Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ad Infinitum 2

I know I just recently wrote a post (Ad Infinitum) detailing my irritation with "ad infinitum" style classes on Islam--the kind which go on indefinitely without accomplishing any particular objectives, and without students being able to claim improvement on the subject. It was my opinion that certain classes, like tajweed for instance, do not lend themselves to an ad infinitum style format.

But in my post I pretty much just ragged on the format altogether, but after giving the subject a little more thought, I'd like to post some more reflections on the subject. While I still think some subjects are not well rendered in ad infinitum style classes, there are other subjects which actually are beneficial with this format.

Now, the classes I think which are not justly presented as ad infinitum are those which require the student to progress through various levels, and each level has some prerequisite knowledge. Take for example a class in Arabic: is it possible to teach students grammatical constructs if they cannot read Arabic? Is it possible to have students analyzing sentences if they cannot recognize grammatical constructs? I don't think it is. Having two levels, e.g., beginning and intermediate, is not useful unless at some point the students at the beginning level can progress to an intermediate level, and the intermediate students can progress to an advanced level.

Knowledge is not a game, where you can bring what you have to the table and just play with it, without acquiring any more. I, for one, think there should be progress, which requires a definite time-frame.

However, there are other classes which actually lend themselves quite well to an ad infinitum format, where each class has independent benefit, and the long term, if students are able to commit, allows subjects to be covered in extensive breadth. An example of such a class might be one teaching ahadith, wherein each week a new hadith or small collection of similar ahadith are read and discussed with commentary from a shaykh. If you take a book of ahadith like Riyadh us-Saliheen and cover a chapter each week, it will take a while to complete the book. Students will not progress to another "level" in their understanding of hadith, but will get a more rounded and complete view of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (saws). Because the material is convered slowly, and each hadith is given its due, students are likely to retain the information well.

Another class which might also work in an ad infinitum format is an ongoing Qur'an class, specifically on tafsir or analysis. The depths of the Qur'an are not graded in fathoms, so a class reviewing just a few ayaat a week, to understand them deeply, can benefit students on an on-going basis. The pace of the material will also allow them, perhaps, to digest and absorb the material.

I also think that covering these kinds of material slowly will help raise the general knowledge level of the community, if they are actively participating. There doesn't need to be a start and end date, and the "curriculum" is more or less specified, and the class is aimed at the general public instead of any particular students.

On the other hand, when students are commiting their time and even their resources to a class, an ad infinitum format will likely deprive them of the benefit they are seeking, which is knowledge to progress to a higher level or understanding in a particular subject, or to acquire a particular skill.

So I'm not really taking back what I said before, but refining it somewhat. Hope it makes sense.

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