Our present methods of teaching which are inflicted on by far the vast majority of children the world over are the single biggest cause for killing the imagination that every child is born with and making them into square blocks which fit our own frightened, constrained and slavish worldview. Those who comply we ‘pass’ and those who challenge it and refuse to succumb, we ‘fail’. The occasional among those we ‘fail’, go on to great fortune. The majority disappear, never to be heard from again. Destroyed by the education system they didn’t deserve or ask for.
If I were asked to define the biggest challenge of the teacher, I would say, ‘It is to teach children how to deal with a world that we know nothing about.’ In such a world, imagination is the key resource that they will need. Without imagination they would be floundering trying to find answers in history or ‘facts’ that they had been taught. But they would never find those answers because they simply aren’t there. Yet the thing that most schools do with amazing efficiency is to kill the child’s imagination as quickly as possible. And sadly, they are very successful in doing so.
Teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions – opening doors for them in places that they could not imagine. Teaching is about teaching them the tools of learning which will enable them to pursue learning all their lives. Not answer questions – end all discussion and pass exams. That is the reason why most children never open a science book once they finish with school. That is the reason why there is a serious global shortage of scientists. Even when we teach what we know – the answers – we need to teach them how we arrived at those answers and then ask them, ‘If you faced this issue, what questions would you ask to find an answer.’ We need to focus far more on derivation, problem solving methodology and analytical skills than on actually arriving at some formula or solution.
The biggest problem with teachers is that they teach. That is the root cause of all ignorance. Teachers must stop ‘teaching’ and instead, start discovering, learning, enjoying. Start appreciating that the child is the best thing that happened to you and every single day try to become the best thing that happens to him or her. Teachers must be like ushers in a vast museum, walking quietly with their students tiptoeing behind them, opening one door after another – letting them take a peek – and then handing them the key to the door so that they can come back in their own time and explore in detail. The teacher then takes them to another door for another peek and another key. See?? Imagine how exciting that is for the child! The teacher’s job is to give them the keys. Teaching is about keeping the excitement of learning alive all lifelong.
In all the years that I have spoken to parents all over the world, I have often asked them one question: ‘Please think of your most powerful role model. For how many of you is it a parent?’ I have never had more than five percent of the population put up their hands. That means that for ninety-five percent of people, their parents – the two people who invested the most in their upbringing – are not their role models; a real tragedy, though a self-inflicted one. I believe that parenting is a serious job, one which must be undertaken consciously; clearly understanding what it entails. Children have a right to have good parents who can be role models for them and who can not only teach them the tools to succeed in this life, but also to take from the treasures of Allahﷻ and succeed in the life to come.
Please remember that whether you like it or not, you are a role model for your children. Your choice is to decide what kind of role model you want to be – one that they can look up to or one that they must to look down on. Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say until they see what you do. Anyone who has children has no such thing as a private life. Whatever you do is under the spotlight, will be noticed, learnt, and emulated. If there is any gap between the talk and the walk your credibility with your children will fall through it. Allahﷻ sent you to guide your children and the enormity of this responsibility is the reason for the honorable status that Islam gives to parents. Parents who behave dishonorably before their children are the worst of humanity – abysmal, abominable, and disgusting.
Islam recognizes the nuclear family as the basic building block of society and so Allahﷻmentioned parents over a dozen times in the Qur’an and honored them and enjoined upon children that they must respect, obey and treat them with kindness when they are old. However, all this is based on the responsibility that He sent parents with. The honor is a result of fulfilling that responsibility. A big misconception that Muslim parents have is that their responsibility is like that of any other parent; feed them, clothe them, shelter them, send them to a good (usually meaning expensive) school and safeguard their future by investing for them if they have the funds to do so – and that’s it. Well, it isn’t.
Parenting requires the parents to develop themselves to a level where they become the inspiration in the lives of their children. It requires us to face the fact that ignorant parents can only produce ignorant children. Parents who have no books in the house will not have children addicted to reading. Parents whose conversation centers around the lives of other people can’t have children who speak about great ideas and dream of changing the world. Parents whose major life decisions are which dress to wear or which handbag to carry, can’t guide children who are struggling with existential questions relating to their purpose in life. Parents need to wake up and face the fact that their problems related to raising children are really a reflection of how little they have invested in themselves. Paupers can hardly be expected to help others. The time to change is now and it is never too late.