Building Champions

Shooting For the Moon?

Would you like a roadmap to achievement? How useful could such a guide be for administrators, teachers, parents, students, everybody?

Becoming a True Champion: Achieving Athletic Excellence from the Inside Out, by Kirk Mango with Daveda Lamont, outlines in three parts useful insights as Kirk relates his story and strategies he used to develop himself from an average, unspectacular student and gymnastic team member into an Illinois State high school champion who earned a full scholarship to college in a rapid turn-around year.

Mango, I’d learned, was once a student at our local high school, and his story is truly exceptional. However, he writes as a current high school teacher and gymnastics coach to let us know that everyone can be exceptional. It seriously comes down to the choices we make, and desire, commitment, discipline, and sacrifices to earn achievement.

As an instructor, he mirrors many of our concerns for the lack of character and integrity we see in athletics and celebrities today. He has seen erosion in students adhering to a code of honor, behavior, and ethics, and he makes the case that the best motivation should be intrinsic.

I found wisdom in his book and a useful recipe for planning that I intend to introduce to my own children and apply in my life. The following are the highlights of what worked for him:

• Determine strengths to master and weaknesses to work on
• Identify fundamentals; skills and strategies; then conditioning exercises
• Plan practices initially focusing on quantity, and segue to refine with consistent performance of quality

Although Mango’s roadmap specifies illustrative references to gymnastics, tennis, volleyball, and basketball, his recommendations could also be modified to any academic pursuit. What is the secret?

Defining a goal, making an unshakable commitment to consistently execute a plan, and assume ownership over choices that only you control. This way, competition is only really to perfect one’s own performance, win or lose.

I found Mango’s story relevant because he exemplified what we aspire ourselves and those we have responsibility for to be like. A champion is not necessarily one who owns the wins and trophies, it is one who has tried and excelled through living true to a cause and a dream. Isn’t that what we want to inspire and cultivate in ourselves and those around us?

So to put into practice what Mango has suggested, I have decided to tag on putting practice to my daily Qur’an reading. With my last round of golf giving a glimmer of hope with 2 pars and a birdie, I recognize my greatest weakness needing attention is putting.

Also, I’ve shared a bit of Mango’s story with some family members, and I’ve encouraged my youngest to put in some extra time on Saturdays to refine fundamentals in Algebra. It seems that by my analysis there could be an opportunity for reinforcement. InshaAllah, results on the next assessment will reward the effort to keep up motivation.

There are no short cuts to solid effort, and that Mango makes quite clear. What transpires from such effort though, is a realization that each of us has Power. Our choices determine to a great degree our outcomes, and that realization is a gift many have yet to discover.

As the Ryder Cup is being played only about 5 miles away at the Medinah Country Club, we could see the blimp over it in the distance while Riad and I golfed at Maple Meadows. The picture you see is him teeing off the 18th, as the sun had just set and we were actually playing facing a rising moon to the east. Nightly, I’m reviewing the media coverage and using the pros to model my visualization of the ease which they play their spectacular shots. Let’s see what Mango’s model does for my game!

Transitions and Making Choices

It isn’t easy facing new challenges and the unknown; in fact, sometimes we drag our feet when we are uncertain of best options for the future. As we approach autumn, Riad and I quickly realized that we had best get the house on the market, even if we still see the details that need repair. We are ready, except for painting our bedroom and sorting out 16 years of clutter in the basement, but the grand question is still unanswered. What should we do if we find a buyer?

Last night, while walking in 50 degree weather, we reminisced about our warm and sunny California trips from earlier in the year. Then we were pulled back into the reality that all four of our children still live with us currently, and our eldest, a nursing student, had his first day of clinicals at the new ultra luxurious Elmhurst Hospital. It would be a dream to work there after graduation, but we want our kids to move with us too. In reality, there are many fine benefits to where we live generally, but the climate and its impingement on our desire to maintain fitness through outdoor activities pall our enthusiasm for staying when it is below 40 degrees. The thought of staying based here, while seeking an investment property in a warmer winter locale that we can visit for a few weeks in January seems attractive.

