‘What Are Schools For?’ - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Safar 11, 1426 2005-03-21

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

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

Subject

‘What Are Schools For?’

Date

Monday,Mar 21 ,2005

Time

Makkah
From... 10:00...To... 12:12
GMT
From... 07:00...To...09:12

Name

Host -

Profession

Question

Is the live dialogue started?

Answer

Salam, I'm here but no questions so far. Actually, it would be great if people could not just ask questions but also share their own answers on the question, "What Are Schools For?"

Name

Adnan - United States

Profession

Question

I'm a male teacher of a class which is mostly females, not all. How acceptable is this? What should I keep in mind?

Answer

Hmm, not sure if that question is on topic. But I would ask, "acceptable to who?" And what is the purpose of the school in which you are teaching?

Name

Jada -

Profession

Question

I would like to suggest to all the parents of young children out there, that they not expose their children to the unhealthy and unwholesome influences which are rife in the public school system, if they can possibly avoid it. The damage to your child’s life may be irreversible.

It’s been proven that children schooled at home are not only smarter, they are also more mature and of better character, generally. If you cant home school your children, at least try to get them into a good private school, where standards of conduct, morality, and discipline are a bit higher.

Answer

Thanks for your suggestion, Jada. But I wonder if "home schooling" is still retaining the original intentions of "schooling," aside from taking place in a different environment. I'd like to hear from you, and others, on the question "What are Schools For?"

Name

Ali Hassan & Nur Ali - Pakistan

Profession

Education

Question

As-salamu `alaykum. We are `Ali Hassan and Nurali From Pakistan AKES,P.

Is schooling only for nurturing child skills? Is is true?

Answer

As-salamu `alaykum `Ali and Nurali. Nurturing child skills? I'm not sure if I know what are child skills. Do you mean social skills, or language skills, or some other kind of skills? And is that the purpose of school, to nurture skills?

Name

Sahla - Canada

Profession

muslim mother

Question

The quality of the school will depend on the quality of the community it serves. But the majority of them are just cesspools. There’s no way your children can go to these, without getting ‘soiled’, not to mention that it could even be very dangerous for them.

The level of violence is growing in all of these institutions, you could send your child to school in the morning, and never see them again, because some other student decided to walk in with a gun and shoot everyone, there are drugs in the schools, there are gangs in the schools, there are pedophiles in the schools, they are more for the purpose ‘socializing’ than for education, they are also an ‘incubator’ for disease, as children come to school with every illness imaginable, and spread these illnesses around.

Answer

Sounds like a pretty rough place you live in! But I think schools, and home schooling, have a purpose. What is it?

Name

Rahim Khan Rajput - Pakistan

Profession

A Learner

Question

As salamu `alaykum! How are you, Rahim here from AKESP- Karachi.

So, I think that schools are for helping students to exhibit their innate capabilities with the facilitation of a teacher (facilitator)....

Answer

As-salamu `alaykum Rahim, interesting point.

There are several ways that people talk about what you refer to as exhibiting innate capabilities. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean by that. In any case, if I can try to anticipate one meaning of this, what the idea of innate capabilities suggests is that we are somehow born with what we need in life, or at least with the capabilities we need, and that these capabilities simply need the right environment in which to be nurtured (or exhibited, as you put it).

But I wonder if this can hold up to scrutiny. For example, this idea of the "inner child" neglects the role of cultural reproduction. In other words, a great deal of what we learn about our culture takes place in the first seven years of life, in which it used to be presumed that cultural values (including religion) would be taught from outside during that time, not nurtured from inside. So, if there is anything a community wants to reproduce about itself, then the early years are the place to begin teaching it. Of course, if there is nothing of value in a particular culture, including its religion, then there is no need to teach any of that, and we can just "see what happens" by letting the "inner child" express itself. You see what I am getting at here? It comes down to the question of a relationship between innate capabilities (whatever we think they may be) and learning one's culture (whatever we think is worth learning). I am curious to see what you, and others, think about this relationship.

Name

Rehana - Pakistan

Profession

Teacher Educator

Question

I think high school education must be mandatory for every child as they help them to understand the world and groom ones personality. Beside this schooling may as well help the individual to select their furture targets.

However, acoording to your opinion (as i heard you in pre conference of diversifying learning)schools are not necessary as you yourself are highly educated. Will you please comment on this.

