Bringing the Koran into Class

I’ve been trying to share my adventure in teaching the young reader’s version of Three Cups of Tea to my sixth graders. For the most part, they are enjoying it (and don’t seem as stymied by the relatively poor writing craft as I am) and it has brought up interesting topics and discussions around cultural divides, doing the right thing at the right moment, and survival.

Yesterday, for example, we read the chapter where Greg Mortenson gets kidnapped and held captive for seven days in a small room. On the floor is an old Time Magazine, with a cover story about the Iran Hostage Crisis. Remember that? Remember how every day for more than a year the headline on the newspapers (remember them?) had stories about the Americans in Iran?

My students had never heard of it, and I had to launch into a drive through my memory banks about that time and what itstill means for the global political world today (ie, the leaders of that Iranian Revolution are still in power today and still distrust the United States.) The other day, I had to give a flash history lesson about the creation of Pakistan as it was carved out of India (thanks a lot, Great Britain, you really messed that one up) and in the chapter they are now reading, the issue of Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan comes up.

I bring this up, too, because the religion of Islam is new to most of my students, but not all. I have a student who has come to us from Turkey and he has been a spirited voice in reading the book (and he is an ESL student making great progress but still struggling … but this book has engaged him). Yesterday, my student brought in his Koran, which Greg asks for while he is being held captive. It is artistically beautiful, and written entirely in Arabic, which allowed us to talk about different languages in the world — from alphabetic to symbolic.

I made a photocopy of the first page for all of my students and they were completely taken over by it, trying to sound out the symbols, and we talked about the role of the Koran to the Muslim world. I am so happy that my student took it upon himself to bring part of his world into our classroom, and allowed for some open discussions. I am trying to make sure he doesn’t feel like the spotlight is on him — you know, the one African-American in the room when you talk about racism syndrome — but I appreciate whatever views of the Middle East that he can bring to the discussions, too.

We also want to take action. Our school has been part of the Pennies for Peace initiative, and now, a few students and I are beginning to plan a Rock and Roll Concert for late January to raise more money for the school-building foundation and also, to collect book donations to send down to New Orleans schools that continue to struggle.

Peace (in the world),

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