So transitions are sticky to negotiate, especially when others are involved. The best means of rescue though is when someone else, a trusted ally, can give advice and lessen the anxiety. Likewise, when our youngest son rose in rank to enter high school as a freshman, it was with some amusement that I overheard his older sibling, who is a senior at the same school, coach his younger brother, “Dude, you can’t wear plaid shirts.” “You can’t be seen talking to ______!” “You have to do your Algebra the way the teacher demonstrates it, not just do it in your head.” “This is important for later!” “Dude, if you miss the bus, you can run to the next stop ‘cause they have a lot of kids to load, so you can usually still make it.” “Hey, you can’t pick my friends to be your friends, and you can’t go to the football game until you have friends!” I understood perfectly then when my freshman gloated to his senior brother, “I can go to the football game because I have friends now.”

I recall that when we would transition students from 5th to 6th grade at our pre-K 3 through 12th grade school, we deliberately scheduled an orientation for the students. In the last few weeks of 5th grade, students were privy to shadow 6th grade in order to see what life was like outside the self-contained classroom. Then in the first week of 6th grade, the students were advised that organization was important, and that emotional distress not uncommon. We gave them handouts that specified exactly what they should be expected to do, and teachers usually dovetailed our efforts by holding them to compliance whenever they could. Naturally, all the details were presented in a visually pleasing presentation, and we encouraged students to feel free to talk to any adult if they felt overwhelmed. During Open House, many teachers would also advise parents about expectations and potential pitfalls experienced by many transitional students at 6th and freshman levels.

At the heart of many students’ lack of performance seems to be a deficit in organization and planning, and there is much that individual teachers can do to facilitate the adoption of these in their classes. A review of necessary binders, note taking skills, homework format, and frequent assessment to verify daily effort go a long way to getting students on track. Also, as heightened levels of skill and quality of student products are expected, teachers use rubrics in conjunction with anonymous samples of student work in order for new students to more fully understand what quality work is expected. With timely feedback, students are able to edge their work and performance toward those expectations and feel the satisfaction from their efforts.

This reminds me of the improvement I saw in my golf game this past week. Vexed by my poor performance in putting, I split my score card to differentiate the number of drives versus putts. Knowing that I was having difficulty in “seeing the line” of the putt, I took several putters to the practice putting green and quickly realized that my Daisy putter, from when I first learned to play golf as an 18 year old, was my best fit. It is significantly shorter than other putters collected in my garage too, so sometimes something old is what fits best. Overall, I saw a definite improvement in both drives and putts on a nice little 9 hole executive course, and felt confident that the adage “practice makes perfect” hold true, both for me and my freshman who is hearing that applied to his Algebra, Arabic, and writing. Success feels great! Be sure to make time to take care of your own wellness too!

More insights to transitions for Middle School to High School can be found from William D. Waidelich, Ed.D., Executive Director of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) at this link.

Rout Out Islamophobia!

Emir Abd el-Kader’s seal

Once again the media broadcast another alarming headline about an American community protesting the construction of a mosque based on a fear of “creeping shariah.” With many people not even believing in God, one would think it more productive to work on the large percentage of people that do not even believe in God Almighty. …ditto for the guy who passed me a scrappy note from a Bible institute about “What Every Muslim Should Know” while shopping for window treatments in JCPenney! Dude, I already know about Jesus and the miracle of the virgin birth. That is Islam too.

Over the years I have witnessed episodes that really did not register consternation over Islamophobia, but I suppose the cumulative effect IS stirring up my concern because of the uptick in incidents leading toward the presidential election. In fact, according to a presentation made at the ISNA Education Forum last Spring by Purdue University students Amina Shareef and Adrien Chauvet, titled Disrupting Islamophobia, it is specifically political situations that have historically and consistently been correlated to the fear or discrimination that characterizes Islamophobia. Furthermore, it is perpetrated by mis-education and historical amnesia. There are organizations who benefit from casting Muslims as “the other,” and they are heavily backed with finance and influential connections.  Even the mainstream Republican party is served by fortifying the “us versus them” stance, in spite of the fact that ideologically many business minded Muslims identify with being Republican (click on the hyperlinks for some interesting perspectives).