Answer

As far as I know, much of schooling is mandatory or nearly mandatory in most places, though perhaps not all the way to high school. Schooling as we know it today is a task of the state, so whatever the state thinks the people within its borders need, that is schooling. What many people see as "society" is really just an amalgam of the needs of the state, the market, cultural values and inner desires.

So, if as you say, school should be mandatory to groom one's personality, what are the norms of that personality? What type of personality traits shall be taught? If we take that as a criteria for schooling, as an answer to the question "What are Schools For?" then we might conclude that schools have been a staggering failure, and may not even be the right place to groom personalities. Look at those who control the world today, for example, the business and political leaders of the "developed world" and their proxies in the "third world." By and large, they are all schooled to the highest extent available, often at the "best" schools. But what are we left with? A bunch of greedy criminals and pathological liars. And as for school helping people select their future targets, it might play a role in getting some sort of paper or certificate, but I wonder if a time consuming, soul deadening, rigid institutional setting really the best place to learn about one's life goals and targets? As for myself, I am highly "over educated" and do not attribute much of who I am to school.

Name

Oya -

Profession

Question

Greetings to you Professor Yusuf.

I am in a bit of quandry on the issue of how to educate my children best becuase it seems to me that:

  • That the education system in the West no longer has the capacity to teach - Imean really teach and
  • That this education system is actually giving my children less choices in life not more.

I would like to know your opinion sir.

Answer

Salam Oya, and thanks for the question. When you say that the educational system in the West no longer has the capacity to teach, I wonder if it ever did. Beyond that, what did that system teach or what, in your view, should it teach? In other words, what do you, and any one else who sends their children to school, expect that school to do?

I agree with you that school is in most cases provided less, not more, choices, but that is not new. Schooling has always been a sorting mechanism that provided limited rewards for a select few at the end, never with any guarantees, and although it demands 12 or more years of our time, the outcome seems not worth the effort. But I guess before we can really evaluate that, we need a discussion on the question of our expectations about schooling.

Name

sajeda - Pakistan

Profession

educationist

Question

I suppose my question to your question would be - Why are we questioning schools?

Answer

Salam Sajeda, great question.

I think if you take stock of the general social climate around the world today, almost everyone is questioning schools, so your question is quite perceptive.

Why all the attention on schools? I think there have been periods over the last century and a half (during the reign of schools) that people have questioned the meaning and purpose of schools, and perhaps we are in one of those cycles. But I guess part of the problem is that we expect schools to do too much. Every time there is a problem of some sort or another, it ends up at the doorstep of schools. Terrorism? Change the curriculum? Unemployment? Change the curriculum. Globalization? Change the curriculum. World hunger? Change the curriculum?

I think it is possible to say that schools are a sort of repository for social problems but since they are largely powerless to really to anything the blame (or solution) for those problems ends up in school, where there might actually be other places to deal with them. I also think that perhaps people have come to a realization that schools are not doing their job (although I would argue we have no clear idea of what that job ought to be) and that there might be other things one can do with one's time. After all, what do you really get after 12 or more years of schooling? I am curious to hear what you and others think about this point.

Name

Saher - Pakistan

Profession

Ex-AKES-P employee

Question

Winning is such an issue in schools (whether sports or in academics.Yet,how can we say,its school founded and artificial when the same rule applies in nature, where the strongest and the swiftest rules!!!Isn't it then natural - and if it is natural law wouldn't it have a rational?

Aren't we kind of contradicting ourselves when we say want a child's upbringing and learning to be in a natural yet we are the ones trying to modify it?

Answer

Salam Saher, I agree that competition is an issue in schools, but I am less certain if "survival of the fittest" is really the way nature works.

Sure, Darwin concocted a whole edifice around that notion, but he was hopelessly bound by the social climate of his time, which was rife with racism, class bias and colonialism.

Most ecosystems are about some sort of cooperation. In any case, schools and societies are not ponds and lakes, so the metaphor is perhaps strained. But I think you have put your finger on an inherent contradiction in schooling, something to which I alluded in an earlier post, that there is a tension, or at least a relationship, between the innate capabilities of human beings and the need to reproduce culture (including religion and language). Schools have claimed to have an answer to that question, that good citizens can be taught, or good workers can be taught, or good believers can be taught, or what have you.

We can evaluate those external pressures, but I don't think negating the role of cultural reproduction is the answer, unless we can say that we value nothing of our traditions, cultures, languages and religions.

Name

Hawa-matu -

Profession

Question

Innate abilities is something that one does not hear of much today. I think we have gotten cuaght up with systems of programing both within the secular and non-secular systems.

