We don’t need no educationWe don’t need no thought controlNo dark sarcasm in the class roomTeachers leave those kids aloneHey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!-Pink Floyd, We don’t Need No Education
Are we still Muslims or have we returned to Jahiliyah?
It seems that when Islam came to us, we were wrenched from the world of Jahiliyah and pummeled into the world of enlightenment in a short span of 30 years. An enlightenment that allowed a desert people to overshadow the two superpowers of the time and inherit civilization. We left the world of objects, materials, idols behind and learned to worship the Eternal.
Our minds were captivated by the ideals emanating from the Creator. We saw in the Prophet (peace be upon him) the perfect ideal to strive towards. Our minds were filled with these ideas and we had long left the dismal world of objects such as the pagan Arabs lived for - well-bred horses, women, cattle, silk, armor and weaponry and more. We had left the world of our lives revolving around specific people - chiefs, tribes, families, mistresses, titles, social acceptance.
Yet today, we are once more captivated by the world of objects and have forgotten our enlightenment. Instead of worshiping Him who is Perfect, who is Eternal, who is All Powerful, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, we live in a world where we objectify the world around us. What do we do?
We spend a third of our lives studying. Not to explore the creation of Allah, but for more mundane ends of material well-being; building careers. This meaningless education serves two purposes:
1. Wastes valuable time and money so that at the end of our education we are desperate to recoup the time and resource deficit incurred and thus put ourselves at the mercy of employment.
2. The education serves to brainwash us to sit quietly in cages and take orders, both without complaint and asking why? Why do I need to know these facts?
Thus primed, for the next third portion of our lives we serve our material overlords, in gilded cuffs and golden cages. Somewhere down this line we lose our innocence, our spirit and our soul. And by the time we reach our final third portion of the cup of life, for those of us who have not gone insane, we enter the arena to a game we have already lost. For an arm broken can be mended, but a spirit broken is far harder to remedy. In our twilight, we may return to our prayers, but those are but prayers of our own funeral. We may attempt social good but the plant that is already dead cannot be revived with water.
Only if we could have trusted our own souls, our instincts, our minds. Was it not that we universally did not like school? Did we not distrust the doctrine and dogma of the mullahs? If we instead could have touched upon our yearning for the living Islam, the ideal that our hearts call to strive towards. The life that is an adventure and not a career or a tour. The learning as a means to an end of striving in that very adventure, not a meaningless list of facts and tests the purpose of which is not understandable.
Then will our revolutions bring real change rather than endless cycles of clouds but no rain. Repeated reruns of betrayal and tyranny. Then will our prayers come alive with purpose and our masjids be transformed into meeting places of revolutionaries and adventurers.
Then will the world again tremble at our feet and the tyrants, oppressors and usurers find no place on Allah's Earth to hide from those who worship the Eternal and strive towards the perfect ideal, rather than worship the world and the objects that it contains. And then will we have returned back to Islam and forsaken again the world of Jahiliyah.
The Muslim World Today
There are three kinds of education that are being handed out to Muslims today. One created for the elite involving foreign-language, often English or French. This system is based on a Western education model. The education lacks any real substance in Islam, but instead replaces this with a history, philosophy and social science that propagate a world-view centered on the ascendancy of Western civilization. Evolution is taught as fact, served with fanciful diagrams of half man and half animals. And the conspicuous absence of Allah imprints an implicit denial. The education provides a secular view of the world and the subservience and abject inferiority of our own civilization.
From being dressed in Western attire at a young age every morning, sometimes tie and coat included, our children are being brainwashed into accepting an alien culture and serve to be transformed into an elite that neither understands nor respects its culture and roots and instead is in awe of the Western civilization. These elites then serve as the agents of the foreign power in keeping control over the country, a new and sophisticated form of vassalage, yet vassalage to the same or greater degree than ever before.
The second form of education is the diametric opposite – madrasah education given to the lower classes where the Quran is recited and memorized but without comprehension, reflection and analysis. People still are devoted to the Quran, but their love of the book is not one of reflection and understanding, but of formalistic and ritualistic reading, learning by heart and a complicated science of pronunciation. What are produced are people who can recite, memorize and obey commands, but neither understands Islam, their active role in Islam, or their position in the greater scheme of things.
The third form of education is government sourced and involves a heavy dose of rote learning similar to the madrasahs, but just enough practical curriculum to be able to function in various jobs and roles that any state and economy inevitably needs. These typically serve the middle classes.
Our education system is broken and astoundingly there is no government that is willing to fix it. For the 60+ years we have been without any fundamental rethink. How can we create an improved state of affairs when the fundamental building block of the system – the Muslim Individual - is not educated, aware and enlightened but brainwashed to believe their inferiority? As with any system: garbage in, garbage out.
The Great Mistake – A Historical Perspective of the Degeneration of Islamic Education Systems
Our present education crisis did not start now; our particular garbage has taken considerable time to rot and perhaps coincides with our decline. Brother Mahathir Muhamad points out in his blog CheDet that in the 15th century we decided to separate worldly knowledge from religious knowledge and focus on the latter8. It was this that he attributes as a key element to our downfall.
8. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani writes similarly in his work Ijtehad, IIIT.