Yet, Muslims have an obligation to stand up and not be complacent. That is why I’m writing this, because we have to let people know the truth and stand up for what is right. Shareef and Chauvet quoted that 44% of Americans polled would support government curtailment of Muslim civil liberties, according to research quoted by CAIR and Cornell University (2011), but that may be because 60% of Americans have never met a Muslim (Care2Causes Editors). In this vacuum of experience, people tend to buy in to what authoritative figures and organizations purport, and it is exactly those well financed, highly organized entities who have been so deviously deceptive and influential that anti-shariah laws exist in 23 states. This is laughable, as shariah has never posed any threat to civil law, and even in Islamic societies, it is civil law that prevails.

To counter the supposed threat and hopefully put to rest the allegation that “to be a good Muslim, you have to hate,” I encourage foremost that critics actually read and study the Holy Qur’an. Be mindful that the original is in Arabic, a language still extant and very rich in meaning; but since most Americans are not versed in any foreign language, they need to rely on translations. Not all translations are necessarily true too, as there are those with malevolent intentions. My best advice is to use several, and preferably ones who have translated and given some interpretive footnotes (tafseer) by a Muslim. There have been several Islamophobes who take verses out of context and fail to relate the relevant circumstances which transpired at the time of some of the revelations.

To clarify, the Holy Qur’an is originally a series, not chronologically arranged, of recitations that were transmuted into a corpus. The verses often came to address specific events that gave guidance to the recipients at that time, around 1400 years ago. However, much of the guidance is still relevant today to those seeking and choosing to follow, and anyone who believes can be considered a Muslim. It is not based on race, nationality, just acceptance that God is god, and that Mohammad is a prophet of God, as was Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Lot, and many others, including Adam.

Muslims have, like most groups, some virtuous members and some who give a bad image due to misdeeds and variances in interpretations. That can be said for many other religious, political, and ethnic members, but Islam purports noble values that are in alignment with the upbringing I always had as an American. These held the importance of respect for parents and authority, honesty, cleanliness, hard work, charity, scholarship, family obligations and neighborliness, as well as honor and humility before God and man. Sadly, our country is losing the preservation and recognition of the importance of these attributes, but there is still hope. I’m pleased to note that my sons’ high school advocates the motto: Respect, Responsibility, and Engagement. This overarching theme encourages them to make the best of the education and opportunities for growth offered. Traditionally, Muslims have held values in high esteem, similar to values we in America have assimilated from democracy and the concept of a republic. The lack of democracy in Muslim lands today is derived from colonialism, but as we see from the Arab Spring, times are changing.

John W. Kiser immortalized and shared the rich history of Emir Abd el-Kader, who has a town named in Iowa in respect for him I just love what one student wrote after reading Kiser’s book, “Abdelkader’s life embodied the words of the Qur’an 5:7, ‘Let not your hatred of other men turn you away from Justice. Be just…that is closer to piety.’ — Madi Johansen, Decorah Iowa.” There are many families in Iowa who have long standing roots in America, and they are Muslim of Arab descent. There is also evidence that some African Americans who were brought to this land as slaves were Muslim and forcibly made to adopt Christianity in order to live.

The current issue of Islamic Horizons features “What Happened to Islamophobia” by Meha Ahmad that cites that Muslims want just what every other American wants. What was interesting was what was NOT chosen as high priorities for Muslim Americans, namely Islamophobia. It wasn’t even on the list, but Foreign policy was #6 and Religious freedom was #9. Immigration reform, economy, and the environment were priorities, and these are similar areas of concern for Latinos and other ethnic groups as well. Americans stand united on many issues, but these do nothing for the agenda of the Islamophobes. Their power comes from divisiveness, the trumping up of a fabricated threat. It serves a purpose to help close ranks and give status to those who want to keep Muslims from becoming enfranchised, trusted, and becoming a force to influence just regard for those everyday folks.

