Professor To Lead Workshops on Multicultural Education
By Robert Schroeder
If a teacher permits a student to pray at their desk, they are fulfilling their constitutional obligation.
National Louis University's Seema Imam, Ed.D., says that's a fact Americans should be proud of, but her research suggests for some religious minorities, ethical obligations are left unfulfilled.
Imam's leading scholarship on the experiences of Muslim students in schools will be featured at the National Association of Multicultural Educators (NAME) Conference in Chicago November 2-5, hosted by an organization that focuses on advancing and advocating for equity and social justice through multicultural education. Imam's workshops will focus on the need for understanding and recognition of Muslim students, traits Imam finds lacking in some area schools.
"In Chicago and the suburbs, some schools populations may be 30 to 50 percent Muslim, and in some of these places, we see them skip that part [covering Islam] of the curriculum," Imam said. "Even without Muslim students in class, it's still part of the curriculum."
Imam understands teacher hesitancy; she says it grows from negative press on Muslim issues. To combat this, Imam says educators need to redine the idea of multiculturalism to encompass not just religion, ethnicity, language or race, but embracing every difference students bring to the classroom, including learning styles.
On Thursday, November 3, Imam will lead a tour of a pre-K-8 Islamic school and a Masjid, or mosque, in Morton Grove. The Muslim Community School teaches Arabic, Quranic Studies and Islamic Studies alongside traditional curriculum and testing programs that meet state and college prep standards. The tour features interactions with faculty, students and administration, as well as observations of Arabic recitations, a call to prayer, and a viewing of the film "What a Billion Muslims Really Think."
Imam's workshop on "Contextualizing the Need for Hope: Muslim Student Voices from School and the Cry for Recognition, Validation and Respect" on Friday, November 4 features her research from the book "Muslim Voices in Schools." The workshop will feature her observations and interviews with Muslim students in the American public school system.
The next day, Imam is offering a workshop for pre-service teachers on "Teaching with the Muslim Student in Mind: Islamic Beliefs and Practices Explained," focusing on accommodation for Muslim students. Imam says the workshop will provide explanations to oft-criticized quotations from The Quran as well as exploring the meaning of beliefs and practices of Muslims.
"I think it's so important to share my story and hear the stories of others because of the power when you put a face or a circumstance to a true life situation," Imam said. "It really helps my students [at National Louis] to think about times when they have experiences on either side of the fence meeting the needs of others."
Meeting those often is simply a matter of understanding. For example, teachers can recognize that some Muslim students may find the American style swimsuit to be immodest; some students need halal food in cafeterias; and the student requesting personal time for prayer at the start of the story? A prayer mat and space to face Mecca provide the accommodation and respect Imam says all students deserve.