Perhaps the issue started even earlier when the Asharite School started using reason and logic only defensively and Imam Ghazali debated those influenced by Greek philosophers. However, the victory seemed one not only against the philosophers but against the use of reason and logic itself. Thus, the doors of ijtihad were closed and Muslims moved increasingly to taqlid, or imitation. Logic was carted off to be used only defensively in support of established theology. Ibn Khaldun in Al Muqadimah sheds much light upon the use of logic by what he describes as “recent scholars”:
“In time, the science of logic spread in Islam. People studied it. They made a distinction between it and the philosophical sciences, in that logic was merely a norm and yardstick for arguments and served to probe the arguments of the (philosophical sciences) as well as (those of) all other (disciplines).“(Scholars) studied the basic premises the earlier theologians had established. They refuted most of them with the help of arguments leading them to (a different opinion). Many of these were derived from philosophical discussions of physics and metaphysics. When they probed them with the yardstick of logic, it showed that they were applicable only to those (other disciplines and not to theology, but) they did not believe that if the argument were wrong, the thing proven (by the arguments) was also wrong. This approach differed in its technical terminology from the older one. It was called “the school of recent scholars”. Their approach often included refutation of the philosophers where the (opinions of the) latter differed from the articles of faith, because, in most respects, there is a relationship between the opinions of the innovators and the opinions of the philosophers.“The first (scholar) to write in accordance with the new theological approach was al-Ghazzali. He was followed by the imam Ibn al-Khatib. A large number of scholars followed in their steps and adhered to their tradition.“The later scholars were very intent upon meddling with philosophical works. The subjects of the two disciplines (theology and philosophy) were thus confused by them. They thought that there was one and the same (subject) in both disciplines, because the problems of each discipline were similar.“The theologians most often deduced the existence and attributes of the Creator from the existing things and their conditions. As a rule, this was their line of argument. The physical bodies form part of the existing things, and they are the subject of the philosophical study of physics. However, the philosophical study of them differs from the theological. The philosophers study bodies in so far as they move or are stationary. The theologians, on the other hand, study them in so far as they serve as an argument for the Maker.“In the same way, the philosophical study of metaphysics studies existence as such and what it requires for its essence. The theological study (of metaphysics) on the other hand, is concerned with the existentia, in so far as they serve as argument for Him who causes existence.“In general, to the theologians, the object of theology is (to find out) how the articles of faith which the religious law has laid down as correct, can be proven with the help of logical arguments, so that innovations may be repulsed and doubts and misgivings concerning the articles of faith be removed.“If one considers how this discipline originated and how scholarly discussion was incorporated within it step by step, and how, during that process, scholars always assumed the correctness of the articles of faith and paraded proofs and arguments (in their defence), one will realize that the character of the subject of this discipline is as we have established it, and one will realize that (the discipline) cannot go beyond it. However, the two approaches have been mixed up by recent scholars. The problems of theology have been confused with those of philosophy. This has gone so far that the one discipline is no longer distinguishable from the other.” (underlining is superimposed)
Further along in his book, he confirms that this mixing of the two is fatally wrong and a mistake:
“The only thing that caused the theologians to use rational arguments was the discussions of heretics who opposed the early Muslim articles of faith with speculative innovations. Thus, they had to refute these heretics with the same kind of arguments. This situation called for using speculative arguments and checking on the early Muslim articles of faith with these arguments.
“The verification or rejection of physical and metaphysical problems, on the other hand, is not part of the subject of speculative theology and does not belong to the same kind of speculations as those of the theologians. This may be known, so that one may be able to distinguish between the two disciplines, as they have been confused in the works of recent scholars. The truth is that they are different from each other in their respective subjects and problems. This situation called for using speculative arguments and checking on the early Muslim articles of faith with these arguments.“The confusion arose from the sameness of the topics discussed. The argumentation of the theologians thus came to look as though it were inaugurating a search for faith through (rational) evidence. This is not so. (Speculative theology) merely wants to refute heretics.”
This resulted in the use and understanding of logic to be confused, pushed aside by the political success of the theologians and philosophy itself removed to a portion merely of speculative theology. This is exemplified in Al Ghazali’s rejection of the cotton on fire; that the fire was caused by Allah and not the cotton, confusing cause and effect.
The consequence of this was manifold, and like a dynamo through history, knocked down many pillars. Firstly, education increasingly discounted the teaching of logic, and subjects such as mathematics that develop that critical element of the brain. Instead, we started to focus on memorization. Secondly, our valuation of knowledge changed and this caused what we earlier described from Dr. Mahathir Muhamad as the separation of knowledge. With the end to ijtihad and an education that eliminated from the bud the intellectual capacity of the Ummah, the Muslim mind was chained, collared and imprisoned.
Mysticism aided this process, and it is interesting that it was also Al Ghazali who instituted the legitimacy of this practice. It was as if the traditional theologians and the mystics worked as a tag team to create a new artificial consensus. Describing the Sufi practice, Ibn Khaldun notes:
“The Sufis are very much concerned with achieving this great joy through having the soul achieve that kind of perception. They attempt to kill the bodily powers and perceptions through exercise, and even the thinking power of the brain. In this way, the soul is to achieve the perception that comes to it from its own essence, when all the disturbances and hindrances caused by the body are removed. (The Sufis) thus achieve inexpressible joy and pleasure.”
“The arguments and proofs belong in the category of corporeal perceptions, because they are produced by the powers of the brain, which are imagination, thinking, and memory. The first thing we are concerned with when we want to attain this kind of perception is to kill all these powers of the brain, because they object to such (perception) and work against it.”
The Muslim world thus entered an era that deeply discounted the intellect, in fact attempted to limit it or even kill it! Shortly after their victory against the philosophers, they believed themselves to have reached a stage that they wished to preserve and perpetrate in statis. In the arrogance of their triumph they called their age the “Golden Age”. To perpetuate this “Golden Age” they brought an end to ijtihad and the beginning of taqlid, and created an education system to match. They created a theology that would emphasize their doctrines and control the religion. No doubt, they had good intentions, to preserve in perpetuity what they believed to be right. The Ummah was thus frozen and preserved to this rightness.
Centuries later, from the intellectual stupor of the Ummah, we can only guess that these great geniuses succeeded! Dissent was seen as an enemy, and the intellect was seen as the cause of the dissent. What better way than to create zombies to hold the Ummah in a perpetual state of conformity, and keep the world in a perpetual static relic of the past? But the rest of the world moved on unfortunately for the Ummah. The West took our light and went forward. And through their hands, perhaps Allah is showing us how we have gone astray.
Social-psychological diseases often manifest themselves in very peculiar ways. Confucianism erred towards perfectionism and, over the centuries showed itself in the degenerate form of Chinese foot binding; it was believed that women having small feet was a desirable quality and Chinese families started putting children into small wooden shoes that they would be forced to wear. It was said that every small feet required a bucket of tears. Thus a philosophical-theological error manifested itself in a ghastly manner that was clearly visible to the Chinese. For Muslims however, we cannot see the damage we are doing to our children, yet it is far more profound than the foot of those poor Chinese girls; for a brain is far more part of being human than a foot could ever be.
