Grades, Grades, Grades…Seriously.

After I left the educational system in college, I embarked on a journey of understanding my deen, and now that I think about it, it involves attending actual live onsite learning circles and more structured classes, and also attending live or recorded online classes.

Now that I’m leaving the house 6 out of 7 days of the week every week for Bayyinah campus, I feel compelled to write about my observation of online versus onsite learning. I have been attending online classes for at least the past 5 years, regularly, because where I was before we moved to Dallas, that was my only option for Islamic classes. I spent 4 years attending part time Taleem Quran with Al Huda online.

I started Bayyinah Dream in September, and we have just finished the first quarter. Two months and a half months down, six and half more to go in sha Allah. What I’ve found in myself, is this inner battle about importance of grades. I’ve left the traditional system of letter grades a long time ago. Even when I was taking Al Maghrib classes exams and getting the grades, I tossed them aside without much thought. I didn’t attend AlMaghrib classes for the grades. That was not even secondary to me. It was unnecessary in fact.

With Al Huda, same thing. I wanted to know what the Quran meant. That was why I took it. We had to do half juz tests every time we finish a half juz, and then we also have open book assignments. I would study for these, and I would do these tests and assignments, and I would get my marked tests and assignments back through the mail from Hurst TX, but I’d look at my grades, at my mistakes, and I’d put them away without much concern for the grades I got.

Now, in the Dream program, I find myself being a little bit too concerned about my grades. Not to the point of detriment (in sha Allah I hope it will never get to that point), but I am bothered by it, because grades shouldn’t bother me. I also noticed the differences though, and the fact that I am a tad wee bit more concerned about my grades now, when I wasn’t before (when I was attending classes online), led me to conclude that maybe the difference lie in the nature of my environment.

When I was attending classes online, I was in total control of my environment (well, not including the background of noisy, fighting, crying kids), such that there was no fellow course mate who would ask me right after the test,

“Hey, what’d you put for….”

or “That test was hard! How was it for you?”

At home, online, as soon as I was done with my classes, I return to my house chores, to my kids and husband. The classroom environment wasn’t there anymore. People say that it’s almost impossible to attend online classes because they can’t learn just from someone online, or because it’s not an ideal learning environment. I agree and disagree. Yes, you don’t necessarily get the tarbiyyah aspect when you’re learning online (though I have to say that with Al Huda, I believe we still get it alhamdulillah), and people who don’t have the discipline, will most probably get distracted and drop out halfway. Online classes are not for everyone. There are people who function best with self imposed structure and schedules in their lives. These people will thrive in online classes. Then there are people who function optimally with externally imposed structure, such as an actual live physical classroom, school, college, office. For these people, online classes might be very challenging. I fit into the former category of people, so online classes are okay for me.

Now, my learning environment in the Dream program is completely onsite, with external structure. I am okay with the structure, having  been in the typical educational system before, but I’m finding that having physical live classmates as opposed to virtual ones, pose a different kind of challenge for me. I am no longer in complete control of my environment. I can’t control those who talk about what the answer to a particular question is right after the exam, within hearing shot of whoever’s there. I can’t control those who lament over their grades when they get their tests back. The whole environment, one way or another, puts grades at center stage. The teachers and TAs keep telling us not to be overly concerned about our grades and they have taken measures to make sure we’re not grade-oriented. But, it’s hard, because we are humans and we tend to love seeing progress by absolute tangible means, in this case, grades.

Humans are short sighted, and we don’t have the patience for delayed gratification, especially not in this time and age where everything is at the click , oh sorry, at the touch of a screen. We want things fast, on the spot, and we want to SEE things. We then by pass the more important aspects of measure such as effort, personal satisfaction, personal growth from learning, and character development. The thing is, we can’t see those things. What we can’t see, is intangible, and thus, inconvenient, and more importantly, what is out of sight is out of mind. So, it’s not that I’m condemning those who think grades are important. Rather, I understand them, because I was that person, and I was pretty sure I had left that person completely, but apparently, there is still some of that person in me. It took me a long time to detox myself of the ‘grades are important’ mentality. It’s not easy when you grew up in a system that supports that mentality.

When I was in high school, I attended a full time boarding school for all of my high school years. Now that I reflect on it, I think, the fact that I was able to seclude myself and create my own self-imposed internally driven structure amidst the overwhelming external structure and ongoing socialization, helped me survive. I now realize that I cannot for the life of me be around people all the time. It drains me. I am not the type who likes studying in groups. I prefer to study alone because my mind is noisy enough as it is. I realize that when I’m studying in a group setting, I cater more to what people want or are doing, and as a result, I’m not listening to what my inner self is telling me to do, and so, I’m not performing at my personal best.

I love what Susan Cain has done with pushing the idea of appreciating Introverts in an extrovert-loving society.

So if you picture the typical classroom nowadays: When I was going to school, we sat in rows. We sat in rows of desks like this, and we did most of our work pretty autonomously. But nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks — four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other. And kids are working in countless group assignments. Even in subjects like math and creative writing, which you think would depend on solo flights of thought, kids are now expected to act as committee members. And for the kids who prefer to go off by themselves or just to work alone, those kids are seen as outliers often or, worse, as problem cases. And the vast majority of teachers reports believing that the ideal student is an extrovert as opposed to an introvert, even though introverts actually get better grades and are more knowledgeable, according to research. (Laughter)

People do have different learning styles, and study or work preferences. It’s not fair to have a set up where introverts are forced to function in a way that is not at their personal best all the time. I’m not saying this as a complaint. But, what I’ve also learned is that when you don’t push for a cause you strongly believe in, then expect oppression. So, while I agree with working from within and appreciating and valuing yourself as you are despite what the society seem to favor and prefer, you also have to speak up at least occasionally, because it may just be the case that the society is just plain innocently ignorant of other possibilities or alternatives.

So, for someone like me, online learning is awesome because I am free from the external distractions that are actually distractions for me as opposed to needed stimulation for a more extroverted person. But that doesn’t mean that onsite learning is not for me. This world is not in black and white. Yes, some lines you don’t cross. But in some things, there are crossovers. It’s nice when one color stays in one area and doesn’t merge into another color, but it’s also possible to smudge two colors together to form a beautiful cohesion of eye-candy hues. You  just to deal with the challenges when you want to do something that doesn’t jive well with your own preferences. And we do this daily probably without realizing it.

For me right now, I just have to keep reminding myself of my personal stance and principles regarding grades, over and over again, in my head, and if that is not loud enough, in my writing. I usually do my hifdh review right after our tests, so in that way, I’m free from the “What did you put for ___ question?” discussions. That definitely helps. It’s just that there are some days or times when I can’t escape quickly enough, and those are the times that warrant this blog post, as a tangible reminder to myself now and in future times when I might need it again.

It helps for me to stay home when we don’t have class. I feel that it allows me to regroup my thoughts, and recalibrate my focus. It re energizes me. It rejuvenates me to not have to be around people all the time. So, I really treasure our off days, alhamdulillah. Tomorrow, in sha Allah, we resume class again. That’s where my battlefield is. The onsite classroom.

Recharge battery – FULL. Bismillah…

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2 thoughts on “Grades, Grades, Grades…Seriously.

  1. Assalaam alaykum Juli,

    I have to say I love your blog 🙂

    Great reflections on the Grades society we live in, while intentions and sincerity are surely more important, especially in Deen-related matters.

    May Allah purify our intentions and help us stay focused on the only goal that really matters: Al Jannah. اللهم آمين

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