Saturday, October 11, 2008

Education, Pedagogy and the Islamic Perspective

I am writing a presentation that I am going to be delivering to some associates and I have been slammed into a pool of perplexity so I like to come here to bounce off a soundboard. Even though I would probably get more response over on some forum. This however allows me to think out loud and hopefully the more serious commentators will comment.

I am doing a critical analysis of the the Islamic model of schooling with the current model of schooling and thinking of ways to come up with a better plan. In our tradition we have this hadith which I will quote, that is followed up with an explanation of the hadith by a scholar. Here it is:

3. Three Stages of Life

Islam has divided the upbringing of a child into three stages from birth to age 21. The division is based on the following hadith of the Prophet (s.a.w.): “The child is the master for seven years; and a slave for seven years and a vizier for seven years; so if he grows into a good character within 21 years, well and good; otherwise leave him alone because you have discharged your responsibility before Allah.”

The same hadith has been explained by Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (a.s.): “Let your child play upto seven years; and keep him with you (for education and training) for another seven years; then if he succeeds (well and good); otherwise, there is no good in him.”

The First Stage: from birth to age seven

As the first stage is a care-free period, the child is to be considered as “master” of the parents. The Prophet said, “The child is the master for seven years.” This is the age of being a child and playing; he or she is not yet fully ready for education through formal instruction.

What has been said above, however, does not mean that a child cannot grasp or understand anything; not at all. The child is constantly influenced by the atmosphere in which he lives; he/she learns by observation and imitation; therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the parents to provide good examples by their own behaviour. The Prophet said, “Respect your children and teach them good behaviour, Allah will forgive (your sins).”

Although the child is not ready for formal instructions, our Imams have emphasized that religious issues —very basic and simple— should be introduced to them gradually. “Graduality” is the most important point to remember at this stage of life. The following hadith narrated by `Abdullah ibn Fazl from the fifth or sixth Imam is very significant to understand what is meant by gradually:

“When the child reaches 3 years of age, teach him seven times to recite la ilaha il-lal lāh.

Then leave him at that till he is 3 years, 7 months and 20 days old; then train him to say Muhammadun rasu-lul lāh.

Then leave him at that till he completes 4 years, then teach him seven times to say sal-lal lāhu `ala Muhammadin wa āli Muhammad.

Then leave him at that till he reaches the age of 5 years; then see if he can distinguish between the right and the left hand. When he knows the difference, then make him face qiblah and tell him to do sajdah.

This is to continue till he is 6 years of age. Then he should be told to pray and taught ruku` and sajdah.

When he completes 7 years, then he should be asked to wash his face and hands, and then told to pray.

This will continue till he reaches the age of 9 years, when he should be taught proper ritual ablution for prayer and proper salāt.

When he learns proper wudu and salāt, Allah forgives the sins of his parents.”

The Second Stage: from age eight to fourteen.

The Prophet said, “The child is...a slave for [the next] seven years.” Since this is the age when the child's mind can grasp logical reasoning and is developed for formal education—it is very important that the child not only be educated but, at the same time, he or she should be raised with proper Islamic ethics. By saying that the child is a “slave” from eight to fourteen, the Prophet wants to emphasize that at this age the parents should be strict in disciplining their children. A child is a “slave” in the sense that he has to follow the instructions of parents and teachers.

In the sayings of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and the Imams of Ahlu 'l-byat (a.s.), three things have been emphasized for the male children in the second stage of upbringing: 1. literacy for secular knowledge; 2. religious knowledge and 3. physical education and martial arts. For example, the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “It is the right of the male child on his father to...teach him the Book of Allah...and riding and swimming.” Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said, “It is the duty of the father to teach his son writing.”

Religious education is very crucial at this stage so that the child's religious beliefs are based on sound reasoning and firm foundation. Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (a.s.) said, “Make haste in teaching your youngsters hadith before they are approached by murji`ite (a misguided sect).”

Literacy, and seeking of secular and religious knowledge has been equally emphasized for the girls in our ahadith. However, instead of physical education, the ahadith talk about those specific subjects which would help the girls in becoming good wives and educated mothers. The destiny of the future generations of the ummah, after all, depends on the mothers who are learned, informed, and aware of their role in establishing a society which is always conscious of Allah's presence.