There is in fact one case where the full manifestation of this stranglehold on the intellect became clearly visible; in Pakistan there are Sufi shrines where people go to pray for various desirables to the dead “saint”. In one such shrine, known as Dawlay Shah, people sometimes go to ask for children, in case they have fertility problems. Perhaps they have not heard about fertility clinics. If the couple then have children, they are supposed to give their first born to the shrine. The child’s head is supposedly put inside a metal helmet-like enclosure and the child grows up with a small brain. Such small-brained individuals are then used to serve the shrine, begging and doing other income-generating activities. They are then known as Dawlay Shah dey Chuhay or Dawlay Shah’s rats.
How else did this great blunder come about? Malek Bennabi in his book The Question of Ideas in the Muslim World points out that the impetus to the mysticism mentioned above came from a Muslim society that reacted to an increasingly materialist order within itself by an increasing indulgence in the rejection of the material. So the Sufis originally where attempting to balance an original imbalance in society. One pole of extremism attracted the other, and destroyed the middle way. The subordination of reason and logic and the mysticism that thus established a foothold has had cascading consequences upon our society. Muslim society has been trapped between the two poles of materialism and mysticism ever since.
Today we can see the results before us; the materialism-mysticism polarization and the anti-logic religious tendencies invariably leads to secularism, whose very core is the separation of “religious” and “secular” knowledge, to give each polarized group its own domain. One pole attracts the other, polarizing the Ummah. Yet, Islam is the Middle Way! Long before the bayonets of the British showed up to force this separation upon us, we created secularism for ourselves.
Worldviews and Education
Our education has to be based on our worldview. Bennabi explains that our core beliefs are fundamentally different from the West’s in the following illustrations:
1. Man either looks at his feet or at the stars
2. Objects and forms, techniques and aesthetics, versus truth and virtue
3. Industrial time versus extemporized time
4. Positivism and dialectic materialism versus morality and revealed knowledge
The question that comes to mind is, given the completely different core viewpoints of the two worlds, can we attempt to Islamize Western knowledge in the manner we are attempting at present? As an example, consider the subject of Economics where the dominance of Economic theory in the West aligns with the dominance of the material; the very term “Econom(y)ics” resides in the material. Simply attaching “Islamic” to form a “new” “Islamic Economics” seems dishonest to our true principles, to our very different core principles.
It seems that the very aspect of Islamizing knowledge today does not reach out and spring forth from our core, but attempts to fit our principles into a Western worldview.
A respected author at an Islamic university wrote a book using such complex terms that the students (at least those for whom reading it is compulsory) are dumbfounded at what it means. A choice of wonderfully complex terms are put together in such a vague manner that you are left wondering what the author is saying, but give the benefit of the doubt that it must be truly profound. Yet another senior academic of the same prestigious Islamic university has titled a book as a “critical review” but reading the book finds it to be a summary based on the dominant themes being covered.
On the other hand, perhaps Bennabi’s words were apt for this:
Islamic thought sinks to mysticism, to vagueness and fuzziness, into imprecision and into mimesis and craze vis-à-vis the Western “thing”!
We must ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve, or who we are trying to impress with this approach. And in the sixth chapter of his same book, Bennabi describes the issue of a lack of ideas or dead ideas leaving empty brains, helpless tongues and infantilism. He quotes Nicholas Boileau, a French literary critic from the 17th century thus:
That which is properly thought out is said clearly, And the words to express it come forth easily.
Taking the concept of Islamization of Knowledge as illustrated by “Islamic Economics” – where the attempt to keep the Western Neoliberal framework and simply attempt to replace “Un-Islamic elements” – the very idea is perhaps fundamentally flawed in creating an Islamic revival. The learned scholars react by stating that we cannot go back and start from scratch. But such scholars miss the point that there is a big area between the dressing up of Western sciences to meet the Islamic hijab code on the one hand, and “starting from scratch” on the other. The wrong approach and the wrong people, but worse still that these people are acting as a roadblock for those actually seeking to find a way forward.
A Muslim Worldview of Acquiring Knowledge
But, what is the nature of knowledge and why is it important to us? Even before we can touch upon the question of Islamic Economics and Islamizing knowledge, we have to first identify the nature of the relationship between Islam, Muslims and knowledge because it appears as if we understand knowledge in a vacuum. It seems as if it was something merely necessary for the survival of the material world. Our universities churn out degree holders to feed our economies in the hope of competing with the West. We then Islamize our text to make them more palatable and to claim an Islamic revival.
Yet, this reaches out to a mimic of the West seeking its core in the material. Our focus on the reason, purpose and relationship of knowledge to us has to be fundamentally different. It has to reach out to our core – our religious and spiritual innards.
There may be many different means by which we can develop this connection. It is up to our intellectual endeavor to take up this challenge. This challenge has been taken up by the IIIT and the Islamization of Knowledge (IOK) movement. Thus far however, the IOK movement has failed with the Faruqi and Attas paradigms. Furthermore, the Faruqi and Attas paradigms are well-entrenched and unlikely to be superseded easily, creating yet another problem. As Bennabi notes, dead ideas lead to deadly ideas.
The IOK movement would have avoided the pitfalls had it discovered Allama Iqbal’s and Malek Bennabi’s work. However, they appear to have been too busy with plagiarism and appropriating each other’s (and other’s) work and making tall claims about how they were the first people to discover the problems with Western knowledge.
Returning to the question of rebuilding a meaningful connection between seeking knowledge and Islam, the connection is expressed in the following section based on this author’s understanding. It is noted that these are but merely two ways of many to think about the issue. The first paradigm outlined below is similar to that given in Allama Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.
A First Paradigm:
The story begins (and Allah knows best) when Adam was created and Allah (swt) taught him the “names of things” or “nature of things”. And Adam was asked to tell the angels their “names” or “natures”. And this was seen as the triumph of man and convinced all but Satan. All were told to bow to man – what an ultimate honour to be bowed to by Allah’s creation!
At first glance it seems confusing. What is this term “names of things” or “nature of things” and why was it so special? For many people this would just be something they will not understand or contemplate over. Was it that the angels did not understand and simply start bowing to anyone that can take their name or show their nature? Moreover, what is the point being made by the Quran? Perhaps there is some real meaning in this.
However, it may be that for a student of psychology this bit of information may prove to be of interest.
