‘Education for Change’ - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Jumada' al-Ula' 20, 1426 2005-06-27

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Professor Yusuf Progler, educator , writer, cultural historian and political ecologist

Subject

‘Education for Change’

Date

Monday,Jun 27 ,2005

Time

Makkah
From... 09:00...To... 11:00
GMT
From... 06:00...To...08:00

Name

Editor -

Profession

Question

-

Answer

For those who are unfamiliar with these sessions, they are linked with the following articles:
Read also:
Preparing Parents as Educators
Decolonizing Contemporary Education
The Westernization of Islamic Education
Challenges Facing Islamic Education
The Failures and Limitations of Modern Schooling

The session is open and we are ready to receive questions:

Name

Hala -

Profession

Teacher

Question

What do you mean by 'Education for Change'?

Answer

As-salamu `alaykum, Hala.

Thanks for the question. Actually, I was going to ask the same question of today`s participants. I have been wondering, if we are going to speak of `education for change` then what is it that we want to change? Otherwise, we may end up valorizing change for the sake of change, which carries with it the implicit modernist assumption that any and all change is good. To me, there are two ways we can approach this question. We can discuss what it is about schooling and/or education that we wish to change, or we can discuss how schooling and/or education can change something else. I am curious to hear what participants have to say about this, and am open to suggestions.

Name

Somaya - United Kingdom

Profession

Question

Which system of education is suitable for the Muslims in a non-Muslim environment?

Answer

As - salam Somaya, thanks for the question.

This depends on what you want to get out of an educational system. I think the educational system that some one chooses should reflect what it is they hope to get out of it. While this seems like a simple question, I think most people never ask it. We focus on building, evaluating and reforming various systems, but without really asking what it is we hope they can do.

Perhaps the problem lies in expecting a `system` to do the work of people. I think if people had prolonged, honest and searching conversations about what they hope schooling can do for them, some may decide that it can do little or nothing, and they may then decide to walk out and find another way to educate themselves and their children that is more in tune with their goals. Others may feel they can get what they want from the existing systems, and then act accordingly. So, to me, there are many answers to this question.

Name

zaki - Malaysia

Profession

biochemical engineering graduate

Question

As-salamu `alaykum Prof.,

'Education for Change'? is it we educate students to change or change the education system?

Answer

Exactly, Zaki. That is what I asked earlier. Instead of focusing on change for the sake of change, we need to ask, as you are here, what it is that we want to change.

I can offer my opinion on things I would like to see changed, but in the end we should all reflect on this question and then act accordingly. As I noted above, we can focus on changing the educational system, which assumes we are not happy with what we now have. Or, we can ask how education can change something else, in which case we need to consider whether or not education is the best way to make that change.

I think people lay too much blame, and place too much hope, on education and/or schooling without having had the necessary discussions about what they are happy with, what they are unhappy with, and what schooling and/or education can do and what they cannot do. And what do you think?

Name

Selim -

Profession

Question

This kind of change education will be according to ethnicity or religiosity?

Answer

I don`t know, Selim, but thanks for the question.

As I said, discussing change depends on what you want to change.

  • Is there something about the way people understanding ethnicity or religion that you think needs some changing?
  • Or are you suggestion that schools need to be more responsive to the needs of ethnic and/or religious communities?

I would imagine that the answer to these questions will depend on where we are.

So, how are things in Bangladesh? Are you happy with the schools you have? Or do you want to change them? Are schools where you live involved in any programs for social change? I`d like to hear about it. I think we also need to make a distinction, as I did in my most recent IOL article Preparing Parents as Educators between schooling and education. They are not the same.

Name

John - United Kingdom

Profession

Educationalist

Question

Good morning to you Sir.

We have had a difficult year educationally speaking. In fact we have been going through changes to the exmaination and teaching process for the past 10 years here in Britain, that never seem to lead to a solution. Many good teachers have left the profession for this reason. Unfortunately, it has left the agteway open for what we call here 'Career teachers', who have no interest in the subject that they are teaching, teaching itself and those whom we are supposed to teach.

I think we have gone too far down the road to change or even to know what to change. I would like your comment Sir.

Answer

Thanks John, and welcome to the dialog. You have made what I think is a crucial point, to which I have been alluding in my previous responses.

The only thing I would clarify is that there is a difference, in my mind, between schooling and education. I have worked in schooling for many years, as a teacher, administrator, teacher educator and researcher, and have found the pathology you describe to be rampant. Everyone speaks of changing this and that, but no one really has a clue why they are making these changes, and what they hope to achieve.

Many times, changes are part of some vague notion that schooling is not preparing workers for the future, or that it is not contributing to the national economy. Other times, it is about community relations, where education is a batteground for representation. In some cases, it is about politics and business, and the whole privatization movement, where business leaders and their political cronies constantly decry the `failures of education` so they can get their claws on the public coffers.

So, having spent the better part of 20 years in these kinds of whirlpools, I agree with you that they rarely get anywhere. What they do often achieve, however, is to make politicians and bureaucrats happy with themselves, since in their institutionalized minds change - any change at all - is equal to having gotten something done, and having `made their mark` on the system before leaving it or looting it. I am curious, in your case, what is it that has been under revision in the teaching and examination system in the UK educational system for 10 years?