The Third Stage: from age fifteen to twenty-one.

The Prophet described this stage of upbringing as follows: “The child...is an adviser for [the next] seven years.” At the age of fourteen, fifteen and up, a Muslim child is expected to have become a responsible teenager. Therefore, the Prophet says that the parents should now treat him or her more like a ‘friend’ than a ‘slave’.

At this stage, the parents should guide and help their teenage child in make correct decisions for themselves. In mid- and late-teens, the child has to start the specific training or education for the career that he intends to pursue so that he may soon stand on his own feet. It is also the time when the child is nearing the age of marriage.

Islam has strongly emphasized that the parents should get their daughters married at an early age when they have acquired mental maturity—their higher education can continue even after marriage but marriage should not be postponed for the sake of anything else. The condition of mental maturity cannot be measured by age or time. The same emphasis goes for male children.

At the age of twentyone, the parents’ responsibility towards their children comes to an end. If anyone brings up his children based on Islamic values, that child surely will be the apple of the parents' eyes and the delight of their hearts; and it is this child who, in his turn, may be hoped to fulfil his obligations towards his parents.

The Prophet said, “A virtuous child is a flower from the flowers of Paradise.” He also said, “Among the good fortunes of a man is the virtuous child.”

* * *

This lesson is based on `Allamah Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi's

The Family Life of Isam (Revised Edition, 1980)


Now right off the top I can say that I do not agree with all of the scholar’s perspective. Such as that all of that open time I interpret between birth and 7 years old however this is the model given by the Prophet (SaaW) so therefore it must be correct yes? At least in the fundamental guidelines, the Prophet doesn’t offer specifics as this scholar does. So then the appropriate course of action is to study what types of things are taught during those first 7 years and that would be something that if the mother herself did not do would have been ascribed to the nurse-maid. Therefore critical analysis of the first 7 years of a child's life of the most successful children of the era of the Prophet should be examined. I know that for myself and other parents out there reading this the idea of child as master for the first 7 years is somewhat frightening. With such blatant disrespect that is rampant among today's youth with all of the influences that are shoved on them by society.

Piaget’s formula of the cognitive stages of development mirror exactly in secular terms the findings of the Imam though:

Piaget's Stages of Cognitive Development

Sensory Motor Period
(0 - 24 months)
[More on this stage]

Developmental Stage
& Approximate Age Characteristic Behavior

Reflexive Stage
(0-2 months)

Simple reflex activity such as grasping, sucking.

Primary Circular Reactions
(2-4 months)

Reflexive behaviors occur in stereotyped repetition such as opening and closing fingers repetitively.

Secondary Circular Reactions
(4-8 months)

Repetition of change actions to reproduce interesting consequences such as kicking one's feet to more a mobile suspended over the crib.

Coordination of Secondary Reactions
(8-12 months)

Responses become coordinated into more complex sequences. Actions take on an "intentional" character such as the infant reaches behind a screen to obtain a hidden object.

Tertiary Circular Reactions
(12-18 months)

Discovery of new ways to produce the same consequence or obtain the same goal such as the infant may pull a pillow toward him in an attempt to get a toy resting on it.

Invention of New Means Through Mental Combination
(18-24 months)

Evidence of an internal representational system. Symbolizing the problem-solving sequence before actually responding. Deferred imitation.

The Preoperational Period
(2-7 years)
[More on this stage]

Developmental Stage
& Approximate Age Characteristic Behavior

Preoperational Phase
(2-4 years)

Increased use of verbal representation but speech is egocentric. The beginnings of symbolic rather than simple motor play. Transductive reasoning. Can think about something without the object being present by use of language.

Intuitive Phase
(4-7 years)

Speech becomes more social, less egocentric. The child has an intuitive grasp of logical concepts in some areas. However, there is still a tendency to focus attention on one aspect of an object while ignoring others. Concepts formed are crude and irreversible. Easy to believe in magical increase, decrease, disappearance. Reality not firm. Perceptions dominate judgment.

In moral-ethical realm, the child is not able to show principles underlying best behavior. Rules of a game not develop, only uses simple do's and don'ts imposed by authority.

Period of Concrete Operations
(7-11 years)
[More on this stage]

Characteristic Behavior:
Evidence for organized, logical thought. There is the ability to perform multiple classification tasks, order objects in a logical sequence, and comprehend the principle of conservation. thinking becomes less transductive and less egocentric. The child is capable of concrete problem-solving.

