Un-Limiting What Education Is, For Me

tweeeeeeeeet rusul

There’s this bizarre notion that education happens only in the classroom, and life happens outside of it. This is why students these days are assigned more homework than ever before – in the name of ‘education’ – without the guaranteed correlation of “more work, better grades”.

Just to make this clear, I am a teacher. And I do give homework because some concepts are best understood through practice problems. But I make the distinction between a healthy “whatever you don’t finish in class, you finish at home” and “here’re 40 questions you must do all evening because my class is your life and I need to make sure you’re always in a state of “learning”” lines.

As a teacher, I take most pride not in teaching facts, but in teaching others how to teach themselves. Only in intrinsic motivation will students bring out the best in themselves and use their knowledge to better the world. Granted I am a very young teacher so I won’t declare I’m accomplishing my ultimate teaching goal, but I am aware of what I’m striving for and in the process of learning how to do so. The best way is to actually go through the process myself.

How am I going through the process? A bit of context first: I graduated from McGill University with a double bachelor a little over a couple years ago, and since then have been of two hearts. One part of me wishes to jump right into a Masters degree (though I still don’t know what); the other is simply in a mood to acquire knowledge from the real world at her own pace. (And yet, I really do miss rigorous learning which requires self discipline!) 

But life throws things in your way for a reason, and it’s really up to you to recognize how to best use them. I am presently working in an edtech company, which is wonderful in the sense I am learning new skills and trends in the education world. At the same time, I’ve been tutoring physics and chemistry on the side for high school and CEGEP level, and this requires me to continuously brush up on old concepts and delve deeper in them than I had back when I was a student. I’ve become aware to this inner part of me that thoroughly enjoys this; not only the tutoring-a-student part, but the preparation and revision that goes into the sessions beforehand. A new-found appreciation for chemistry & physics has blossomed once more!

Looking Down

Knowing that expanding knowledge begins with mastering the basics, I figure the best way to really understand something is to teach it to someone who knows little to nothing about it. Albert Einstein said that “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

As an educator, I constantly find myself questioning what is the essence of ‘education’, and what does it mean for someone to be ‘educated’. After all, is the acquiring of facts all of it? I really doubt it: “For thorough understanding, for understanding, you must also know what the significance of a fact is – how it affects the truth you are seeking. You do not know much if all you know is what the fact is.” (Mortimer J. Adler)

And yet, the way I’ve learned science all my life has mostly been about facts from textbooks that reduce enormous concepts into a few sentences, which could make perfect sense if someone had the background information on the research itself. The thing is,

  • Until approximately the end of the nineteenth century, the major scientific books were written for a lay audience.” (How to Read a Book, p.255)

… and then, they no longer were.

Scientific books are now written for other experts in the field. There are pros and cons to all of this, none of which I’m about to delve into. All I mean to point out is, unless one puts the conscious effort to really work into understanding the fundamentals, a surface overview is all they’re going to receive from classrooms. (Side note, that’s not always a bad thing. We don’t need to know everything about everything.)

However, Mortimer J. Adler’s book has made me want to challenge myself to not settle on learning scientific facts from books that have simplified the material, but from the direct scientists’ writings themselves. My Goodreads to-read list has grown considerably with additions such as Opticks by Isaac Newton, among others of his books. Hopefully I can eventually get around to Galileo, too.

What am I going to do exactly? Simply, I will read… well. I will try to understand what I can. I doubt I will become an expert down to every last word, and that isn’t my intention – but I want a fuller picture than I have now. Then, I’m going to create short Youtube videos on concepts I found particularly difficult or fascinating – just to drill it in deep for myself, and shed more light on it for others. I hope with my video-editing skills I can soon start to create videos in other areas, such as religion, ideas and more arts on my Vimeo account.

On another note about refusing to stop growing, I’ll be starting intensive French courses at McGill this month, and my aim is to get as good in French as I can before calling myself perfectly “bilingual”. Then I’m going to dramatically improve my Arabic grammar skills before confidently calling myself “trilingual”. (I mean, I am trilingual in speaking and reading these three languages, but in expressing myself fully in all languages? If I can’t write a poem in the language, I do not deem my level satisfactory. English definitely has the upper hand there.)

Yes sirree, 2016 is the year I make drastic changes to my schedule and assigned priorities for the sake of learning what I always assumed I already know.

2016 is the year I dig deeper into the basics in hopes to more easily get higher in knowledge.

2016 is the year I’m going to stop fantasizing about years ahead because I’m already starting to carry out the now.

2016 is the year I am going to un-limit what education is, for me. Who says it must take place in a classroom? Who knows, perhaps this solo path I’m taking will spark some remarkable ideas for a future Masters. But for this very instant in time, I’m taking it one day at a time.

2016 is going to be great. God willing, inshaAllah, it will be.

In the Backyard

Happy New Years!


And Allah knows Best.



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