as Social Studies, Health, and Language Arts. When will they learn the affairs of the adult world? We coddle them in a manner that stunts their maturation process, leaving us with 23-year old adults playing video games and watching UFC.
Manufactured concepts, such as teens and tweens, thrive and take over the mind of young adults, robbing them of their productive place in greater society. Instead they are relegated to the periphery, in classrooms and study halls, playing nary a role in society at large.
After years of schooling my own children in this failed system, I have cast aside the artificial importance placed on my child’s ability to memorize data and regurgitate it for testing purposes. I have rejected all the counterproductive efforts required for homework, school projects, and exams. While the schooling system may prepare my child for the next grade or a good college or a good job, it fails miserably at producing a complete human being.
So I’m choosing to focus on educating my children instead of training them. Maybe they won’t become ‘successful’ engineers or lawyers or doctors (only a small percentage of all schooled children actually do), but my definition of success is not dictated by mainstream society.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
It is well known that in the Islamic Spiritual Sciences destroying one’s nafs is the key to Paradise. As one sheikh stated, “Eternal bliss is achieved in two steps. First, step on your nafs, then take the next step into Jannah.”
And it was with this in mind that I read this NY Times op-ed piece, ‘It’s Not About You.’ David Brooks writes about the outgoing class of college graduates who have been misled by baby-boomer theology oozing with ill-advised individualism: “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.”
He talks about a world that operates on individuals committing to something – a family, a job, a cause – but this new generation (I would argue this extends to the past few generations) is being brainwashed with talk of freedom, autonomy, “finding your passion and pursuing your dreams”.
“Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task.”
While the author didn’t have this in mind, the ultimate goal for a Muslim is to dissolve his/her self (nafs) not into some task, but into pleasing Allah (swt). And by way of centuries of experience gained by the masters of the spiritual path, we have come to know that one cannot satisfy one’s self while struggling to satisfy one’s Lord. It can only be one or the other.
That’s why I love how the author wraps up his piece:
“The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”
Lose yourself in the struggle for the company of Allah (swt).
Lose yourself in the company of Allah (swt).
Lose yourself in Allah (swt).
After all, isn’t that the supreme aspiration defined by the one who most perfectly embodied this process of losing one’s self, the Prophet (saw), when he uttered these sublime words of Allah (swt) in a famous hadith qudsi:
“...and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him. When I love him I become his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks...".
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Because it's never to early to start getting ready for Ramadan.
Rajab is here and so we're two months away. Here's a nice post on the blessings of Rajab.
"The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Rajab is the month of Allah, Sha`bān is my month, and Ramadan is the month of my Ummah.”...Imam Abu Bakr al-Warraq said: “in the month of Rajab you sow the seeds, in Sha`ban you irrigate them and in Ramadan you reap the harvest.” He also said: “Rajab is like a wind, Sha`ban is like a cloud and Ramadan is like rain.”"