Some reversibility now possible (quantities moved can be restored such as in arithmetic:
3+4 = 7 and 7-4 = 3, etc.)

Class logic-finding bases to sort unlike objects into logical groups where previously it was on superficial perceived attribute such as color. Categorical labels such as "number" or animal" now available.

Period of Formal Operations
(11-15 years)
[More on this stage]

Characteristic Behavior:
Thought becomes more abstract, incorporating the principles of formal logic. The ability to generate abstract propositions, multiple hypotheses and their possible outcomes is evident. Thinking becomes less tied to concrete reality.

Formal logical systems can be acquired. Can handle proportions, algebraic manipulation, other purely abstract processes. If a + b = x then a = x - b. If ma/ca = IQ = 1.00 then Ma = CA.

Prepositional logic, as-if and if-then steps. Can use aids such as axioms to transcend human limits on comprehension.

The concept presented in the hadith forces us to reexamine the structure of education itself and forces us to look at the way children learn. So we have to play Prophet’s advocate here because of the verse that states:

Believers Have No Opinion - Except Allah's Decision
"It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision."
Quran [33:36]

This gets into a fiqh issue where commands come down as mandatory and then others that come down as suggestions open for believers to take from it what they will. I am not going to get into the issue of Fard vs Mubah here I am just going to assume Fard and roll with that and build a case of points based off of that. First to look at some of the history of compulsory schooling, the compulsory schooling system was designed by the state or the wealthy for the benefit of the wealthy to enable them to become more wealthy and to train people to accept their lot in life. The Prussian school system is a caste system that sorts children stratospherically into levels to the appointment of the establishment. The impetus of the school system was begun at a key developmental point that interrupts a child’s identity formulating of self. There is an increasing trend that is invisible to both Muslims and non-Muslims in this country and that is an imposed willingness to hand over children at younger and younger ages to some kind of impersonal institution. So children at an early age are thrust into an unnatural setting of reality. A setting of children of all their same age and not connected to anything or anyone whatsoever. Massive Daycare centers with teeming populations of children. I notice an obvious disconnect with the acceptance of self between my oldest daughter who went to daycare and my eldest son who remained at home under the love of his mother until he started school. My oldest daughter is more, angry, disconnected with herself and has more emotional instability than my son. This also coincided with my divorce as well so I am sure that there is a issue of double abandonment as she was thrust into an impersonal setting regardless of how fun it was made to seem. So let’s look at some of the favorable outcomes of the Prophet’s model of the first 7 years and then move on to the next 7 years.

What should be taught in the first 7 years? First of all the best place for the child in the first 7 years is in a loving atmosphere with the mother which is why in the course of selecting a mate the character of the Mother is the most important for the man. For the exercise of this paper though I am going to assume that we are talking about families that need two incomes to make it work or are broken by divorce or separation.

If we are to assume that Logical reasoning doesn’t truly happen until the age of 7 in which school can then be truly helpful then we must reanalyze the kinds of things done with the time for 1-7 when children begin to enter the Daycare/school system. Based off of the practices of the Prophet then these 3 years of schooling should be spent in developing some critical skills and those are simple to develop.

1. Memory is the first emphasis that should be mastered during these first years of schooling. A strong emphasis on developing the capacity of memory should be the sole focus during this period of time. Learning by rote indoctrination. Developing creative memory schemes. Learning memory games but a heavy focus on developing the capacity of memory should be thoroughly developed so that when the next seven years comes around they will not have any problem memorizing the concepts that will be given to them en masse. The development of memory should be enforced and reinforced throughout all areas of play. This is an optimum time to develop a sound Hafiz program so that children will have a baseline of knowledge for when the verses will be analyzed during the next seven years.

2. Manners, the next thing that should be developed are good manners and good social interaction skills. Learning how to play and be civil and human. How to relate to one another in the most beautiful fashion is the next order of business. Knowing the do’s and don’ts of social interaction with children and adults.

3. How to develop trust relationships and healthy forms of independence and interdependence. Learning leadership skills and the ability to be alone without anyone else and still be a whole person.

