'Education for Decolonization and Rejuvenation' - Live Dialogue

Developing Just Leadership

Yusuf Progler

Rabi' al-Awwal 09, 1423 2002-05-22

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Dr. Yusuf Progler

Profession

Professor

Subject

Education for Decolonization and Rejuvenation

Date

Wednesday,May 22 ,2002

Time

Makkah
From... 18:30...To... 20:00
GMT
From... 15:30...To...17:00

Name

host. -

Profession

Question

Submit your questions.

Answer

.

Name

Zulkarnain - Pakistan

Profession

Question

Is the current attempt to reform islamic education in muslim world and especially pakistan by western powers an attempt at recolonization?if so, what immediate benifits will they derive from this reform.

Answer

Good question. You are correct, there is an effort afoot all over the world to "reform" education. The overall message is "west knows best, we lead and you follow." More specifically, practically everyone in the West has realized that the old factory schooling system they have been using for a hundred years is obsolete intellectually. Socially, the move away from government to corporate control calls for privatization. So, what you have in the West is this uncertainty about education, whether it should serve the old industrial order, or the new information order, and whether it should continue to be a public trust or business venture. This means there is a window of opportunity to escape the factory system, which came to the Third World via colonization, and put something else in its place that speaks more to the interests and needs of local cultures and societies. The question is not how will the West benefit from the new system they are trying to impose, again. The question should be, "why follow them at all, again."

Name

Mira Al-Hussein - United Arab Emirates

Profession

Student

Question

Salaam Professor Progler. Since Modern Education means essentially "Western", is there a chance to develop a curriculum that is Modern in a way, but not necessarily Western? Also, how do you see Islamic Education? Does it exist anymore? And could we improve, and better it to shape the definition of Modern Schooling?

Answer

BIG question. Where to begin? It is important to make distinctions between "education" and "schooling," first of all. Schooling is that institutionalized form of education developed in Europe and America in the 19th century and spread around the globe with British and American colonialism. It is largely about social control, enumeration of people and their supposed contributions to society, serving business interests (in this case the factory system), and inculcating the values of Western modernity (things like competition, individualism, anthropocentrism). Education, on the other hand, is more open and I think has a more flexible meaning that can be culturally defined, and it does not necessarily have to be institutionalized. Half the curriculum of modern schooling, after all, is in the structure of the school system, bells and whistle, drilling, desks in rows, six hours a day, five days a week, 10 months out of the year for at least 12 years. Kind of like a long jail sentence or a career stint in the military, except for children. That structure does half the teaching, and the subjects are in many cases second importance. So the colonized societies need to ask, what kind of education do they need and why? Islamic education is hard to pin down nowadays. It means lots of different things. Sometimes, it is simply modern schooling with separate cells for boys and girls. Other times, it grafts a simplistic set of Islamic heritage units onto a basically modern schooling system. To be truly Islamic, we would need to rethink the whole enterprise in light of the Islamic tradition, in terms of cosmology, epistemology, and methodology.

Name

Saad - United States

Profession

Question

How do we educate to decolonize? Isn't the colonial process done with? What goal should we have in mind when trying to rejuvenate our formerly colonized societies(muslim)?

Answer

The old style colonialism ended with the dismantling of the British empire in mid 20th century, and it was a messy affair. No one wants to have to do that again. The new style colonialism, led by America, tries to be more benign and uses things like education and ecomony before guns and cannons. But it is colonization all the same, and involves imposing or intruding upon different cultures and societies with a particulary worldview and methodology, in this case liberal modernity. To the contrary of your question, the colonial process has begun anew. Why? The old style colonial order is collapsing, and that involves the old style schools imposed by the British, often termed factory schooling but which I prefer to call modern schooling. The West is unsure of itself at this point in time, more so than any time in recent history. They don't want you to know that, of course, they want you to think two things: they are not the West, but just represent the sum total of human 'civilization,' as one Muslim speaker put it recently, the West leads the 'caravan of civilization.' The second thing they want is for you to follow them, at all costs and not matter what hair brained scheme they think up. And they have got some pretty awful ones right now (neo-liberal economic policy leaps to mind). Now, 'rejuvenation' is tricky, since it implies a return to some misty past, which of course is always an illusions and usually leads to fascism or some other imposed system. What I mean by rejuvenation is, in the case of the Islamic world and the Third World, is regain a sense of purpose on our own terms, to rediscover the wisdom in our traditions and see how they help us respond to today's challenges and prospects. It's less about reconstructing some elusive empire or golden age, and more about being honest with our current situation and seeing what our tradition has to say, where it may point us. The alternative is follow the West's next hair brained scheme, and I think the proof of their failure the first time around is evident;' why follow them again?

