A New Learning Paradigm

10020940964_9a153ac6e2_zEducation in the U.S. is slowly evolving to face its competition–a young, curious and inventive demographic found in countries that highly value their educators, and increasingly in developing countries where youth use technology to access the world.

Somewhere along the way we questioned if teaching penmanship was still relevant in an age of keyboarding. Well, I will verify that it is—as long as we still hand write notes, essays, and the free responses on standardized exams. These are the evidences we associate with learning; and yet, is what we learn in school still relevant to our needs today?

Perhaps the answer to this is dependent on what role in society we assume, or what roles our children will hope to actualize. And one also ponders if teachers, with rapidly evolving technologies, are keeping current?

We live in an age of educational abundance, thanks to the internet. Though, while people in remote developing nations are investing with curiosity in their enhancement of knowledge and commerce, are we significantly invested as a nation in our own self-improvement?

With a smorgasbord of courses, free and paid content, how many spend at least two hours a week accessing professional development and cultivating new skills that will meet the requisite level of competence for adequately responding to global challenges? If not, then we become dinosaurs and demonstrate a miserable model of irrelevance.

Investing in professional development is a wise choice, and just may help secure value-driven personal profit, contentment, and a link to the interconnected matrix of diverse people who are connecting to work well together and prosper.

If interested in this topic for a keynote or professional development, visit my website at susanlabadi.com

Realities

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Saturday morning, and I’m greeted with more snow and the promise of extreme sub-zero, (i.e., Fahrenheit) bitter cold on its way. This is my life, six people—four offspring—living together, and my husband and I shovel for them! We ditch the patio table in the garage and push the chairs in a row, as you see, to fit four vehicles on the driveway so that we can reverse without having to move another car for one to exit. Crowded, but we save the collective group money by staying together while the majority of them are in college.

It’s that time of year when we pine for springtime’s fresh air, smell of thawing soil, and the twitter of birds. Along with that comes emergence of preliminary flowers, like crocus that foretell the arrival of hyacinth, tulips, and daffodils. But we are not there yet, so I placate myself with photos of gardens I have visited, coffee table picture books for gardeners from the library, and I thoroughly examine the photos in seed catalogs, from which I no longer buy. The one year I invested in some catalog seeds, I traveled overseas with my kids and found someone—you know who you are—had not watered the garden.

Since moving into this house about eighteen years ago, I’d imagined my spacious property would evolve to parallel Monet’s Garden at Giverny. Alas, it has not because little did I realize at the time, my yard has too much shade in summer to adequately support many of the flora I desire. However, I do have trees. Beautiful, towering, strong, and like my kids, leave a huge mess of leaves and broken branches that we incessantly clean off the crop of weeds we call a lawn, over one-third of an acre.

Life sometimes isn’t what you bargained for, but I suppose we have to find the good in things and work within our minds to cope and look forward to the next chapter. Maybe the trials and waiting periods we endure are meant to bring us closer to our Creator and each other. I do know that this morning, after writing the draft of this piece, we admired with amusement the many squirrels that scamper in erratic patterns throughout our wonderland of surrounding trees, as the snow lazily cascaded in billowy flakes, adding to the pile that blocks exit from the drive to the street.

Going back to work has brought another adjustment for my family, who had become blissfully accustomed to my availability and practice of the domestic arts. The location of my new place of employment puts me within fifteen minutes of visiting my father, who continues to progress in his ability to walk and balance. He is still using the walker, but again I am expecting him to upgrade to using a cane. I know he sees himself holding a golf club again, even if only to imagine himself a lion overlooking a fairway…from the 19th hole with his buddies. I also know that he misses his winter crew that goes to the indoor range and then meets for coffee and cookies at McDonald’s.

The power of our imagination is a gift, but it has in its capacity the potential to remove us so far from reality that it can become a liability. Someone recommended the film “Her” to my husband, and we went to see it. It’s about an affable fellow who is struggling within himself about his impending divorce from a neurotic wife who has blamed him, undeservedly, for things. The story takes place in LA in the not-so-distant future when everyone is thoroughly connected to technology, and that they unwittingly separate from real human connections and result in a type of anomie (Originated by Emile Durkeim and evolved to Strain Theory most recently by Zhang Jie). This portrays a society where although a populous place, it still leaves souls very lonely. The protagonist becomes enamored by a virtual reality prompted by purchase of an artificial intelligent operating system. It is like Apple’s Siri on steroids where the “personality” of the system becomes the seemingly perfect companion, except that “she” is not real. It makes a strong statement and a warning to us.

As I do have many residents in my household, I see the ubiquitous technology keeps us entertained, connected to people outside our home, and can easily inhibit us from conversing, sharing, and connecting with each other. It seems like the only bonding we do is when we watch a video or show together, or if we completely leave the home—spend money—and do something outside. Normally, the walk or bike ride would suffice, but in this season the options have a higher price tag. The least would be going to a restaurant or to chat over a cup of coffee. A family vacation would be ideal, but just not feasible now; and it won’t be when spring break rolls around, the kids buzz out to hang with friends, and we stay home to clean and pickup sticks in the yard. Then we may expectantly look for crocus along the edge of the driveway and whack a tennis ball with a real person on the other side of the court.

