CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – In 2008, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan issued a challenge for a new educational paradigm for the 21st century at the Nation of Islam’s first Ministry of Education National Conference.
He challenged teachers and educators to enact God-centered solutions in an educational system that has “flatlined” and failed to cultivate and educate Black children to achieve their inherent greatness. “We have to challenge this educational system or get out of it,” said Min. Farrakhan.
Four years later at the 2011 conference held Aug. 4-6 at Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago, under the conference theme “The Education Challenge: Developing A Nation of Readers,” scholars and educators from around the country gathered not only to share ideas or visions for improving education.
Conference organizers wanted to provide practical ways to improve teachers, administrators and schools based on techniques and curriculum that properly prepare students for life.
“The goal this year and every year is to move closer to having a conference that’s just not dealing with theory. Where we have scholars and we have people who can address theory but what we’re addressing (is) the practical application,” Dr. Larry Muhammad, national director of Muhammad University of Islam, which co-sponsored the conference, told The Final Call.
MUI is the independent educational system set up by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam. Elementary, middle and high school teachers, college professors and educational consultants from public, private, charter and independent schools representing the Nation of Islam and other independent institutions attended this year’s intense three-day gathering.
“Whether it be the study technology or whether it be promoting literacy, the Minister wants us to get out into the community and help eliminate illiteracy in our community, we’re just making it practical and hands-on,” said Dr. Larry Muhammad.
Open not only to educators but also the entire community, this conference offered something of interest and benefit to all that attended.
Workshops and presentations included, “Understanding How to Use Study Technology in Any Curriculum,” “From Whence Came writing: Writing across the Curriculum,” “Study Technology Meets Supreme Wisdom,” “Publishing Our Own Curriculum Materials,” “Curriculum and Instruction in Early Childhood Education,” “Mentoring Our Youth,” “The Truth About Drugs,” “MUI’s Environmental and Agriculture Institute,” “World Literacy Crusade,” “African Sacred Science,” “There is More to be Understood in the Words,” “Whole Brain Gym Methodology” and “Brain Education” were some of the power-packed sessions.
Dr. Khalilah T. Muhammad, a collegiate English, literature and reading professor, presented a workshop to help teachers see the value of encouraging writing in every subject, including math and science.
“No matter what discipline you’re in, you should be able to incorporate writing,” she said. Having students of all grade levels write in non-graded assignments like journals, reflective papers, story summaries or lab-reports are a few ways to do this, she explained.
Across each discipline, writing must be used as a tool for learning, added Dr. Khalilah Muhammad.
Incorporating creative and unique ways to keep the attention of students is key, said Niambi Muhammad, an elementary and home school educator. She facilitated a workshop on early childhood education and is well known for her series of interactive children’s CDs that incorporate academics and Islamic principles in music.
“If you have their attention, already you can get them to learn … if you can keep their attention then you can continue the process of learning. And if you come as a child and find ways to reinvent and have fun you will not burn out,” said Niambi Muhammad.
Other conference highlights included plenary sessions featuring a panel of scholars discussing the challenges, rewards and continuing importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), and “The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews: The Curriculum for a New Approach to History.”
A mobile Black History 101 Museum displaying the historical achievements of Black Americans in science, education, business and other fields was on display throughout the entire weekend.
Developing a curriculum based on the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad featured an impressive panel of Islamic students and scholars, including Mother Tynnetta Muhammad, a wife of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad; attorney and student minister Ava Muhammad; Arabic instructor Sultan Rahman Muhammad; author and associate professor Dr. Abul Pitre and student minister and educator Abdul Muhammad.
Presenters on the HBCU panel said these institutions of higher learning are faced with challenges such as lack of funding and enrollment but Black people must continue to support the schools because of their tremendous benefits for students. Predominately White institutions want to maintain the status quo and White superiority, said panelist Melech Thomas.
“The purpose of the knowledge at an HBCU is something that I know that the brothers and the sisters in this room already know, to teach the knowledge of self,” continued Mr. Thomas, a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C., one of the nation’s top Black schools.
“Whoever comes to an HBCU, whoever they have been born and created to be that is being pulled out of them by the people who are the teachers at HBCU’s,” he added. Suggestions made by panelists to increase awareness of the existence and opportunities at HBCU’s included organizing more Black college tours and partnering with schools in individual cities.
“Too Much Schooling, Not Enough Education: The Spiritual Root and the Symbolic Connection Between Education and Hip Hop” was presented by rap icon Professor Griff of the legendary group Public Enemy. “We’re going to school but we’re not being educated then we look at the whole idea of what we’re being taught … what we’re being taught today, will it serve us 25 years from now, 30 years from now?” he asked.
“The whole idea of this educational paradigm shift is very important simply because we have to be able to collectively bring our brilliant minds together to look forward, to not only come up with solutions, but we have to change the way we even approach education,” Professor Griff told The Final Call.
The big challenge in education is going back into the classroom and actually carrying out what is learned, said Dr. Larry Muhammad. “What I want to really stress with us, as followers of Minister Farrakhan and really as vanguards in the community, is for us to take this application but we still have to keep communication lines open,” he added.
“We have to continue through the Ministry of Education and through the MUI’s and affiliated schools to communicate and train throughout the year. When we take the first Tuesday of every month and do the professional development it has to follow up and support what we did here at the annual conference,” said Dr. Larry Muhammad.
Attendees were anxious to get back to their respective cities to begin incorporating what they learned at the conference. Lavelle Muhammad, a school administrator from Harrisburg, Penn., was inspired and said he plans to apply what he learned about transforming school culture from toxic to healthy as quickly as possible.
“It was like spittle being wiped on my eyes. I can go back and change my thought process and hopefully impress a lot of other people to change their thought process,” he said.