Consider the fact that studies of the human mind have shown that the mind has an amazing ability that other beings known to man do not have – the ability to classify things – both material and non-material (i.e. ideas). This ability to classify and organizing information is not shared with other creatures. If one reads about the philosophy and epistemology of science, we find that this quality of classifying and organizing data and thereby investigating their natures is perhaps the key factor to what science essentially is. In fact, it is what science is built upon; it’s very fundamental building structure.
Consider the fact that studies of the human mind have shown that the mind has an amazing ability that other beings known to man do not have – the ability to classify things – both material and non-material (i.e. ideas). This ability to classify and organizing information is not shared with other creatures. If one reads about the philosophy and epistemology of science, we find that this quality of classifying and organizing data and thereby investigating their natures is perhaps the key factor to what science essentially is. In fact, it is what science is built upon; it’s very fundamental building structure.
The reason a university has so many departments each focusing on a specific set of subjects, and within them sections focused on even more specific, and within them sub-sections and professors who specialize in even smaller focuses is because the information has been classified into these various branches, sub-branches, sub-sub-branches and so forth. This makes the investigation of the nature of things possible at a level unforeseen otherwise. So, what this author is crawling towards is that the event when Adam was created and thereafter was taught the names of things was not a meaningless event, but a very meaningful one and one that guides us as human beings to who we are, what we are, and our purpose. And Allah knows best.
To clarify, our purpose is to worship Allah (swt) as we all know. But does worship mean going to the masjid and banging our head to the floor a couple of times while thinking about our daily activities and then being on our way? As always, when in doubt, investigate the Quran. The Quran constantly, and repeatedly talks about reflecting, thinking, contemplating about the world Allah (swt) has created around us. One random example of many:
And all things We have created by pairs, that haply ye may reflect. (51:49, Al-Quran, Pickthall)
The second element that comes to our notice is that the Quran talks about the natural world (botany, zoology, evolution, etc), about the stars, planets, the beginning of the universe (Astronomy, Astrophysics), the mountains (Geology and Geography), and more. Again, it simultaneously (and repeatedly) tells us to think, reflect, and contemplate. Islam goes so far as to challenge man to find a fault or prove the Quran wrong.
Allah knows best, but the purpose of this can perhaps be best understood in the following manner:
Imagine that I make an acquaintance. I can say hello, ask his name and meet the individual repeatedly. But after a million hellos, I may not truly know him any better than the first day I met him. If I really want to know the individual in question, I could perhaps take another approach. If the acquaintance was a painter, I could go down to look at his painting and attempt to understand him through his works. My mind may wonder: what does my friend paint about – women, cars, landscapes or science fiction? What choice of colours does he use? Is he a cubist? What size are his paintings? What’s so great about his work? What’s not that great?
On the other hand, if the acquaintance was an engineer and had built a bridge, I could go down take a look at the bridge, see what it’s like – is it mechanically efficient? Aesthetic? Both? Is it sporting a postmodern looking? Or does it look like it’s out of the 18th century? What choice of materials did my friend use? By noting the works of my acquaintance, I could get to know him in a more meaningful way than having spent years saying hello and goodbye. Perhaps even more than if I chatted with him about the weather, the news, politics, religion, philosophy and had tea with him every weekend.
In a similar vein, if we wish to know our Creator, one critical method could be to contemplate, reflect, and think about His amazing creation (and Allah knows best). But to effectively do so, we need to understand the nature of the things around us. We need to have some idea of art to understand a painter and some idea of the engineering of bridges to appreciate our engineer friend who built one.
This brings us back to the parable of Adam. To really understand the nature (or names) of things, we need to be able to classify them and study them in depth; to be investigators, scientists, thinkers, theorists. We note that only humans have this ability to classify and organize data, that is to name them, and this is closely connected to understanding their natures. Because once you can classify data, you can begin to investigate the relationships between multiple classifications. This mental process may seem natural to us, but in fact is unique to humanity.
So a Muslim, who actually reads the Quran with understanding and contemplation, not mindless babbling while rocking left, right, forward and backwards, will inevitably become an investigator, a researcher, a thinker, a philosopher, a scientist. What is more, this is closely linked with tauheed and tasawuf.
Tauheed is often described as the understanding of the Oneness of Allah and knowing his attributes. Only by being an investigator, scientist, thinker, can we get a deeper understanding of the Oneness of Allah, which is constantly expressed in the creation. Otherwise, repeating the Names of Allah will neither yield a deeper understanding of those Names nor will it be sufficient in itself to attempt to understand our Creator with the full force of the resources and capabilities available at our disposal. Thus, our scientific endeavour is central to the goal of reaching a more meaningful and deeper understanding of tauheed.
However, charting the destination is different from walking the destination. When we begin our investigations, we quickly find that our mind gets involved with the specific and forgets the whole. If we take the example of the bridge used earlier, we start admiring the bridge, the materials, and the architecture and forget about the engineer who was the original purpose of our investigation, and who we had hoped to better appreciate. This is where the role of tasawuf begins; the constant remembrance of Allah; in our case, specifically during our investigation. Without this, we lose the purpose of our investigations and are lost again into the world of objects and people.
Thus, tauheed, scientific inquiry and tasawuf (or dhikr) are inextricably linked. None can bloom in their essence in isolation but are joined like a jugular vein to the other. In the great contemporary battle between the Wahabis / Salafis who nominally uphold tauheed and Sufis who nominally uphold tasawuf, both sides have missed the essential symbiosis of the three concepts. If anything, all sides consider the investigation of “secular” knowledge as beyond their realms and subject matter.
A Second Paradigm:
Another possible paradigm on how Muslims can relate themselves to knowledge is from the perspective of jihad. It is imperative for the Muslim world to overcome the external threat in order to revive and defend ourselves. Acquiring the necessary knowledge, technology and industrial capacity thus becomes a part of jihad.
Using this knowledge of the world, we can overcome our enemies or at least defend more effectively against them. It is this approach that allowed Pakistani scientists to overcome sanctions and a lack of a technological and industrial base, and build a highly competent nuclear industry at break-neck speed.
A Serious Word of Warning about these Paradigms:
Somehow it appears that we believe that building a theoretical bridge on why we need knowledge will change the Muslim world and everyone will go “Eurika!” but that is far from the truth. The truth of the matter is that this only happens in the minds of twiddle-dee academics that are so cut off from reality that they will believe anything that will keep them comfortable. Simply repeating these or similar paradigms of knowledge will not change our circumstance, nay not even if you name it “The Tawheedic Paradigm”.
