Back in September, I wrote about some of the unforeseen mistakes I’ve made along the learning curve in my new job as a grade nine teacher at an Islamic school. I’ve played music in class, worn v-neck shirts, and grouped boys and girls together for in-class projects, all of which are no-nos, and all of which I’ve been very politely asked to cease and desist.
It’s tough, because (apart from the shirts) they’re teaching tools that I’ve found to be valuable and effective: students who are working independently often focus better and appreciate a little background music (I usually choose Mozart or something similar), and mixing up the genders leads to a greater array of perspectives and strengths in group work, while also tending to cut down on chit-chat and disruptive behaviour. But, ce’st la vie. Every school has its own rules, and while these ones may seem strange to me, I have to respect that they are the rules. Of course, not all Muslims believe that music and mixed-gender schoolwork are to be avoided, but at this school, for these families, in this community; they’re no-gos.
I’ve always firmly believed in a “live and let live” philosophy when it comes to religion. It’s not my personal cup of tea, but I understand that many people are genuinely devoted to their own faiths, and that faith brings a lot of meaning, peace and comfort to their lives. So as long as nobody was trying to push it on me, and as long as they weren’t hurting anyone else, then I figured: let them believe what they want. So that’s the approach I’ve tried to take at my new job. But I’m finding it a little more difficult than I thought.
Maybe it’s because there just seem to be so many mistakes to be made, so many rules I don’t know about, so many ways to mess up; maybe it’s because some of the rules genuinely puzzle me; or maybe it’s because I’m a closet rebel; I don’t know for sure, but I do find myself occasionally rankled by some of the rules. The thing is: my philosophy on youth and — let’s call them issues — is that it’s best not to shelter our children from the realities of the world, but rather to equip them to understand the issues, to question them, and to make the right decisions. In fact, I believe that trying to shield children from reality is neither effective nor wise. Even if you are able to prevent your child from ever hearing an Eminem song at school or in your presence (and let me make it abundantly clear here that I only ever played classical instrumental music in the classroom), it’s bound to come up some time, and if they’re unprepared for it, how will they cope?
I guess with my particular upbringing, living in a largely secular world, my approach seemed to me to represent the received wisdom with respect to parenting in the modern world. But this is Canada, where we welcome newcomers and encourage them to maintain their unique cultural and religious identities. Even if that cultural or religious identity means covering your hair or sheltering your children or not listening to music. And I strongly believe in the cultural mosaic. So even if it goes against my grain, I have to respect that it’s important to the people whose children I teach to treat them in this way.
Which has been an interesting lesson to learn: call it the theory of tolerance meeting the practice of tolerance…as with most things, it’s easier said than done.