…Meanwhile, we’ll invite them to bond with us as we cheer the Broncos!

Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

Quran Ramadan: Cooking, Qur’an, Collaboration

School’s out, but there are plenty of opportunities for learning. With Ramadan coinciding with summer break, I have plenty of thoughts toward trying out some new things. After all, life-long learning is what it is all about, and these ideas are not just for kids.

Cooking

Why not begin with expanding culinary skills? The reality of Ramadan is that we do spend a lot of time thinking about food, cooking extra special feasts, and breaking our very long fasts with family and friends. To inspire you, Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen has published Summer Ramadan Cooking. She hails from a Sicilian and Puerto Rican parentage; and she has such fondness for many cuisines that her cookbook features many traditional and fusion dishes. Yvonne is very much in demand as a blogger, is often interviewed by the media, teaches cooking classes, and is an advocate of a Halal lifestyle. She is also a talented food photographer, and you will enjoy drooling over her pictures even if you don’t lift a spoon!

Quran
In Ramadan, we don’t merely dwell on food, we also seek to improve our knowledge of the Holy Qur’an and the Arabic language. The Qur’an is recited each of the 29-30 days of Ramadan, and hearing a beautiful recitation is one of the best aspects of the month. We usually finish our sunset meal, known as iftar, and quickly clean up the kitchen to ready ourselves for the evening and night prayers, isha and taraweeh. Taraweeh involves reciting 1/30th of the Qur’an each night, and it recharges one’s spirit, commitment, and relationship to Allah. However, I can attest that the benefits of Ramadan are proportional to the efforts one applies to it, and we all could use some supportive reminders to use time well because the holy month features bonuses not received at other times.

The Prophet Mohammad said, “Whoever reads a letter from the Book of Allah will receive a hasanah (good deed) from it, and the hasanah is multiplied by ten. I do not say that Alif Lam Meem is (considered) a letter, rather, Alif is a letter, Laam is a letter, and Meem is a letter.” [At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Darimi]

In Ramadan, good deeds are multiplied by 70 or more. The Prophet said, “Whoever draws near to Allah during it (Ramadan) with a single characteristic from the characteristics of (voluntary) goodness, he is like whoever performs an obligatory act in other times. And whoever performs an obligatory act during it, he is like whoever performed seventy obligatory acts in other times.” [Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah, no. 1877]

While for non-native Arabic speakers, the task of reading the Qur’an in Arabic is a significant challenge, take heart. Aisha, who was the youngest wife and frequent transmitter of testimony about the Prophet’s daily life, quoted him, “Verily the one who recites the Qur’an beautifully, smoothly, and precisely, he will be in the company of the noble and obedient angels. And as for the one who recites with difficulty, stammering or stumbling through its verses, then he will have twice that reward.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] –Nice to know that I’ll get a generous recompense for my efforts!

Collaboration

Although the mainstay identifier of Ramadan is the fasting, it should be acknowledged that relationships are a priority to reflect upon and improve. Tahera Ahmad, another wonderful soul I have had the pleasure of knowing, wrote about the importance of Relationships to Ramadan, and I was very pleased when the deeper essence of Ramadan and our understanding of it came up in conversation within my home.

My daughter has a friend who recently took a break from college to complete a ten month program in Texas at Bayyinah Institute, and she gained great insights from the esteemed founder Nouman Ali Khan. The girls’ discussions and subsequent study of online resources produced by him evolved in an initial gathering of moms and their kids to open a number of topics related to being Muslim in America, wearing hijab, studying the Qur’an, nuances of the Arabic language, and we hope to continue these meetings with husbands included. We’ll see how it goes; but it occurred to me that this type of gathering, featuring multiple generations and perspectives, may also provide a venue to transmit oral histories and wisdom to be passed to our progeny. It is said that the Devil is locked away in Ramadan, and I hope topics can be discussed with mutual respect, devoid of discord.

Technology & Arts

With these unstructured days of summer, it is my hope that we can all explore some new applications of technology. Whether we are teachers, students, or just casual dabblers in nascent apps, there could be no loss in acquiring practice in something new. This video presents possibilities and features links to further resources.

On a concluding note, it has been nearly two months since my father fell in his yard, and although he has suffered and continues to convalesce at home with me and my siblings rotating constant supervision, our relationships have greatly improved and I have treasured the fortification of our family bonds.

Thoughts of death, and preparation for the eventual absence of my life, have helped the depth of my worship (ibadah) and connection to Allah. I am reminded of my responsibility to prepare myself and those around me for the inevitable journey, and I greatly appreciate the time, people, and experiences that have been gifted to me. I am optimistic that soon my father and children will be able to be more independent by the end of this summer, and I have many things I wish to pursue with a renewed sense of mission and energy. This time of reflection, course correction, salutations from distant souls, and chance to gain exponential good deeds (barakat) and warm memories with those close to me is precious.

Every dua’a that is good is answered, they say, and I have known it to be true. Ramadan Mubarak!