The fact of the matter is that children are born with a thirst for knowledge; this is in the innate nature of man, it needs no theological construct. The hard truth is that we make the greatest effort in destroying that thirst and turning that into abject hate. Genius does not need to be engineered, we only need to stop destroying it.
Something we are doing at full pace.
Something we are doing at full pace.
The Validity of Gatto
From my early childhood I have been hostile to the education system, somehow convinced that it would make me dumb and kill my spirit. I spent a good part of my early education being absent from school, treating school books like the plague and thus considering it safer to not open my school bag when I went home. Attending madrasah was a worse experience of the same gnawing idea in my head that I was going to be turned into another zombie. Meanwhile, I spent much of my spare time studying and reading almost anything that interested me ranging from aerodynamics, diplomacy, history, philosophy, the Quran, literary classics and more. Between the fourth grade and eleventh, I had read a veritable library of books, sometimes spending all night reading.
Teachers had a hard time understanding how I managed to have a vast general knowledge but was so poor in my studies. It came as even a greater surprise when a year or so before the O Levels, I finally became more serious about my studies and suddenly was propelled to academic excellence, becoming one of the resident geniuses in college, which astounded beyond belief some of the people that knew me earlier. The introduction to this chapter was written in the International Islamic University Malaysia masjid while seeing, what to me was the heartbreaking decadence of how we were destroying learning. I put it up on the boards, these were promptly removed. I also put it up online and a blessed sister, much into Gatto’s work read my work and shared with me what Gatto had to offer.
Reading Gatto was vindication of everything that I knew and understood to be true and yet far more – Gatto had researched and documented everything carefully so that what I knew but could not prove was now provable with hard documents, and fully extended to its complete idea-potential.
From an Islamic point of view, it is clear that our academics and intellectuals have swallowed the concept of education from the West both in the form of a poor rip-off and without any critical study of the origins, purpose and mechanisms behind Western mass schooling.
For one, when we talk about education today and how beneficial it is to the people we are making some fundamental assumptions and these may require a closer look. Firstly, what we are talking about is not education per se, but education as conceived originally in the Prussian state around the 1820s. This form of education spread throughout Europe and eventually to the United States with Horace Mann’s “Seventh Annual Report” to the Massachusetts Board of Education. It thereafter became the world standard of “education”, in fact we shall call it Mass Schooling.
Secondly, we are implying that this form of education is a universal and untainted “good” that must be accepted. This results in Mass Schooling being essentially a form of un-Islamic “religion” built on blind faith. In my reading of the educational programs and questions of reform throughout the Muslim world, these key fundamental questions about the origins, purpose and mechanism of the system are never raised and perhaps never even known. We are too busy trying to copy the circuit board without knowing what the board actually does.
Because of this gap in knowledge, some of the assertions made here will seem questionable. I do not have the space to provide every evidence for every single startling assertion, but to those who want to inspect the arguments further, I would highly recommend Weapons of Mass Instruction, a book by an American schoolteacher John Taylor Gatto who taught 30 years in public schools before resigning from teaching during the year he was named New York State's official “Teacher of the Year”. He then spent 22 more years tirelessly talking about the problems of the present schooling system that has been replicated worldwide. He has travelled three million miles to lecture on the subject and his earlier book, Dumbing Us Down, has sold over 100,000 copies.
The Advent of Mass Schooling
As we noted earlier, the present global education system we are calling “Mass Schooling”, started in Prussia and spread throughout Europe and thereby to the colonies of the Europeans and the United States, becoming a world standard to mimic by a progression of lesser nations. The system was designed to create a stable workforce that is technically competent to the degree required (and no more) and willing to sell their labour for wages. The system was also designed to provide mass consumerism to buy the products that centralized industrial mass production was designed to create.
In 1843, when Horace Mann helped propagate the system from Europe to the United States. This is the same Horace Mann who explicitly states that school is the best jail – “a jail you sentence the mind to is harder to escape than any iron bars”. Orestes Brownson was publicly denouncing what he termed as the Prussianization of American schools as far back as the 1840s. Adam Smith’s publisher, William Playfair, noted that “proper” schooling teaches “negatively” and only allows the poor “to read sufficiently well to understand what they do read”. That if they were educated any better, the “ladders of privilege” would collapse and the children of the elite would not be able to hold their privileged positions. Even further back in history, a similar policy was pursued in China called "The Policy of Keeping People Dumb”.
Perhaps one of the most influential people of the 20th Century, James Conant was president of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison-gas specialist, WWII executive of the atomic bomb project, high commissioner of the American zone in Germany after WWII, and these are but some of his laurels among others. Gatto notes that Conant was one of the key individuals who brought Prussian Mass Schooling to its full bloom. In The Child, the Parent and the State, he noted that the modern school today was the result of a “revolution” between 1905 and 1930. He directs readers in his book to Principles of Secondary Education (1918) by Alexander Inglis where “one saw this revolution through the eyes of the revolutionary”.
Inglis, after whom Gatto notes that an honour lecture in Harvard is named, makes it clear in his book that the purpose of this modern education was to act as a fifth column to the democratic rise of the lower classes who increasingly wanted to play a greater and more just role. Gatto summarizes Inglis’ views in the following words:
“Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical intervention into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole. Inglis breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modern schooling into six basic functions, anyone of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals of education listed earlier:I. The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.2. The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity function” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.3. The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record” Yes, you do have one.4. The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits – and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.5. The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.6. The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.” (Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction)
All this is not some conspiracy theory but happened in full public view and is very extensively recorded in history, for those who are willing to spare the time to search. These are policies and decisions made by managers and executives of the West’s education system and as such are documented in their writings and works. Some other big names of the time involved include George Peabody, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.
Space does not allow us to go further to provide evidence, I instead point you to John Gatto. To sum up, the Western education system we seem so enamoured with, has a horror movie back-end and a purpose and meaning that we must understand before we start replicating them wholesale upon the tender minds of our children, so full of potential, dreams, hopes. Even if we were evil enough to do this to our people (and I hope we are not), we must understand that the system is designed for a mass production society and not for the kind of Third World countries we Muslims live in.