Is any one questioning schooling, and reflecting on how we might have an education without schooling? Or are the discussions less philosophical, and more about adjusting the various techniques and standarized methods?

Name

Atiq -

Profession

Question

What system of education is best for the kids today and how should one go about enforcing that education. Everyone always needs the basic Math, History, Science, English, and physical education. The public schools provide that and what better solution do you have for schools?

Answer

  • Does everyone really need those things you listed?
  • How did that come about?
  • Was there a time when those subjects were unimportant?
  • Why are they important today?

I agree, that if you want:

  • a standardized experience,
  • with standardized books,
  • standardized exams,
  • standardized teaching methods, and
  • standardized answers to your questions,

then schooling is probably the best place to get that. But what about other ways of being and living? Do schools really provide an education, in the broad sense of the word, or do they simply provide a standardized, instutitionalized experience for us because we cannot conceive of anything else?

I am probably not alone in having noticed that many parents send their kids to school without thinking much about what they are getting out of it, except some vague notion that they want good grades, to get into a good college, to get a good job. But is that life?

Considering the countless hours we spend in school, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 10 months a year, for at least 12 years, I am wondering, is it worth it? Or are we just doing it because we can`t think of anything else?

I can`t tell you how to live your live, but I can suggest that, from my experience, we are not really reflecting enough on the basic question of what schools should do, and that question needs to be asked and answered on a community by community basis. But even taking your list of subjects for now, can`t one get physical education from playing sports and games outside school? How long does it real take to learn basic math? Certainly not 12 years. History? That is often tied up, in schools, with nationalism and social control, so I would say get your history lessons some where else. English? Why not Arabic or Chinese? And is the classroom the best place to learn language? Science? What kind of science? The mechanistic form of modern science is only one kind of science, though that is all schools teach. So, given this way of looking at things, what is it that the public schools are really providing for us?

Name

yasir - India

Profession

MBA stusent

Question

I have an opportunity to work as a marketing professional in securities. Can a Muslim go for a job in the jahiliya stock marketing and securities service.

Answer

Salam Yasir, I think you have the wrong forum.

This is a dialog about `education for exchange.` But I guess it can be related.

If you were trained as a marketing professional, then it seems you had at least some notion that you might end up working in the world of high finance, so did you not reflect on your own question at the beginning? And by the way, what do you mean by jahiliya stock market? As far as I know, there were no stock markets in the days of jahiliya, although some Muslims activists like Sayyid Qutb tried to extrapolate a general notion of a jahily society to the present. But I am not sure what you mean by that?

Perhaps it would be better if you provided more information about the stock and securities service within which you have are considering working. Where is it and how does it run? What makes it jahili? And do you think all stock systems are jahili by their very nature?

I think if you reflect on these questions, you may find a way out of your own dilemma. As for relating this to education and/or schooling, I would add that as long as the goal of schooling is to get a job, then people ought to think carefully about what type of job they want before getting schooled for it. On the other hand, what possibilities are there for schooling and education if we think of them in another framework instead of getting good grades to get into a good college to get a good job?

Name

Nargis -

Profession

Mother

Question

Salam to you Professor Progler.

You know, these sessions have me stumped... I know what you are getting at is true, becuase I have spent all my years as a mother re-educating my children after school. That is, I spend time with them and their homework and get them to question what they are learning, becuase it seems to me that we know less today about ourselves and the world around us, than we did say, 20 years ago. BUT These session have basically turned my whole world upside down.

How can I as a parent, be a parent, watch over my children's understanding of themselves and what they learn and at the same time lead a productive life? I have come to the realization that the only way to do this is to be at home all the time, but being at home means changing the whole way I see my role in society.

Answer

Thanks for the question, Nargis, and I appreciate your concerns.

In my last article for IOL, Preparing Parents as Educators I suggested we explore the possibility of `learning gatherings` as a way for parents, families and communities to get together and share the same kinds of questions and experiences you are sharing here.

While online dialogs are useful and stimulating, they can also be alienating, since after the PC is shut down, we are left sitting where we began. There are learning gatherings happening that I know of in India, and I would imagine elsewhere. If there are none in your area, then start one. The paradox you raise is crucial to understanding the role of an individual in modern society. To avoid alienation and isolation, I think one option is to form new collectivities. They can use the internet for discussions and organizing, but in the end there will need to be some face to face meetings. So, why not organize some meetings where you live, of parents, students, any one who is interested, to share what you know and would like to know, your questions and concerns, those things that have impacted your life the most, to share stories, foods, companionship, fun, poetry, discussions, books or whatever it is that your community has to offer. And to continue the kinds of discussions we have begun online, about what schools are for, what they can and cannot do, and how life might look without schools. It seems to me we are limiting ourselves in terms of possibilities for learning, and I think learning gatherings are a way to interject meaning and variety into learning, and they can be places to form support groups for our learning endeavors, whatever they may be.

Name

Ghada - Egypt

Profession

Question

As salamu `alaykum to you Professor Progler.