In this case, schools are not set-up to function in this way and teachers are not trained to develop the innate qualitities of children with the aim of becoming rounded healthy human beings that can contirbuite creatively within their perosnal lives, the environment and socially. In fact if schools are about knowledge then our children are being taght less in order to maintain a system that destroys innate abilities Islamically or otherwise.

Answer

I agree to some extent, Hwaa, but I have detected a general climate in school reform that is biased towards things like "free learning," which says children should not be taught anything in school, especially in the early years, and that they should just be left to experiment with manifesting their innate capabilities.

That view negates cultural reproduction. Now, if the culture is diseased then maybe it should not be reproduced, but I am not sure if people would say that nothing of their culture should be reproduced. That discussion rarely happens, the question of how innate capabilities might interest with cultural values. Or, to put it another way, there is a movement from inside outward when we speak of innate capabilities, while there is a movement from outside inward when we speak of culture. So, the real question is what cultural values do we want to reproduce and are schools the best place to do that. we could also ask what skills some one needs for life, and whether schools the best place to learn those skills. It seems to me, in my discussions with people over the years, that there is a remarkable uniformity - over time and across cultures - in the way schooling works. From its inception a century and half ago, it has largely been about two things: edifying the state and serving the economy. Everything else is superfluous, in the context of school, and can be learned in many other places and ways. However, in recent years, as the state and economy are being impacted by globalization, the goal of school has been challenged. Nevertheless, I am amazed at how many people still cling to the original structure of school - 12 years, 10 months a year, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day - which was developed to servic4 those two goals noted above. That's a lot of time, and I wonder if it is really necessary.

Name

Oya -

Profession

Question

Regarding your response to my question sir, I think I expect a school of my choice to give what I cannot give my children:

  • The right to be who they are
  • To develop their sense of self worth
  • To develop their intellect not for the sake of intellect ( which is dangerous), but for the sake of awareness and increasign one's ability to take control of one's life.
  • To rpovide for the future

Answer

Thanks Oya, but I wonder why parents and communities cannot give those things to their children. Did those expectations not exist before schools? Some people even believe that schools do the opposite of what you expect. So, the question is for all of us, do we want to change schools to cater to the expectations you listed (if we agree that they are important) or can what you need be learned in some other way or in some other time and place?

Name

Sue -

Profession

Community Worker

Question

Good morning or good afternoon sir.

I have been observing this 'Live Dialog', and I find it quite intriguing.

We are so used to having others think for us, that when we are given a chance to think for ourselves we anesthetize ourselves into believing that we the non-experts do not know anything and the 'experts' do.

Is that what schools are for?

Answer

Hello Sue, and thanks for the thoughtful question. I think you have identified the main problem with schooling, that it presumes that others always know best. Of course, "others" in this case often involves that state or some sort of bureaucratic instution. You have probably already read Ivan Illich, "Deschooling Society," but if not he explains some of this. We have become "schooled," in the sense that we are dependent:

  • On others to do everything for us,
  • To tell us if we have any worth
  • To tell us if we are healthy
  • To tell us if we are successful
  • To tell us if we are free,
  • To tell us if we can contribute to society
  • To tell us virtually anything about what it means to be human.

For Illich, and I agree with him in much of this, schooling is part of a larger instutional complex that includes prisons, hospitals and the military, all of which are about deferring life choices and meanings to others. Now, the tricky part is what to do with all these "schooled" minds. If we close schools, then the schooled mind will demand them or something like them.

However, if we want to regain some sense of self worth and cultural confidence, then maybe schools are not the place to do this.

Unless schools can be radically reformed (highly unlikely in today's world), they will continue to do what they have been charged to do, which is provide citizens for the state and players for the economy. However, these systems are flawed, since they create illusions, such as the illusion that our identity is defined by the artificial borders of a state. There are also rules for this game, which schools rigidly support, such as this rule: "For there to be winners, there must be losers." Can we really tolerate or support a system that says there must be losers? Or is there some other way to live one's life? Schools have no answer to this.

Name

Amal - Egypt

Profession

Question

As-salamu `alaykum:

I was wondering what is the ideal education system from your point of view? How can we combine life and academic education?

Jazaka Allahu Khayran

Answer

Salam Amal.