The West mistakenly believes they are the first to have discovered education as a means of pacifying the people and turning them into a dumbed down human resource, but if the reader has read the section on our legacy of the Islamic education system then we can see a clear parallel. Our system may just have been even more effective; it managed to freeze history, if that is anything to be proud of. So many centuries later the West is now crawling towards a similar end – “The End of History”.
I have described the problems of the Islamic and Western education systems. With these problems in mind, let us now look at how we can move our children to the world of ideas, to reach their full potential, instead of turning them into the jackasses Pinocchio and his friends were to be turned into by the circus, i.e. the mass education system.
Moving Our Children to the World of Ideas
Bennabi describes the great crisis of civilization as the cultivation of humanity moving from the world of people and objects to the world of ideas. He describes the critical age when our children begin to enter this world of ideas as starting from seven to eight years, as supported by cognitive development theorists such as Piaget and Case. We are doing the greatest harm to our children when we are forcing them to block out the development of the thinking process and instead make them memorize endless texts, whether in our religious schools or our “secular” ones. We may be producing zombies.
It may be that we are forcing our children into boxes out of which they cannot grow, as we earlier noted with the example of Chinese foot binding. Our situation may be worse for we cannot observe by sight the damage that we are doing to our children.
Pity the child whose mind is being raped by being forced to memorize endless text she does not understand. Who is banished from asking questions. Who is taught to detest what was to be loved. And who will face this whether in a madrasa or in the average school. If she is “lucky”, and her parents are wealthy enough to send her to an elite Western school, she would be robbed of her Islam in all but name.
Such children can never have the energy, passion, intellectual strength to make a difference for the Ummah. They have been drained of these in a systematic manner. Severity to our children and strictness in instruction also zaps them from their spirit and energy, that vital power that can make them individuals that can change the world. Ibn Khaldun notes:
“Severe punishment in the course of instruction does harm to the student, especially to little children, because it belongs among (the things that make for a) bad habit. Students, slaves, and servants who are brought up with injustice and (tyrannical) force are overcome by it. It makes them feel oppressed and causes them to lose their energy. It makes them lazy and induces them to lie and be insincere. That is, their outward behavior differs from what they are thinking, because they are afraid that they will have to suffer tyrannical treatment (if they tell the truth). Thus, they are taught deceit and trickery. This becomes their custom and character. They lose the quality that goes with social and political organization and makes people human, namely, (the desire to) protect and defend themselves and their homes, and they become dependent on others. Indeed, their souls become too indolent to (attempt to) acquire the virtues and good character qualities. Thus, they fall short of their potentialities and do not reach the limit of their humanity. As a result, they revert to the stage of “the lowest of the low”.“That is what happened to every nation that fell under the yoke of tyranny and learned through it the meaning of injustice. One may check this by (observing) any person who is not in control of his own affairs and has no authority on his side to guarantee his (safety). One will thus be able to infer (from the observable facts) that things are (as I have stated). One may look at the Jews and the bad character they have acquired, such that they are described in every region and period as having the quality of khurj, which, according to well-known technical terminology, means "insincerity and trickery." The reason is what we have (just) said.”
How can we create a nation of justice when the education system is creating people of “deceit and trickery”, no desire to defend themselves and their homes, who accept tyranny and to boot: vote for them! Ibn Khaldun’s words, written so many years ago, ring true as if written for Muslim society today.
“When laws are (enforced) by means of punishment, they completely destroy fortitude, because the use of punishment against someone who cannot defend himself generates in that person a feeling of humiliation that, no doubt, must break his fortitude.When laws are (intended to serve the purpose of) education and instruction and are applied from childhood on, they have to some degree the same effect, because people then grow up in fear and docility and consequently do not rely on their own fortitude...”
Losing this fortitude is where bending over to the US, allowing drone strikes and accepting the murder of Muslim citizens and soldiery is so critically damaging to the Muslim psyche. But the education system is also perpetrating this – students at madrassas or secular schools are punished severely by people who have no right to do so, nor are the students treated fairly during such punishments. This injustice or zulm is exactly against the principle of justice that we stand for. It is creating the greatest damage to our children. Furthermore, Islamic religious education originally did not have this impact. In this regard, Ibn Khaldun notes that:
“It is no argument that the men around Muhammad observed the religious laws, and yet did not experience any diminution of their fortitude, but possessed the greatest possible fortitude. When the Muslims got their religion from Muhammad, the restraining influence came from themselves, as a result of the encouragement and discouragement he gave them in the Quran. It was not a result of technical instruction or scientific education. The laws were the laws and percepts of the religion that they received orally and which their firmly rooted belief in the truth of the articles of faith caused them to observe. Their fortitude remained unabated, and it was not corded by education or authority. Umar said, “Those who are not (disciplined) by the religious law are not educated by God.” Umar’s desire was that everyone should have his restraining influence in himself. His certainty was that Muhammad knew best what is good for mankind.”
Clearly, the pretended orthodoxy of the present religious institutions is in reality a monstrous deviation from Islam. We cannot bring our children into the world of ideas as long as these issues persist. As a basic premise, to think about ideas, one has not to be constantly afraid of whether the religious instructor with the stick will hit you if you break-off to think about what you’re reciting.
Open Source Learning
Now that we understand the problems in great detail and had a glimpse of some solutions, let us look at a new paradigm for the education of our children built on what Gatto calls Open Source Learning. Incidentally, this form of learning is very similar to how Muslims learned in the early Islamic period. Let us look at a brief comparison of Open Source Learning and Mass Schooling:
Let us briefly explain a few of these points as brevity does not allow us here to go into all of them. Making mistakes is a central part of learning as it allows an individual to get real feedback and then experiment with correcting his or her actions. Imran Khan for instance, found that his style of bowling was not going to help him be a fast bowler and through his personal feedback loop, he corrected this bowling action, something many experts thought was not possible for him to achieve. This is a perfect example of the open source learning that Imran Khan mastered, knowingly or unknowingly.