Name

Nora - United Arab Emirates

Profession

Question

Islamic traditions has shown a lot of interest in Education, and how a person should seek knowledge; however, are there any specific sayings about things like cosmology, methodology and epistomology? Many thanks!

Answer

Yes, your are correct, Muslims have always paid a lot of attention to what can be loosely defined as 'education,' though not in the Western sense. In other words, part of the problem of colonization is that the west has defined the parameters of what we consider to be education and what is not education. You are asking the right question, what do the Islamic sources say about fundamental questions related to education. Cosmology, or how do human beings fit into the universe, Epistemology, or what is that nature of knowledge, and Methodology, or how do we teach and learn, all of these have multiple definitions depending on which cultures you look at and when. The west answers them with modern schooling by saying that humans are autonomous individuals living as economic beings in a materialistic world (cosmology), that knowledge is whatever can be proven by the Cartesian and Newtonian methods of Western science (epistemology), and human beings are essential wild animals in need of control through reward and punishment, which is what behaviorism says, or that they are free floating beings whose inner creativity needs to be released, which is what constructivism says (methodology). Now, you can run these same three areas across cultures and come up with very different answers. Muslims should look to the hadith for answers, to Islam in practice by our beloved prophet, upon whom be peace. Most Muslims will cite the same hadith over and over, "seek knowledge even in China, " or "seeking knowledge is incumbent upon all Muslims, male or female," or others that extol the virtues of seeking knowledge. First of all, this tells us something about methodology, that Muslims should "seek after" knowledge, not to wait for it to come to them. That is useful, but these hadith leave open the question, "what is knowledge." Under colonization, the Arabic word for knowledge, which is 'ilm, became equated with science, and that turned us in a westward way, toward Cartesian and Newtonian worldviews. But 'ilm is much more than what is implied by science in the Western sense. For instance, there is an important hadith that Muslims scholars used to cite all the time, great masters like Ghazali, for example, but which in modern times seems to have been forgotten or at least put aside. It goes something like this: "The Prophet, upon whom be peace, entered a mosque and saw a group of people sitting around a man." "What is this," he asked. His companions, said, "a very great scholar," to which the prophet replied, "What is a great scholar?" They told him, "he is the most learned of people in Arab genealogies and their exploits, the days of Jahiliyyah, and Arabic poetry.' The prophet said, "That is knowledge the knowing of which is no benefit and the ignorance of which is no harm." Then the prophet, may Allah's benediction be upon him, declared: "Knowledge ('ilm) is of three kinds: the firm sign, the just duty and the established practice. All else is superfluous." I think deep reflection on this hadith in light of our present condition in the information age is a good place to begin discussions of education, decolonization and rejuvenation.

Name

Ibrahim Batchelder - Turkey

Profession

Question

Assalamu Alaikum Professor,

John Taylor Gatto has delivered a severe and condemning critique of western education, do you agree with this, and does the same critique apply the Western influenced educational system in the Muslim world?

Answer

Gatto demolishes what he calls compulsory schooling, and his critique is trenchant because he worked in the system for 25 years, and knows it well. His essay on the "seven lesson schoolteacher" is very important for understanding they systemic way in which modern schooling dumbs people down. To the extent that Muslims and other Third World peoples are following the same system that Gatto worked in for a while as a teacher in New York from 1965-1990. His critique applies. I have met teachers and activists in India, for example, who are convinced that Gatto's description applies to colonial education in India. But it is important to remember who is Gatto's audience: Americans and Christians. Instead of following Gatto to the letter, what we need is our own "Gattos" people who will form similar critiques for an audience that is, let us say, Turkish and Muslim. If you read Gatto closely, he is doing two things: first, he is dismantling modern schooling but, second, he is also suggesting alternatives. I find some of his alternatives to be too culture specific for any one but Americans. This is not to say that his work is not useful, I find it very useful, but that in the end we have to find our own way and Gatto can be seen as s fellow traveler, a colleague, or whatever, on the path toward decolonization and rejuvenation of education. He is decolonizing American education from the modernist factory system, and he is rejuvenating the Christian and populist tradition for answers to fill the void. People like this should be studied and read carefully, but the studies should not end with such works. If we must take from the West, then people like Gatto are important to know about, but again the solutions are culture bound.