4. Action Exploration of the world around them. Learning their abilities and weaknesses. Developing fearlessness. Developing a command for language and physical ability.

5. These developing years are associated with doing and doing should be done in ways where children should not be interrupted every 5 minutes. They should be allowed to play and experience whatever it is that they are enjoying for long periods of time or however long their attention span grasps.

6. Gross concepts should be taught. The concept of numbers the concept of reading and the developing of attention to detail and the attention span on task.

7. These first 3-4 years of schooling should encourage heavy parental involvement. Offered through discounts and team building exercises the main focus will be placed upon ensuring there is a good bond with the child and the parent. If there is a good bond with the child and the parent then the child’s self-esteem will show through into the different spheres of learning. The importance of parental involvement actively during these first 4 years is crucial to the intellectual advancement of the child. It is a testimony of the clinginess of children during these first years of schooling that should be noted as an unnatural experience that needs to be broken. Meaning that the natural tendency to cling to their parents should be encouraged rather than stripped from them.

8. These years should be about action and getting things done and their accomplishments. No child can succeed without a desire to get something done and do a good job at it.

9. Responsibilities should be fostered and expected during this time.

10. Heavy stress of freedom of self while strong adherence to the limitations of Sunnah should be markedly driven home. First social norms should be enforced, then as the child grows and grows the norms of Sunnah.

11. Rooting out the seeds of procrastination.

These are my views on the elementary levels of schooling. The next level of schooling is where the schooling really starts. If memory is mastered during the primary years and the foundations are memorized if not fully explained during the first years now is the time to start tying all of those things that have been memorized into application and put to work.

1. If there is a sound mastering of the memorization capacity in the primary years then tying logical concepts into practical application should be able to move along rather swiftly.

2. Learning concepts should be synthesized rather than compartmentalized so that learning many subjects at once takes place and shortens the time it takes to master concepts. Like concepts should be taught together rather than separate. Such things as Debate, Logic, Programming, Word Problems, Investigative Research, and Troubleshooting should be taught together or in tandem so as to maximize the effects on their comprehension. Physics, Calculus, Algebra, Engineering, geometry, Mechanics, trigonometry, architecture should be taught together. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, political science should be taught together. Biology, Nutrition, anatomy, Food preparation, Diseases and diagnosis should be taught together. These things should be taught like this so that a more comprehensive method of understanding an interconnected world is instilled among the children.

3. Learning should as much as possible stress the relevance of the topic being taught. In other words a tangible benefit should always be tied into the concepts being presented. As in the study of linguistics active applications of learning languages and translating texts should be emphasized. In writing the active literacy of Debate and rhetoric and writing should be emphasized, always focused on conveying a point.

4. Active application exercises should always be entered upon. A focus on action based learning through work and results. Write and get things published, build, grow, cook all things that are done that can be tied together to what is actually being taught. I know for a fact that the attitude of a lot of learners is "where am I ever going to use this" and as such it is never tied to anything of value so for many it is never valued, but if learning can be tied to active applications then there is a difference and it makes a difference.

5. Little to no homework. Time at home should be spent in reflection or developing those constructive habits of personal interest.

Lastly is the last 7 years. This should be handled the way that it has been handled in the past. The child is grown at 15. Schooling is done and this is a time of apprenticeship. At this point the child should know pretty much what it is that they want to do with their life if they want to be a tradesman, and if they don’t then they should apply to college. If the current trend of some colleges is to get students up to speed of starting college in the first couple of years then at 15 there shouldn’t really be anything that should preclude them from attending college at this age. The entire first year can be CLEPped saving countless hours in school and money. Some schools take transfer credits up to 60 so it is possible that during the years of 15 – 18 children can simply take and master these tests and take them for college credit. If a child is seeking admission into a prestigious college these years can be spent mastering their Social hobby, physical hobby and intellectual hobby because it is these things and not grades that sets them apart from their peers in terms of admission to these types of schools. If they take this time to master their self by doing those things that most interest them. Traveling would be the optimum thing to use this time for in these years. Volunteering and really getting a grasp on the world. Taking the time to learn the essential skills of investing, homemaking, house building and very personal things that lend someone to a complete freedom rather than servitude of waiting for someone to tell them exactly what it is that they need to do.

In looking at school and its purposes this way we can begin to mold a future for ourselves and our Deen.

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