We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
By Mary Kazarian.
AUA Communications and Social Media Intern
AUA is partnering The Carter Academy, in Bangladesh, with Lancaster Country Day School, in Pennsylvania as part of the 2013 School 2 School (S2S) program. Through S2S, students will connect through a virtual exchange, learning about each other and dispelling stereotypes. American schools also raise funds to give educational supplies to the school abroad and one American teacher from each school will travel overseas to volunteer at their partner school. Right now, Teacher Sam Schindler, in Pennsylvania, is introducing his classroom to the School 2 School program and preparing for his trip to The Carter Academy. Sam shared his thoughts with us earlier this month.
My excitement is continuously growing because I have never been to Asia, and it seems like such a far-away place. I will have the opportunity to completely immerse myself in an entirely different way of living and commune with people that I would never under other circumstances have the opportunity to commune with. The benefit is both for me to substantiate and further my knowledge about the regions that I discuss in class as well as for my students. As of today, my students learn about Islam as if it is in a vacuum. They learn history, development, texts and innovations of the Islamic religion but never have the chance to connect on a real tangible level with its people. That is they do not get to interact with Islam’s adherence in the world even though there are so many of them who live in diverse places and are of a very wide-ranging ethnic spectrum. The partnership components of the S2S program will let the students connect academically and personally.
Upon my return, I hope to be seen as more believable and credible if I have been to the place I teach about and can say something about it, even if it is a place that is as remote and tiny as where The Carter Academy is located. The experience I expect to gain is to talk to, learn about, teach to, learn from, hear from people who are different from me in their day to day on goings and also who are seemingly similar to me in that they share a love of learning. Also they can apart to me some special intimate knowledge about the way they live day to day as Muslims and that they aren’t like Muslims from other parts of the world. Just being in another part of the world is educational, you have to somewhat let go of who you think you are and the kinds of things that you do every day. It will be a challenge to me living in a different place, and my mind will open up. I teach because I love to learn, this unique experience will add to my knowledge.
How do you plan on creating connections between your students in America and your students abroad?
One important connection I hope to create between my students at home and students abroad is one via the internet, more specifically a Skype chat. We would create a script to follow, however as time passes I know the students and I will have the opportunity to let things loose and speak extemporaneously. I also hope to create a much larger project with the exchange, ideas on things like how a person lives as a religious person in the world. There would be some things that would be assumed that both my students and The Carter Academy students may think, but I want my students to understand from their perspective about what life is like in an Islamic country in 2013. I think there are a lot of stereotypes that my students have and things that they just don’t know. An exchange of ideas would involve other questions like how the Bangladeshi students interact with the Quran on a daily basis, importantly because my students are studying it as well, however do not have a daily interaction with texts and with ritual or prayer like Muslim children do. And vice versa, the Bangladeshi students will see my students and they will hopefully dispel some stereotypes about Americans. I am guessing that they will be excited because there is a general level of excitement that surrounds the “American teen” , words like opportunities and freedom. Generally I want to get a good dialogue going, maybe with even with email, and my students can record and send videos. I want my students to get as creative as possible with this. They have the opportunity to create the picture of their best selves and present to an entirely different culture.
How are you going to involve your students in the S2S program? What skills do you plan on using to engage students?
While I am serving as an Unofficial Ambassador, I plan on teaching a unit on history of Christianity and potentially Judaism because my guess is that the Bangladeshi students are not exposed to this on a normal basis. My love of the history of religion will help me in this. I plan to teach about where the three main religions stem from and teach a basis of the history of the confluence of these 3 religions. If my students are energized and interested in discussing similarities and differences, both sets of students can then share how they approach these differences and how they answer questions like “How do you reconcile faith and reason?” I am interested to see how the Bangladeshi students answer the questions that I pose for my American students on a daily basis.
How will you portray or teach about America in an international relations context?
In regards to international relations and more specifically, America’s relations with the Muslim world, I have a bit of a negative view. The United States has made a lot of mistakes portraying itself to the Islamic world, and how it has received the ideas of the rest of the world. We tried to bring freedom, democracy, and free market to the other parts of the world, but in that we have alienated a lot of people. I think it is up to me as an Unofficial Ambassador to say that I do not represent the American government instead I think my job is to say that my interest is to learn about other people and their role in the world. It is important for me to say that there is more to us than the glitz, than Hollywood, than fancy cars. We do have commitment to intellectual pursuits, and to travel and learn from the people there instead of going and impose your ideas. A good way to learn about yourself is to go and observe as much as you can from other people who are as different from you as possible. Not everything that is said by a scholar, politician, and officials is true, therefore it is better to go out into the world and learn as much as you can beyond our borders.