I have no idea of an ideal education system, since in my view the questions that this implies need to be worked out on the community level. But if pressed to provide an answer for this I would say that it might be possible, for now, to find a balance between instutionalized learning and learning in other contexts. The problem is that schools take up too much time with institutionalized learning, and with no clear outcome. I began thinking about this when I found that in some time - in some places, compulsory schooling was (and still is, if you look for it) limited to seven years, roughly from ages 7-14, and what we learned before and after that depended on community and family participation.

The state usurped all that, and now we see no problem in submitting ourselves and our children to a state mandated curriculu, with state mandate goals and state mandated time frames. But that is just my view, what really needs to happen is people have to think for themselves about what they want to do with schools. And, I would also offer a word of caution, too, that there are vultures waiting to pick the carcass of public schooling if enough people are convinced that they are useless, so if you want to prevent the politicians and corporate cronies from lining their pockets with funds of one of the few remaining public services, it might also be prudent to consider the politics of deschooling, the social as well as the individual implications. While fighting the battle for public services, however, we should not be goaded into thinking that schools have any inherent benefit, aside from being a possible place of learning, and so I would also say we should support those who walk out of school. And home schooling is not walking out, since the goals of home schooling are basically the same as public schooling, except that they are purposed in the home environment.

Name

Ibrahim - Australia

Profession

Father

Question

As salamu `aleykum Professor

This makes one fearful for our kids. Regardless of whether one is a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim or even a Buddhist, it seems from what is being said that schools are the wrong place for educating our children. What can we do as parents - becuase frankly it looks as if the whole of society is on the table

Answer

Salam Ibrahim.

You are correct and this is a complex question, despite its simplicity. The question of what schools are for is bound up, as you suggest, with the whole of society, although I would add that society in this context is really an amalgam of the state and corporations on the one hand, and families and communities on the other hand.

Society is not a fixed entity, in other words, although there are those who have vested interests in any particular social structure at any particular time. We are living in an age in which the current social structure, based on the state system, is under fire, and the implications of the outcome are serious. If the corporations have their way, the state will lose all of its legislative and protective power for its citizens, and become nothing more than a policing mechanism for corporate rule. On the other hand, there is still a lot of money spent on schools and education the world over, so to close schools means giving up that money, which will probably be glady usurped by the state and its corporate partners. So, the question is twofold: on the personal and community level, schools can be discussed in terms of cultural values but on the social level schools are also about gaining or retaining some control over dwindling public spaces. Some would argue the battle is lost, and we should pull our children out of schools and find some other ways and places to learn. But there is also to the political question of whether or not there should be any social instutitions and who should pay for them and control them.

I believe the first step is for people to get together and discuss these issues seriously, since both require some sort of cooperation and collective action. Home schooling, in my view, is not the answer, because it negates this collective action and often just supports the existing social structure while providing an excuse to take away funding for public institutions. These are serious questions, and need to be worked out case by case in communities.

Name

hassan -

Profession

teacher

Question

What are the most important characteristics for Islamic schools?

Answer

Actually, I would turn that question back to the participants, since it is a question that everyone needs to ask. The next dialog, in April -Islamic Schools & Education in the West’ , may focus on that question, too. But speaking from my own experience in observing Islamic schools in a wide variety of social and cultural settings, I can say that the range of answers to this question is broad, and it is not always pleasant. In some cases, to be an Islamic school means to be like any other school, in terms of meaning and purpose, but that this is pursued with boys and girls separately. In other words, in this view an Islamic school is like any other school except boys and girls do not learn together. Some schools will go a little further and add some topics on Islamic history and religion to the curriculum, although there is always a compromise since the curriculum is already very demanding for time. Looking to history is of little use, since what we are calling schools today are a recent innovation, basically constructed in their present form during the 19th century and spread around the world with colonialism. I know there are attempts to link modern schooling with the madrasah and khuttab, but for all intents and purposes this does little more than legitimize modern schooling.

So I think, if we are speaking about Muslims only for this question, it is necessary to take stock of the current system and be honest about what is possible within that system and what is not. The current system of modern schooling takes too much time, 12 years, 10 months a year, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day. For what? Is there any benefit to confining children for the whole of their youth? Is it really about "seeking knowledge" or is it just about marching to the tune of some external force, like the state and corporate power. I have no answer this question, and even if I offered one, it would be part of the problem, since schools have robbed us of the ability to think for ourselves and defer our thoughts to "experts."

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 and we would like to invite visitors to continue with us onto the next debate: Islamic Schools & Education in the West’ scheduled April 18th.

Jazaka Allahu khayran

Read Also : ◊ The Failures and Limitations of Modern Schooling

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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