A Journey of Learning
Both my wife and I enjoy our callings and gifts. It feels like God designed us to do what we enjoy doing. For me that’s primarily teaching; for my wife, Barbara, she enjoys covering the students and I and the Muslim world in prayer during all the class hours. This past January I had the privilege of working with 17 students at Columbia International University (CIU) for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday.
Let me introduce you to the journey that I take with my students in the course I teach on Islam and current events. During the week we spend together – phase 1 – there are lectures, video clips, documentaries and discussion. At the end of each day, my students write a daily response on insights they have gained, issues they are struggling with or things I have taught with which they disagree. My wife and I read and discuss these responses each evening, which helps both of us prepare for the next day.
It is exciting to see the impact the class time has on the students and on us – the relationships we build, the a-ha moments the students experience, and the heartaches that at times we and some of the students experience. Barbara and I continue to be amazed at how much the students are motivated to come to class on time and not miss a minute unless absolutely necessary. One student this past class waited till 4 PM on Friday, the last day, before she took off on an eight-hour trip – driving in the dark and through the rain, missing only the last hour of class. The 40 hours of class time along with the daily responses count as 30% of the final grade.
For the students, phase 2 in the learning process is reading four specific books in their entirety. Barbara and I get a little break, catching up with what has been waiting for us at home and planning our coming trips. For six weeks the students read and synthesize the information they got in class with the additional information they glean from the required books, then they must write four book reports worth 40% of their final grade.
When the deadline comes, I receive their book reports and course papers, and phase 3 begins. For the students it is a time to take a break or maybe begin another journey of learning in another course. For me it is time to hibernate. I start out by reading all the book reports while listening to opera music (which for me is enjoyable without being distracting). It gives me great joy that out of 17 CIU students, only two did not complete reading fully one of the four books.
What a joy it is to see those precious students learning from other authors who are experts in their fields. It is exciting to see how the students evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the books. I often get blown away when a profound weakness in a book is pointed out, and I wonder whether I should write to the author and share my student’s observation. I have done that at times and the response of the authors was most encouraging and very much appreciated. Besides the books strengths and weakness, my students write about how each book challenged them and impacted their lives and their thinking. Please go to my blog and read some of the comments about the course some of my students have made over the years. What a privilege it is for me to read these book reports. I find myself eager to award the students full credit.
The final phase is where I start reading the course papers. I give my students two options for the topic of the course paper, and here is where I get really strict on how I grade the papers. At times I get so disappointed, especially when I have great expectations from a student and he or she fails to meet the standard. The majority of the papers give me a great deal of joy to read. I find myself leaving my office at home and going to Barbara and telling her how X or Y is SO impressive.
As I read these papers, I write comments and notes to send to my students about their work and about their final grades. Once the work is done, I send the grades to the seminary. Although my academic relationship has ended with the students, some of them end up becoming prayer partners, and the friendship continues over the years. With a few we feel a certain bond and a desire to continue to pray for them. Barbara and I are blessed as we sense the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with us (1 Corinthians 16:23).
One of the four required readings in my course is a book I wrote that was published in 1992, titled The Rumbling Volcano: Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt. Since its publication, so much has happened in our world: the 1991 Gulf War, the Palestinian Intifadas in the West Bank, wars in Gaza, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War, ISIL, etc. The publisher gave me the green light to work on a revised edition of The Rumbling Volcano. The new title will likely be The Rumbling Volcano: Political Islam in Egypt and Beyond. In an assessment of the current version, one of my students wrote in her book report:
I must admit that I read this book before taking the class and it went over my head completely. I felt lost amid all of the names and dates, and was skeptical as to why we would read a book about only one of the many Muslim countries [Egypt]. After taking the class with Dr. Jabbour it became very clear to me that what has happened in Egypt has had an incredible impact on the entire Muslim world. I decided to reread the book after taking the class; it had a much more profound impact on my understanding of the history of Islamic resurgence. This book challenged me to be informed about the history as well as current events taking place in Egypt. It is amazing how much of what Dr. Jabbour predicted about the rise of fundamentalism has taken place and will continue to develop over the years.
As a result of my student’s important observations, I came to a couple of conclusions. My students in the future should not read The Rumbling Volcano until after class. Another conclusion has to do with the the greater benefit that would be experienced if my students would read about the theological roots of Islamic fundamentalism in three of my blogs before Rumbling Volcano. These theological roots will help connect what is covered in The Rumbling Volcano with current events and ISIL.
These two conclusions will help me do a better job at Providence Seminary in Canada next May, when I teach my course again. That will be another journey of learning with a new set of students that we long to meet and get to know.