Could you give examples of any alternative schools and in which they are better?

Answer

Salam Ghada, and thanks for the question.

When we speak of an `alternative` anything, it is generally understood in relation to something that is already there, and which has become dominant. So, we hear discussions of alternative medicine, which is always seen in relation to the dominant institutionalized bio-medical model, or alternative education, which is seen in relation to the dominant instutionalized system of schooling. But what are today`s dominant systems were at one time more like `alternatives` to what ever was dominant at the time. In other words, alternative is a relative term, and in my mind not very useful for meaningful discussions, although we use it a lot.

In thinking about this, I realized such discussions still put at the center that which we seek to escape. So, I think it would be interesting to conceive of learning in the absence of schooling, not in terms of alternative schools. That is, of course, a philosophical position, and comes back to what I have been stressing here, that we need to have community based prolonged discussions on what we think is important to learn and what is an education.

But beyond that, and to offer at least one example of a type of alternative school that I have worked in, I would recommend exploring the work being done around turning schools into something more like community centers, that would be open all year round, and in the evening and on weekends, providing a range of services not just for children but with community needs in mind. This is a way of keeping the system intact but redistributing the money and power among those who the system is supposed to serve, not just distant and detached bureaucrats, politicians and business men. Seeing a school as a community center opens up new possibilities for learning, can bridge the rigid gap between schools and communities, can foster a better sense of intergenerational communication, which is often destroyed by schooling and consumer society, and can put questions of learning and education in the hands of those who ostensibly should benefit from schooling, while not completely tearing down the system, which I realize most people are not ready to do.

Look into the work of Shikshantar in India, for example, or the `City As School` movement in parts of the U.S. and Europe, as just two of many examples.

Name

Zahra -

Profession

Question

I think that the question "what to change" is very important. And in my opinion to clarify this question we need to have a better understanding of what is education to us and what we expect from that. Do you agree?

Answer

Sure Zahra, I agree fully. To seek change for the sake of change is a never ending cycle that creates an illusion of going some where, but in the end is more like spinning one`s wheels in the mud.

I think you should consider having a learning gathering in your community, to discuss this issue, informally. And please don`t invite any experts, technocrats or politicians, since they will always formalize things and come with ready made solutions. Think of it more as an informal gathering of local families, parents, children, craftspeople and others in the community to discuss the basic question at which you have now arrived: what is education? Because to understand `what is education to us` we have to have a better sense of who we are and what is important in life, and this can best be illustrated through informal gatherings that invite a variety of people with many skills and talents and who have gotten those skills and talents in various ways, to discuss the varieties of learning experiences, institutional or otherwise, and to support - not chastise - those who may have choosen to exit the dominant system and seek some other ways of learning.

No Powerpoint presentations, no formal speeches, no hierarchical posturing, just good people getting together to discuss their learning and share their experiences, as well as some good food! If you can pull that together, write back to IOL and let us know...

Name

Jamila - Jamaica

Profession

Question

As salamu `alaykum.

If one is a working parent sir, after one returns home tired to provide for a demanding husband and children only the late hours are left to hold these 'learning gatherer' groups.

Answer

Sad but true, Jamila. So what do you want me to say, forget about the whole thing? Forget your dreams, and hopes, don`t ask questions, don`t learn any more, don`t do anything at all? I don`t think anyone will say that. So, are you asking this to `say no` to what I am suggesting, or are you asking this in frustration because you really want to do something but can`t?

You can certainly say no, and there are more direct ways, but if you are frustrated then it seems to me that you can benefit the most from sharing your frustrations with other people, especially in face to face situations, and you can bring the kids and the husband along and see what happens.

It is not my place to tell people how to organize their lives, but it seems that if something is important enough, time can be made for it. You had time to share this question with us, and presumably will have some time to read my answers. Can you squeeze other such moments into your life in other ways? Or are you disinterested in what I have to say? If you are disinterested, then you probably wouldn`t write, so I am assuming that you are interested. Then, can you locate another mother in the same situation, and make some time together with her, perhaps combining discussions and other activities with daily chores that we all have to do? Or how about cooking for eachother and having some common meals? You don`t need a formal event with advertising and facilities. You can meet at home, informally, for an hour or two. Can those two people for two hours one day become three? And then four, and then convince the husbands that this is important and needs to be done? I don`t know, this has to be navigated in the course of one`s life, a journey we`re all on, where time is the tyrant.

Name

Moderator -

Profession

Question

From the Moderator:

I would like to thank the visitors, readers, participants, and most of all the guest, professor Yusuf Progler, for this insightful session. We would like to invite you to continue with us in the discussion forum Education for What? as we seek to reevaluate a very fundamental question in our lives and the lives and futures of our children and respective communities.

As for organizing your own learner-gatherer groups, do not forget the invitation with “no”—no presentations, no formal speeches, no hierarchical posturing, just good people getting together to discuss their learning and share their experiences, as well as some good food! If you can pull that together, write back to IOL and let us know.." mailto:%20society@iolteam.com

Jazak Allahu khayran.

Answer

Thanks very much, to the moderator and the participants today, and I hope the dialog was somehow useful to you all.

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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