Children learn through interaction with others, if these others are predominantly children, they will continue to remain children perpetually. A hundred years ago a man was made at age 13-16, today you have an increasing number of 30 year olds who are still living in childhood. This is a deliberate attempt and Gatto writes:
Dr. Inglis knew that if children could be cloistered with other children, stripped of responsibility and independence, encouraged to develop only the trivializing emotions of greed, envy, jealousy, and fear, they would grow older but never truly grow up. In the 1934 edition of his once well-known book Public Education in the United States, Ellwood P. Cubberley detailed and praised the way the strategy of successive school enlargements had extended childhood by two to six years already, and forced schooling was at that point still quite new. This same Cubberley was an intimate colleague of Dr. Inglis: both were in charge of textbook publishing divisions at Houghton Mifflin - Cubberley as chief of elementary school texts; Inglis of secondary school texts. Cubberley was dean of Stanford's influential School of Education as well, a friendly correspondent of Conant at Harvard.
This serves to not only create a docile and child-like populace that perpetually looks up to authority with child-like reverence, but also a population that is easy to market meaningless consumer products to. Open source learning will seek to keep the environment mixed-age and heterogeneous to enhance children’s ability to learn and grow up, as is natural – a child always seeks to copy his or her elders, sons are frequently seen copying their fathers, this is natural and the way children learn to grow up and must not be artificially inhibited.
It is my belief that Pakistanis survived the full blast of the Mass Schooling system simply because of the dysfunctional nature of schooling in Pakistan and because of cricket. Cricket has taught Pakistanis what the Mass Schooling system has attempted to destroy. An interesting anecdote concerns Dr. Zafar Altaf, one of the key individuals behind Pakistan’s Silent Green Revolution of the 1990s in agriculture and a long-term manager of the Pakistan cricket team. Dr Altaf, under whom I have studied, related to me how he was able to finish his PhD from the London Business School in 18 months, without having any academic background for decades. He noted that his ability to concentrate on the pitch (Dr. Altaf is a former test cricketer) allowed him to focus for long stretches, sometimes 8-18 hours at a time, something his tutors at the London Business School found astonishing. No doubt, it also helped him accomplish his feats at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Let us judge the impact of cricket on Gatto’s Harvard, Cambridge campus brochure for nine qualities that students need to have to deal with the international economy of today:
1. The ability to ask hard questions of data, whether from textbooks, authorities, or other "expert" sources. In other words, do we teach dialectics?
2. The ability to define problems independently, to avoid slavish dependence on official definitions.
3. The ability to scan masses of irrelevant information and to quickly extract from the sludge whatever is useful.
4. The ability to conceptualize.
5. The ability to reorganize information into new patterns which enable a different perspective than the customary.
6. The possession of a mind fluent in moving among different modes of thought: deductive, inductive, heuristic, intuitive, et al.
7. Facility in collaboration with a partner, or in teams.
8. Skill in the discussion of issues, problems or techniques.
9. Skill in rhetoric. Convincing others your course is correct.
Points 7, 8 and 9 are self-evident and needs no further discussion. The Pakistani paradigm of cricket helps point 2, in that street cricket seeks to find innovative ways to look at specific issues. For instance the reverse swing or Saqlain Mustaq’s “dusra” both looked to define the problem of defeating the batsman in a very different way than was conventionally understood in cricket. Such innovations are to be found in a great variety and to diverse degrees in street cricket throughout Pakistan. Point number 1 is shown in the example earlier of Imran Khan’s bowling action, by which Khan, through a dialectic method evolved his action. Many similar processes are constantly taking place in the streets and gullees of Pakistan. If you want to know why Pakistan has nuclear weapons and other equipment that the rest of the Ummah, even those with far more resources do not, it is because of the Pakistani culture of cricket.
However, cricket is but an ad hoc manner in which Pakistanis are learning what schooling should have helped them learn. The question we come back to is how we can design a schooling system that can actually help rather than hinder our children.
Firstly, we must de-legitimize the system of credentials and certificates. Secondly, we must focus on activity-impact. Thirdly, we need to take the venom out of the poorly mimicked Mass Schooling system. By de-legitimizing the system of credentials and certificates, we mean to say that matriculation and FSC grades should not be the basis for college enrolment. Instead, colleges should have a basic test of mathematics, sciences and language that assess the minimum needed to cope with college-level education. The corridors of privilege and power that cause safarish can then be removed further by choosing randomly (via a computer) from those that pass such a qualification test. All such tests must ensure that they are not repeated with same or similar questions, a problem which perpetuates the route learning tragedy much of the Muslim Ummah so deeply suffers from. People will also not be rejected based on their age – whether it is a 9 year old or a 90 year old. We do not know where talent lies and when they bloom. Certificates and other paperwork need to be delegitimized at every level of the education system.
In focusing on activity-impact, I mean that the government must engage in what is of most importance to the country, with the highest impact. Norman Augustine, one of America’s most distinguished leader in industry, in government, engineer, academic and business leader, who holds 23 honorary degrees and was selected in who's who of American Library of Congress of 50 great Americans, has the following to sum up in a talk titled Re-engineering Engineering about what had the most impact for the United States:
In America it's basic research that creates the new knowledge, then it's engineering that takes that new knowledge and translates it into useful products and services. It's the working together of engineers and business people that takes those products and services then through entrepreneurship, introduces them into the market where they create jobs for other people, not engineers or scientists or business people.
Indeed the race for prosperity today is really a race for leadership in science and engineering. There have been eight different studies that I'm familiar with conducted in recent decades that have indicated that public investment in science and technology produces a societal rate of return of between 20 and 67 percent. There have been a number of other studies that have shown that somewhere between 50 and 85 percent of the growth in gross domestic product in this country in the last half century is attributable to advancements of science engineering. And the Federal Reserve Board concluded that about two thirds of the increase in productivity in this country in the last two decades is attributable to advancements in science and engineering.
This has also been emphasized by many prominent individuals and institutions; including Alan Greenspan and brevity causes me to move on and accept the point that science-engineering is the key sector of importance for a Muslim state to take up, and for government to be involved in. Augustine wants innovative, creative engineers, not the route-learned, zombified beings we are churning out. And he notes the dependence of the US in importing such engineers to remotely keep its edge over other nations. Both Augustine and Greenspan note the internal crisis the US is facing in creating a good supply of innovative and creative engineers. If you’ve read the above section on Mass Schooling that is compulsory (by force of the police) in the US, you may know why that may be.
