Islam shouldn’t be restricted to rituals. It’s a way of life. Similarly, learning shouldn’t be restricted to the classroom. It should be a way of life. We are born with an innate love of learning that is usually crushed in the process of gaining an education because learning has been treated with such standardization that it has become something that is perceived to only happen in a certain setting. If your love of learning has been crushed, you have to go through a process of rediscovering it before you can immerse your children in a way of life that embraces learning.
I remember rushing home after I handed in my final exam papers in my final semester in college, thinking, “Now I can read whatever I want!” I didn’t realize it then, but that was the beginning of my journey to rediscovering my love of learning, which I believe was deeply buried under the pile of assigned readings, assignments, and tests throughout my school and university years.
Different people rediscover this lost love in different ways. However, the first step is to surprise yourself and try something new. Take the plunge and immerse yourself in it. A fresh university graduate who chose to stay home and focus on raising her children, I plunged into home-economics, a subject I never really enjoyed in my school years. Free from the watchful gaze of a perfectionist teacher, time limit, and restricted choices in exploration, I reveled in the art of cooking, baking, sewing, home management, gardening, and child-rearing, albeit with a slight academic slant. I wasn’t content with following recipes. I wanted to know the scientific process behind it. With cake decorating, I felt my creativity unleashed, especially since it has been forced to stay dormant throughout my school years because there were more important subjects to ‘cover’. There is just something about being able to explore on your own time, pace, and choice, especially in areas that involve creativity and intuition. This was my first step.
If you have trouble deciding where to start, start by listing your interests. Include interests you had the opportunity to indulge in and interests you would have loved to take up but had no opportunity to. Now think back to your school and university years. What are your favorite subjects? What did you enjoy about those subjects? Did you wish you could have done more with it? Maybe you can explore it in a novel way that you didn’t have time for back then.
Now list what you think you’re good at and enjoy doing. Are you in a vocation that employs your strengths and area of interest? If not, what would you like to be doing instead? Now think of subjects that you detested. Do you think that if those subjects were presented in a different way or explored in a way that appealed to your strengths, you might give them a second chance? For example, instead of thinking of mathematics in terms of solving word problems and mental calculations, explore it through art. Do you know that if we keep increasing the number of sides of a polygon we will eventually get a circle? Or that you can explore the concept of infinity by drawing circles upon circles inside a triangle?
When the first step has been taken, the journey will begin to get easier. Depending on your strengths, you might find yourself learning about other topics out of curiosity. I have always been an avid reader. My immersion in home-economics led me to other areas such as early childhood education, health and nutrition, and Islam. Thinking back, you could say that the topics that piqued my curiosity all came in context of my situation. I was a stay-at-home mother to three children under the age of four and I figured that I had spent most of my youth on secular subjects, and that if I were to raise my children with good Islamic values and knowledge, I’d have to learn and implement it first.
After this, it just gets easier and easier. That lost love has now come to the surface, being stirred to life with that first plunge. However, this is not to say that you will become this knowledge-absorbing machine. There is a limit, as we are all individuals with unique strengths. Despite it being one of my least favorite subjects in school, I surprisingly found myself looking forward to snuggling with a chemistry book in bed recently. However, there was a limit to my enthusiasm. I’m not a math person. Numbers, formulae, and diagrams interrupt the quick scan of my ‘reader’s eyes’. I stopped right where the chemical equations started.
I feel fortunate to have rediscovered this lost love. It has forced me to redefine education and look at it from a different pair of lenses, which in turn, makes it somewhat automatic for me to immerse my children in a lifestyle that hopefully keeps this love intact.
It’s not easy to look at school from a different perspective when it has been an institution that has governed about twelve years of our childhood. It takes a paradigm shift to look at it in a new light. In Guerilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real education With or Without School, Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver offer some suggestions in how to go about doing this. Start with making a list of everything you know enough about to write a beginner’s guide or contribute fairly to a conversation. Then list everything you’re good at, academic and non academic, from making bread from scratch, to doing Calculus. Look at your list. Are they longer or shorter than you expected? You can also ask others with a different school background to make the same list and compare yours to theirs. Next, put a check mark by the skills and knowledge areas that you feel you gained from school and/or university. Now observe how much skills and knowledge you gained from school and outside school.
In order to rethink education, you also need to define success. Is someone who works a nine to five job and paid a handsome salary successful, even if he doesn’t enjoy what he does? Is there only one model of success? If not, what are they? List them.
Next, mull over what you think of education and its purpose in the larger context of life. Seek different opinions on it. Discuss it with your spouse and children. I tell my children that it’s not necessary to get a university degree, but that having tertiary education or being well versed in some areas gives them an edge when making dawah, which is our ultimate mission in this worldly life. Sometimes, we need to step out of the box and question systems that have been in place for so long that we accept them without thinking twice.
Once you have revived your own lost love of learning (if it was lost), and opened your mind to thinking about school in a different way, it will be easier to live a life of learning as a family. The ‘how’ will come in part four, inshaallah.
Guerilla Learning How to Give Your Kids A Real Education With Or Without School by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver
Vi Hart, the Recreational Mathemusician who explores math concepts through art and music
Over the years, Juli Herman has discovered how artfully bags can be stuffed and packed with library books before their seams rip or before their handles come off. Alhamdulillah for those self-check out machines at the library that can’t comment, “Wow! Your receipt is longer than a grocery list!”
Published in SISTERS August 2011 issue. Also posted on Juli Herman’s personal blog.