It has become something of a cliché. Serving at St Mark’s College has reinforced my impression that the average Coptic family leans very heavily indeed towards the sciences, educationally speaking. You know what I mean: Maths and Science are the real subjects, and other, humanities type subjects are Mickey Mouse material. The same seems to go for choosing a career. Many Coptic parents will do all they can to convince their children to follow a career in one of the “big four”: Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry or Engineering. All very much Science based. It seems that in the world of the Diasporic Copt, Science reigns supreme.
Well, I am going to question that perception.
You see, another thing I have noticed over the years is that so many of our youth are actually extremely literate, if not downright eloquent.
When you think about it, is that really so surprising, given that we are a Church headed by a Pope whose primary talents were literary ones? HH Pope Shenouda III was an historian, educator and journalist before entering the monastery. I don’t think anyone would ever think that he chose a career in the Humanities because he did not have the intelligence to do something like Medicine! His Holiness surely possesses one of the brightest most incisive minds in the world today. Why don’t more young Copts follow in his footsteps? Where do will the next generation of effective and inspiring servants come from? Where will they learn the art of communication, which is essential to sharing God’s Word?
What is more, Arabic literacy is generally highly valued in the Coptic community. How often we hear the older generation lamenting the fact that young people these days don’t seem to read books like they do. And yet, when a popular novel comes out, the same people will jump on the youth for reading it, because of its questionable morality or example.
These critics, well intentioned as they are, are missing something important here: our youth are not that stupid. The Harry Potter series is a case in point. There was (and still is in some quarters) an outcry calling for these books to be banned from our children at all costs. The general impression given is that once one of these evil tomes falls into the hands of a youth, the youth will immediately don their witch’s hat and cape and take off for the Headquarters of Wicca to go over to the dark side. Personally, I confess that my response when asked whether one should read Harry Potter has always been, “Are you aware that in reality witchcraft is a rejection of basic Christian principles and can never be compatible with Christianity? If you know this, and are able to tell the difference between fiction and reality, then by all means read it.” To date, I have not encountered one single case of conversion to the occult caused by reading Harry Potter. But I have seen many young people strengthen their reading habit because they found a story that engaged them. Some have even managed to read a strong Christian message into the Harry Potter saga!
Here are some common myths that are demonstrably false:
You can’t get a good tertiary entrance mark doing soft humanities subjects.
Actually, just have a look at the subjects that were studied by the top Year 12 students in the state each year. You get the best results by doing subjects in which you are interested, and at which you are naturally gifted. You also have a much more pleasant life and a much more positive attitude choosing such subjects rather than forcing yourself to do a subject that isn’t for you just because it has a reputation for scoring big. Remember that wise moral: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?”
Coptic children come from a non-English speaking background, so they can never be good at English or English based subjects.
Wrong! Research has shown that children who grow up learning more than one language are actually better at their main language than those who only learn a single language. That means that growing up in a home where Arabic is spoken actually results in the child becoming more adept at English.
My experiences at a Coptic College have borne this out. Our kids are great at English and the humanities, and proportionally more students at a Coptic School do tough humanities subjects like 4 unit English than in most other schools, public or private. And they score really well. Yet they are not as appreciated as those who do 4 unit Maths. They are also very good at speaking (surprise, surprise) and given attractive material, they generally love to read. If anything, we as a Church have largely failed to provide the young with attractive faith-based reading material. Where are the books for teenagers? Perhaps it will be this new generation of highly literate young Copts who will write these books?
In my own Year 12 graduating class (some time in the last century) there were 12 students I knew at my school who scored a mark that would get them in to Medicine. Yet I was the only one of them who actually chose to take that path. Some chose a scientific path, but others chose business or humanities, and I am sure that they are enjoying very successful and fulfilling careers today, doing all sorts of interesting things that doctors generally miss out on!
Another area to question is whether parents push for the “Big Four” because they think that they are licenses to print money. Get into one of those careers and it will make you rich. I have to question whether this is valid or suitable motive for a genuine Christian. Now please don’t misunderstand, I have nothing against a person profiting from their hard work and efforts to educate themselves, but should wealth be a high priority for the sincere Christian? Shouldn’t it come after other priorities, such as helping others, being content in one’s life (including career), curiosity and leading a balanced life? On the other hand, wealth brings with it all sorts of spiritual dangers. St James (James 1:11; 5:1), St Paul (1 Timothy 6:9), and Jesus Himself (Matthew 19:23; Luke 6:24) certainly did not think it an advantage to be wealthy, so what does that say to a parent who is motivated by wealth in the educational direction they give to their children?