To emphasize science-engineering and technical education, the Ummah needs to focus on creating polytechnics and engineering colleges and universities and then properly funding research and development institutions. We need such colleges to provide the best possible and cutting-edge education to create not line-men but the kind of innovative, creative engineers that Augustine wants. Space does not allow us to go into exactly what such a cutting-edge engineering and scientific education should be and on what lines to reform the present, I instead point the reader to a close scrutiny of Norman Augustine’s 16 Laws of Re-engineering Engineering.
Research and development is a critical element in then utilizing the graduates produced, unless our aim is to send them to the United States where they desperately need such men; it is vital to make sense of the entire Education-R&D-Development cycle. When a nation does not have money for engineers, it makes little sense to produce them in the first place. Managing an effective R&D effort is a very difficult program to master, however, and takes us beyond the scope of the subject matter at hand for this chapter. We shall rejoin that issue in the chapter on defense.
The reader will wonder why I am focusing on technical and scientific higher education. Another big portion of higher education is of course the human sciences and the managerial and actuarial sciences. I believe that the managerial and actuarial sciences are well established in the Muslim world. Managers are also not built in MBA factories but the best managers are made from practical experience. The problem of the Human sciences is one that the East has been unable to master effectively in contemporary history. Teaching and creating truly effective and competent Human Science graduates is a very complex affair and one well beyond the structural capabilities of public institutions, and requiring more than school taught learning, inexorably linked to the culture and upbringing of peoples. What ends up happening is creating graduates in the Human Sciences who have no real skills to speak of. We shall rejoin the human sciences issue in the chapter on social education.
Importance of K-12 Education
A vital and important part of any education to benefit national development is to focus on K-12 education, something spoken of by Ibn Khaldun, who in particular talked about early educational instruction. It is also emphasized by men such as Alan Greenspan who has focused a major portion of his effort in trying to make K-12 education more effective, particularly the kind of education that can produce good scientists and engineers. Gatto notes some important aspects that an education should be able to accomplish. He calls it the Real Learning Index. These include:
8. Adding value
To this we add:
9. Excellence over mediocrity
10. Ethical and religious values
11. Synthesis, particularly synthesis of Islam and the contemporary world.
These eleven points should form the basis of any real education system. It is with great surprise that we sometimes find individuals supposedly religious but have very poor ethical and moral applied practice. This theme is endemic and a systematic problem, the evidence of the latter being that it is present across the Islamic Ummah. Perhaps the main problem lies in a distortion of the original practice of how Islam was taught; during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the sahaba, students would read a portion of a surah, reflect upon it, apply it, and lastly memorize it. Today, we have skipped all the steps except the last, destroying the value of our faith and turning it into a meaningless prattle. This has to be corrected both at the schools and at the madrassas. And in one stroke we can create an Islamic renaissance, insh’Allah.
Bringing proper Islam and replacing the mullahs at the local madrassas will take a lot of grit and determination to achieve, with “liberal” and US-backed groups trying to manipulate such reform to further their purposes, and at the same time ultra-backward groups trying to hold on to what they have. The best way to deal with this, in the event our Islamic state becomes a reality is to create a genuine committee of world-renowned scholars and Muslims. Men like Nouman Ali Khan, respected by all groups and sects (at least the major ones). Men like Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) who single-handedly built the best Muslim educational school-chain in the UK, so much so that the demand for a place in his schools outstrips the supply. Men like Zakir Naik, who has done similar education projects in India and whose stature and argumentation can shut any dissenting voices. Some other names include Dr. Totonji (a founder of the MSA), Hamza Yusuf, Yusuf Estes, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Hakim Murad, Abdur Raheem Green. Yes, they are from diverse backgrounds and this will make them possibly fight with each other, but as long as the platform is given, they should be fully capable of (insh’Allah) hashing out a compromise, which in theory should create the best, most balanced plan. Real consensus is always hard to build, but the payoffs are equally potent.
The big secret about education is that it is not trying to achieve some immense greatness; it is really about stopping damage and damage control. We need to ensure that the Chinese foot binding equivalent of brain damage on our children does not continue. We need to ensure that children are given proper schooling where they are encouraged to think, reason, understand, discuss and apply effectively and practically, whether it is the Quran or the sciences.
The earlier the age, the more critical the damage done and conversely, the more powerful and effective the impact of the education can be. The first aspect to learn for a child is language, whether PTI decides that include Urdu, English, Arabic or even C++. Mathematics is the language of engineering and also must be taught, perhaps immediately after conventional language(s). The important aspect here is not to make children hate school and be taught language through painful classroom lessons in grammar and syntax. The progression and manner of early education is captured by Ibn Khaldun in the following words:
“In his Rihlah, Judge Abu Bakr b. al-'Arabi made a remarkable statement about instruction, which retains (the best of) the old, and presents (some good) new features. He placed instruction in Arabic and poetry ahead of all the other sciences, as in the Spanish method, since, he said, "poetry is the archive of the Arabs. Poetry and Arabic philology should be taught first because of the (existing) corruption of the language. From there, the (student) should go on to arithmetic and study it assiduously, until he knows its basic norms. He should then go on to the study of the Qur'an, because with his (previous) preparation, it will be easy for him." (Ibn al-'Arabi) continued: "How thoughtless are our compatriots in that they teach children the Qur'an when they are first starting out. They read things they do not understand and work hard at something that is not as important for them as other matters." He concluded: "The student should study successively the principles of Islam, the principles of jurisprudence, disputation, and then the Prophetic traditions and the sciences connected with them." He also forbade teaching two disciplines at the same time, save to the student with a good mind and sufficient energy.”
Now, I am not certain if I want my children to study principles of jurisprudence, but the general lay-of-the-land that Judge Al-Arabi sketches seems astute and an effective early education. Certainly, poetry, rhymes and songs can work to make language so much more meaningful and fun for children, and mathematics is critical to develop a logical and analytical mind, not to mention its critical importance to the sciences and engineering.
Poetry, rhymes and classic literature would be far better than syntax for the early education of a child, as Judge Al-Arabi has noted. Here the great enemies are “children’s editions” of books – books that are abridged mockeries of their originals. They are the bane of learning, uninteresting to read as the literature doesn’t flow, and teach mediocrity, not excellence.
The last point to be raised is that the children’s development should be seen more holistically, and focuses on Mind, Body and Spirit. Education should not merely be about the first, but be about each of them in balance. We have focused on the mind, more needs to be said about the body and spirit.
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