The wool has been pulled over the eyes of many people, and they have no way of knowing anything different until more Americans and Muslim Americans become better educated, more willing to open up to participate and work together within our society, and to simply give more effort to correct misconceptions gently, patiently, and consistently.

Shareef and Chauvet offered the following resources which you may find useful:

A. History of Muslim-Christian Encounters.

1. Geaves, R., Gabriel, T., Haddad, Y. and Smith, J. (eds.) Islam and the West Post 9/11. : Ashgate, 2004.
2. Haddad, Y., Smith, J. I., and Moore, K. (eds.) Muslim Women in America, Gender, Islam, and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
3. Haddad, Y. and Haddad, W. Z. (eds.) Christian-Muslim Encounters. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995.
4. Watt, W. M. Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions. London: Routledge, 1991.
5. Watt, W. M. The Majesty That Was Islam: The Islamic World, 661-1100. New York: Praeger, 1974.
6. Esposito, J. L. The Islamic World: Past and Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

B. Understanding Islamophobia.

1. Abrahamian, E. (2003). The US media, Huntington and September 11. Third World Quarterly, Vol. 24, (3), 529-544.
2. Esposito, J. & Kalin, I. (2011), Islamophobia: The challenge of pluralism in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Al-Saji, A. (2010). The radicalization of Muslim veils: A philosophical analysis. Philosophy of Social Criticism, 36 (8) 875-902.
4. Cole, M. Maisuria, A. (2007). ‘Shut the f***up’, ‘you have no rights here’: Critical race theory and racialisation in post-7/7 racist Britain. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. 5 (1).
5. Dossa, S. (2008). Lethal Muslims: White-trashing Islam and the Arabs. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 28(2), 225-236.
6. Elgamri, E. (2008) Islam in the British broadsheets: How historically-conditioned Orientalist discourses inform representations of Islam as a militant monolithic entity. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press.
7. Fernandez, S. (2009). The crusade over the bodies of women. Patterns of Prejudice, 4(3) 269-286.
8. Ho, C. (2007). Muslim women’s new defenders: Women’s rights, nationalism and Islamophobia in contemporary Australia. Women’s Studies International Forum, 30, 290-298.
9. Razack, S. (2005). Geopolitics, culture clash, and gender after September 11. Social Justice, 32 (4). 11-31.
10. Brinson, M. E. (2010). Muslims in the media: Social and identity consequences for Muslims in America. (Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Doctoral Dissertations and Theses. (3427827).
11. Council for American Islamic Relation (CAIR):

C. Interventions Against Islamophobia.

1. Jackson, E. J. (2009). Teaching about controversial groups in public schools: Critical multiculturalism and the case of Muslims since September 11. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation and Theses. (3392076).
2. Jackson, L. (2010). “Images of Islam in US media and their educational implications” Educational Studies, 46, 3-24.
3. Phelps, S. (2010) Critical literacy: Using nonfiction to learn about Islam. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(3), 190-198.
4. Niyozov, S. (2010). Teachers and teaching Islam and Muslims in pluralistic societies: Claims, misunderstandings, and responses. Int. Migration & Integration, 11, 23-40.

D. General Interest.

1. Shaheen, J. G., and Greider, W. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001.
2. Gottschalk, P., and Greenberg, G. Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.
3. Herman, E. S., and Chomsky, N. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.
4. Kincheloe, J. L., Steinberg, S. R., and Stonebanks, C. D. Teaching against Islamophobia. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.
5. Esposito, J. L., and Mogahed, D. Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007.

Some additional titles (that are on my “to read” list), which you may wish to check out are:

1. Shryock, A. Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the politics of enemy and friend. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010.

2. Lean, N. The Islamophobia Industry: How the right manufactures fear of Muslims. London, UK: Pluto Press, 2012.

3. Sheikh, Z. U. Islam: Silencing the Critics: A candid analysis of the most discussed faith in today’s world. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

As Education is the key to understanding, it is also the means to thwart ignorance and hatred. Please visit my website at Genius School to learn more about how I may serve your needs. Your comments, sharing, and feedback are always welcome.