Name

BROTHER MUSTAFA - United States

Profession

TEACHER IN BUFFALO

Question

SALAM BROTHER YUSUF
IN LIGHT OF THE QUESTIONS THAT YOUVE ANSWERED, IS THERE ANY GOOD AT ALL TO BE FOUND IN THE WESTERN EDUCATION SYSTEM? ALSO IT APPEARS THAT MANY OF YOUR ANSWERS ARE GEARED TO MUSLIMS IN MUSLIM LANDS. WOULD YOUR ANSWERS CHANGE IF THEY WERE PRESENTED BY MUSLIMS IN THE WEST?

Answer

Good point, we do need to pay a lot of attention to where we are and who we are talking to. I favor locally derived and context specific forms of education. One of the problems we face, which might also be an ironic benefit, is that the system which I call "modern schooling" is virtually indistinguishable on a planetary scale. For example, I was in Turkey a couple of years ago, and, if you replace the pictures of Attaturk with George Washington, they schools are amazingly similar to those I worked at in Brooklyn! Same in most other Muslim countries. It is a global struggle, what to do with this imposed system called modern schooling. Muslims in America have both a challenge and a prospect. The challenge is living as a minority in a sometimes hostile environment, but the prospect is that one finds a fairly vibrant alternative schooling movement. So if you can survive the hostility, you can at least feel comfortable that there are millions of people trying in the US to escape the same system you are. They may head in different directions, which I alluded to in the answer about Gatto, but you are fellow travelers at least in the escape. Some of my answers would stay the same. If we look at global problems and local solutions, then I think we are onto something. Another global problem, found in America and elsewhere, is the relationship between education and the environmental crisis we now face. Some American scholars have done great work on making those links, you should read the work of C. A. Bowers in Oregon. He is describing how modern schooling as a global phenomenon is creating a cultural attitude wherever it goes that encourages people to tread heavily on the earth, to live an anthropocentric lifestyle, to see consumerism as the epitome of individualism. He has nailed them down and see these in the US, where I lived and taught for many years, and I see them in my travels in the Muslim world, Africa and Asia. The problems are largely the same, but the solutions differ. Gatto has some ideas, though oriented toward Congregationalist Christians, Bowers has some, though oriented toward native Americans and other indigenous peoples. Muslim have a rich tradition that can be mined for answers to these same kinds of questions, and also to find new questions once we can reorient our worldview more toward Islam.

Name

TAREK -

Profession

Question

THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD HAS BEEN A LEGACY OF THE COLONIAL PERIOD. DO YOU THINK THAT THE EDUCATION SYSTEM NEEDS TO BE CHANGED TO MEET THE CHANGING REALITIES IN THE ISLAMIC WORLD .

Answer

Changes? Perhaps. But maybe we need to abandon the whole system, and build a new one. Making changes in the existing colonial derived system is not likely to help much. I have spoken to Muslims who are trying to do this, change the system, and they realize, it is still the system, and the changes are not really going anywhere. At the same time, it will be hard to convince parents to send their kids to new schools that may or may not work; that's one thing about the colonial system, it "works" (works at what is another question!). So maybe we need some adult education, too, and redefine education so it can de-institutionalized, since the institution of modern schooling is half the problem. This will take some adventurous and bold people at first, who are willing to move out of the system and build something else. So, I think we should leave the existing system, as it is, let it rot and fall apart, so people really see it for what it is, and in the mean time, start small and build viable alternatives on the ground. I have seen this happening in pockets all over the world, out of sight of CNN, the internet, or whatever, but it is out there and happening, people all over taking control over their lives again, exiting the system of modern schooling and doing something else. This varies from place to place, but it usually involves children spending less time in the artificial cells we call "classrooms" and more time in the real world, with parents, adults, farmers, businessmen, artists, imams, or whatever, to learn what it means to be human, to be Muslim, to work, to create, to have fun, to learn in ways that are not even possible in the modernist system. But start small, locally and quietly, don' t worry about another system, try to rescue some people from it if you can, you may even want to send your kids to it if you have no choice, but know it for it is, and constantly strive for something better, something culturally relevant, ecologically sustainable, spiritually fulfilling. This looks like it might be the last question, so let me say thanks to everyone and invite you all to continue your quest via email (yusefustad@hotmail.com) or by joining the online community I moderate known as Multiversity (communities.msn.com/multiversity). Thanks again, and peace be with you.

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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