Islam shouldn’t be restricted to rituals. It is 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 it.
I remember rushing home after I handed in my final exam papers in my final semester of 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 reading, 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 limits, and restricted choices in exploration, I reveled in the arts 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 processes behind them. With cake decorating, my creativity was unleashed, especially since it had been forced to stay dormant throughout my school years because there were more important subjects to ‘cover’.
There is something special about being able to explore in your own time, at your own pace, and by choice, especially in areas that involve creativity and intuition. This was my first step.
Finding Your Passions
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 were your favourite subjects? What did you enjoy about those subjects? Did you wish you could have done more with them? Maybe now you can explore them 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 areas 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?
There is just something about being able to explore in your own time, at your own pace, and by choice.
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 the 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 them first.
After this, it just gets easier and easier. That lost love has now come to the surface, having been 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 favourite subjects in school, I found myself looking forward to snuggling up 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 perspective, which in turn, makes it easy 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 on 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 lists. 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 giving da’wah, 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.